In many cases, the planning process is bypassed or shortchanged in favor of jumping in and beginning development work. Unfortunately, this is often a mistake. The main goal of planning is to define the project.
Overview: What is the project? What are the benefits? Why are we doing this? What are the business drivers?
Objectives: What will be accomplished?
Scope: What features / functionality will be implemented? Likewise, what functionality is not being included?
Assumptions/risks: What situations / scenarios / events are you assuming will / will not take place? What risks (like internal or external dependencies) exist which may affect the implementation of the project?
Stakeholders: Who is sponsoring the project? Who will be affected by the project? Who is on the project team?
Much of the above information can be pulled from the project charter; however, there are some additional planning tools and concepts that start to be used in the planning phase.
BEST PRACTICE: Proactively create and maintain project plans in a single database
The project plan has multiple purposes. It acts as the work breakdown structure (WBS) of all of the activities that must be performed to successfully deliver the product. Be sure to include all appropriate and critical tasks required for the project. These may include, but are not limited to, tasks for training, rework after quality control activites, risk analysis, communication and deployment planning, process improvement and contingency buffers.
Decomposing the project and larger tasks into smaller tasks permits more accurate estimations and status tracking. Tasks should be decomposed to a level where they can accurately be estimated and assigned to owners. Ideally, tasks should be assigned to a single owner. Overlooked tasks are a common contributor to schedule slippages. Breaking the work into smaller sub-tasks ensures that overlooked, often forgotten, tasks are identified and included in the plan.
The project plan captures the baseline (or revised baseline) estimates and timeline for the project and acts as the resource management tool by assigning resource to specific tasks. Be sure to consider the team's learning curve when defining estimates and timelines.
The project plan also acts as the source for project status, which is discussed under 'Project Communications.'
Having all project plans in a single database facilitates cross team alignment, ensures visibility and comprehensive reporting and aids in resource leveling.
BEST PRACTICE: Hold a project kickoff meeting with the project team
The kickoff meeting allows the project manager the opportunity to provide the project team an overview of the project and allows the team of subject matter experts (SMEs) the chance to provide valuable feedback on addiitonal needs, resources and concerns that the project manager may not have considered.
BEST PRACTICE: Attend a tactical awareness meeting early in the project
Providing an initial project overview to the Tactical board introduces other experts, ouside of the project team, to the project and allows them to proactively provide feedback of other considerations the project manager may have overlooked.