Using the Best Plan Format

The most frequent mistake I see in Project Planning is what I call “premature Gantting” — going straight to creating a huge Gantt chart (often in MS Project).

Why is this a mistake? Because a huge Gantt chart, with many lines of tasks, all precisely allocated to specific dates looks very authoritative. It gives the impression that you’ve spent hours working out the exact dependencies, estimating the length of tasks and precisely scheduling all the work that needs to be done and who needs to do it.

If you truly have done all that work, then perhaps you’re fine. But the reality is that most of us have ACTUALLY spent half an hour scribbling on the back of an envelope, or at best on a flip-chart, to get some rough stages and some key dates. All the detail was then made up when the Gantt chart was created, primarily because the software demanded it.

What’s the solution? Let the format of your plan reflect the stage of development that it is at. Internally, I will frequently go into a meeting and DRAW the plan stages on the whiteboard. For communication with the customers/stakeholders, I’ll create a simple plan (sometimes even a flowchart) that reflects the reality of the situation.

So far, everyone involved has appreciated the honesty — and it’s prevented projects going wrong at a very early stage in the game.

3 Replies to “Using the Best Plan Format”

  1. Fair point for sure…I have seen people spend hours creating massive project plans that do little to reflect the reality of how the project will work. On the flip side, I think that actually spending time to REALLY think it through – including with the team – can be very beneficial when you are forced to try and scope and estimate a project for a fixed bid project. For me, this process actually starts with the whiteboarding though. The Gantt chart comes after we have brainstormed and figured the overall plan out.

  2. That’s cool advice, and it’s very efficient. I heard about places where making and maintaining the planning of a project in MS Project is mandatory. Rrrrrrr, shivers.

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