Making Project Plan Updates: What Should Be Included
written by: Mark Blair
• edited by: Jean Scheid
• updated: 11/2/2012
The project plan is an important communication tool of the project manager. Here, we talk about updates that need to be included in the plan making it an effective resource to answer questions such as "Where are we on the schedule?" and "How much is this costing us?"
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An Important Resource
In most organizations, the project management team is the group of people responsible for updating the project plan. The project plan is many things to the project manager. It is a record of what has occurred on the project. It illustrates what is happening on the project right now. And, it prepares the project team by showing what will be coming up.
Keeping the plan current is an important role of the project manager (or project administrator). Project updates focus on the three project management constraints, cost, time and scope. An effective project manager knows that a change in one of these areas results in changes in the other two. A current project plan will show the effect of these changes on the overall project.
The project plan is the primary communication tool used by the project manager. When project sponsors ask “Are we going to make our Phase One target date?" or the CFO asks, “What capital expenses will we incur in Quarter 4?" or the customer asks, “What will be the impact to the project cost if we add another door?", the project manager turns to the updated project plan to get the answers; most plans follow a standard format in order to be effective.
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Once a project plan is agreed upon, a baseline has been established and the project has momentum, the project manager will record time worked on a regular basis. How often this happens depends on how current the team wants the plan to be. Weekly time updates are typical, but daily may be desired for very time-sensitive projects.
It can be quite a task to get the team on the plan to record their time worked and on what. Sometimes a project administrator is used to track down time and/or remind team members to turn in or record their time.
This is also a good time for the project manager to update the resources portion of the project calendar. Vacations, leave and team availability should be reviewed and updated as needed.
Other resource timelines should be reviewed, as well. Expected arrival of materials and availability of outside resources impact the project when delayed or even made available sooner than expected.
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Costs can fluctuate, especially in long-duration projects. Material costs can change, internal staff can be promoted with a subsequent increase in their hourly rate, and changes in external contractors can result in higher contract rates.
These cost changes should be made on the project plan as soon as they are known and significant variances communicated to the executive team and/or sponsors.
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Of course, any changes in the scope of the project should be made in the plan when known and as soon as possible. Depending on the tools used by the project manager to maintain the plan, several “what if" scenarios will likely have been done prior to the acceptance of any scope changes. This is the best way to determine the impact of scope changes on the project schedule and costs before actually approving the changes.
With scope changes, it is good to create a “set point" in the project plan. First, update the time worked and any current cost changes in the plan. Save this plan as the current set point. Then add the scope changes and adjust any other elements affected and save this as a new project plan with the correct revision date.This is a valuable procedure to follow should the project manager need to return to an earlier plan.
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Manager Time Schedule
By scheduling times to perform project plan updates, the project manager can reduce the impact of administrative tasks on their own schedule. A typical weekly schedule for a project manager might look like:
Thursday - Collect all time worked since Monday and determine estimates of work times for Friday.
Friday - Enter time worked that week. Update resource (staff) calendars.
Monday - Update Friday estimates with actual time worked. Review and update schedules for material, supplies and other non-person resources. Run reports and deliver to the appropriate people by the end of day Monday or Tuesday morning.
There are advantages of establishing a schedule for administrative tasks for the project manager, such as:
Becomes a planned activity
Negates the need to rush updates to meet reporting deadlines
Allows the project plan to always be an accurate source of project status information
Normally, being the one with their finger on the pulse of the project, the project manager is the person most responsible for updating the project plan. The organized project manager, with an updated project plan in hand, gains credibility as the one who knows what’s going on in the project.
When called upon to offer status reports to a steering committee, a presentation to a board of directors, or to be part of the annual shareholder’s meeting, the prepared project manager and an updated, current project plan will be an authority on how a project fits into the company’s goals and objectives