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This article will take you for a ride through the landscape of project planning. Rather than focusing on project phases, some here, some there, focus on the steps in planning the project from start to finish.
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First Stop: Project Objective
Set a clear objective for your project by determining what result or deliverable you would like to achieve. If a client needs software to keep track of important research information, then the objective should reflect this. If the objective is to increase profits 20% within one year, then the objective should reflect this. Clear objectives can be formulated by asking yourself some of the following questions:
- What does the client need?
- What do I (we) need?
- What would benefit the client?
- What would benefit the company?
- When does the objective need to be reached?
- Do I have the resources to meet this objective?
- Is this objective something that is measurable?
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Fill 'er Up: Milestones
Set measureable goals and sub-goals that support the objective. These sub-goals are called milestones. These are important stops in your project because they ensure that your project is on the right path. Milestones for a book project might include:
- Initial research completed
- Outline completed
- Rough Draft completed
- Second Draft Completed
- Final Revision Completed
- Book Submitted
Determine milestone benefits by brainstorming at staff meetings. These meetings should be used to determine the most valuable milestones for your project and objective.
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The Road Itself: Tasks and Subtasks
Once you have determined the objectives and milestones of the project, it is time to break the milestones into small tasks and subtasks. Each task or subtask should be a specific action to be completed that will move you toward the milestone. At this stage note any task dependencies and specific resource requirements
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Time = Rate x Distance: Scheduling
Estimate the project schedule. Take into account how long you have to complete the project. Then, give both an optimistic and pessimistic estimate of the time needed to complete each milestone. The pessimistic estimate should not exceed the time required to complete the entire project.
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Detours Ahead: Assessing Risk
Incorporate strategies for assessing risk. It is important at the outset of project planning to assess the level of risk involved in your project. This way, a strategy for avoiding or accommodating risk will be built into your project charter.
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Where's that Mechanic and his Wrench: Evaluating Resources
Before diving headfirst into assigning resources to the project, evaluate the competence, speed, and availability of resources. This way you can avoid overallocation and overtime, as well as scope creep when the resources you need are not available.
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Final Destination: Project Plan
Once the objective, all milestones and tasks are determined, document every agreed upon point in the project plan. For more information on planning projects, see Creating a Project Plan.