10 Essential Rules for Effective Project Planning
Project management can be fraught with challenges and every manager struggles to ensure that the project stays on track, as well as within budget. There are a number of variables (both internal and external) that can cause a project to go off track.

To help you avoid these problems and manage your projects more effectively, I have created a list of the most essential rules for project planning. If you follow these and have a strategic plan in place, it will ensure that your project progresses seamlessly and is a success.

1. Get the project details in place

Even before you actually start the project, make sure that there is a solid foundation in place and all the key stakeholders are in-sync with the plan that you have chalked out for it. Always keep their interests and expectations in mind, and understand exactly how they are going to determine whether the project is a success or a failure.

Successful Project

Identify the scope of the project very clearly and make sure it includes the roles and responsibilities of all the team members. Establish clear-cut criteria that are measurable and trackable, such as:
  •  Accomplishing all tasks on schedule
  • Achieving the budget targets
  • Confirming that the product functionality meets the customer’s expectations
  • Making sure that all the  industry and/or  government regulations are met
  • Paying careful attention to all the details, as this will be the grid that supports the project and makes it a success

2. Identify the project and team requirements

Once you have a solid plan in place, start implementing it and assemble an effective project team. When it comes to team success, the initial organisation is crucial and you need to take individual skills, personalities and talents into consideration when building your project team.

As the project manager, it becomes your job to align all these with the different elements of the project. Ensure that each team member knows what their role is and the task that has been assigned to them, as well as what they are required to provide upon completion.

3. Lead by example

The project leader – in this case, you – is at the helm of the project and it becomes your responsibility to cultivate positive team dynamics. You have to be approachable and act as a mentor and coach to your team members.

In addition, it’s your responsibility to get regular inputs from your team, as well as key stakeholders. You must have the presence of mind and the acumen to navigate rough waters and sail along on smooth ones too.

Just as having effective leadership skills is vital, it’s equally important that you lead by example. Don’t slacken on any front – an army will be only as enthusiastic and motivated as they perceive their commander to be.

4. Define all crucial project milestones

Every project will have defining moments and one of the most important parts of planning a project is to identify these. Your project will have four main phases: initiation, planning, execution, and closure.

Try to do an evaluation at the end of each of these phases, and examine every deliverable. Make sure the product is aligned to the quality that your clients are expecting. Setting milestones helps you to eliminate project risks and monitor changes. It also alerts you to any consistent problems, and ensures that each piece is accurately completed.

5. Open communication

Project management is a lot about teamwork and you have to make sure that you keep the communication lines open, are consistent, honest and open, and that you are communicating in a clear manner with your team members as well as stakeholders. The one way to make sure that everyone is on the same page is to create status reports, which will be based on the project updates.

6. Pertinent documentation

Right from the outset of the project and through the milestones, have the documentation signed by the key stakeholders. Regardless of how excellent your project management skills are, most projects tend to overstep their time frame and budget. This is why you need to have all the right documentation ready and plan for contingencies. Even as you do this, avoid over-documentation that doesn’t add any value to your project.

7. Manage project risks

Project planning courses from Activia will also teach you how you can manage project risk effectively. To a certain degree, this is something that comes with experience. When you handle a large number of similar projects, it gives you the ability to foresee when a possible risk may surface and when you need to set corrective measures in place. Your tact lies in being able to identify and control all project risks before they get out of hand. Risk management is a very important aspect of running a successful project.

Manage Project Risks

8. Keep scope creep at bay

Managing scope creep is another essential component of effective project planning, and something that will contribute to the success of your project. Though it’s not possible to eliminate changes entirely, your focus should be on keeping your project from transitioning into chaos-mode. Typically, scope creep occurs when any new elements are added to a project which has already been approved.

The problem arises when no consideration is given to upping the budget limit, adding more time to the agreed schedule, or adding more resources. If you feel that the scope of the project has to be revisited, it’s important that you initiate the re-scoping process. Ensure that you have all the appropriate documentation and that all the stakeholders’ sign-off on the changes before you move forward with the project.

9. Test deliverables

In order for the final product to meet all project requirements, you should test deliverables at every milestone. You need to make sure that the product is also coming along as planned and then move onto the next phase. Your project will be considered a success only when the deliverable meets – or exceeds – customer expectations. Once the project reaches completion and the client is satisfied, your mission will be complete.

10. Evaluating the project

Every project is essentially a valuable learning tool. Review the project in its entirety and analyse the different project components. Even as you gain satisfaction from looking at the project victories, understand what the disappointments were.

Make well-informed conclusions about the quality of the project and the performance of the product. More importantly, compare the planned ROI (Return on Investment) to the actual one - this will help you understand what the level of your success is. The lessons you learn from each project will help you to keep future failures to a minimum, and they should become the stepping stones to even more success with future ones you take up.

Can you think of any other rules for project planning that I haven't mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below.