The Planning Process Group is arguably the most important of the five process groups in project management.
Glad you asked, because failure to thoroughly complete the planning phase is a surefire way to point your project toward failure.
In this article, we’ll dive into what makes the Planning Process Group a vital component of the project lifecycle. Whether you’re studying for the PMP exam or freshening up on your PM skills, it’s a great idea to get familiar with the planning phase.
The Importance of the Planning Process Group
You could argue that the Initiating Process Group, and not Planning, is the most important phase, and it would be difficult to argue with you, because without the Initiating phase, there is no project.
But, when it comes to project failure, Planning is often where things go wrong.
Planning is the phase where the project plan is developed and agreed upon. It is the phase where the schedule is set, the estimations are produced, and the risks are identified and assessed.
Oftentimes when projects fail to meet deadline, stay within budget, or deliver on quality, those failures can be traced back to the planning phase and to something that was done improperly, or not done at all.
In short, the Planning Process Group is the phase that sets the tone for the entire project.
No pressure, right?
Outputs of the Planning Process Group
The primary output of the planning phase in any project lifecycle is the project plan, also known as the project management plan.
The project management plan is essentially a collection of documents that establish baselines, schedules and contingencies for the project.
So among the very important work that a project manager must complete during the planning phase is:
- Developing the project charter
- Creating the work breakdown structure
- Sequencing the tasks
- Estimating task duration
- Determining resources required
- Creating a schedule
- Assessing risk
- Establishing a change control process
And there’s more. Here’s a full breakdown of what goes into the project management plan, but at this point, you’ve probably begun to wrap your head around why the Planning Process Group is essential for project managers to get right.
Problems Can Arise From Poor Project Planning
By now you’ve gotten a glimpse of a project manager’s responsibilities during the planning phase of any project.
In many ways, the Planning Process Group is where the project manager can make their biggest impact on the project, ensuring everything to come will be as organized as possible, and helping set the project team on a course for success.
Without a good plan, projects can quickly and easily become chaotic and veer off track.
Among the problems we’ve seen most frequently as a result of poor project planning are the dreaded scope creep and the well-intentioned gold plating, both of which have the power to capsize a project.
We’ve gone into scope creep and gold-plating in detail in other articles, but here’s a quick look at each.
Avoiding Scope Creep Starts With Planning
As we noted in the article What is Scope Creep and How Can You Control It?, scope creep is best addressed early in the project lifecycle.
During the planning phase, to be precise.
Scope creep is the expansion of a project’s scope, after the project is underway, without an adjustment to project timeline, budget, or resources.
Two of the best ways to avoid scope creep come straight out of the Planning Process Group:
1. Collect Requirements
2. Establish a Change Control Process
Both of these are outputs of the planning phase, and they are both instrumental in dealing with the near-certainty that opportunities for scope creep to tank your project will arise along the way.
Making sure you have thoroughly collected all requirements for the project during planning is essential to keeping scope creep at bay. Make sure all relevant stakeholders sign off on those requirements, as well!
Establishing a change control process — and, again, receiving sign-off from all relevant stakeholders, including your fellow project team members — will ensure that when change requests do arise, they go through the proper channels to get vetted before making their way into your project’s scope.
Set the Expectations Early to Avoid Gold Plating
While scope creep often (but not always) arises from outside of the project team, gold plating most frequently stems from the actions of project team members.
Gold plating, simply put, is the well-intentioned practice of delivering more than the customer requested.
Setting expectations with your project team about scope and deliverables during the planning phase can help ensure you avoid gold plating later in your project.
5 Key Activities of the Planning Process Group
So, while a poorly executed planning phase will bring about near certainty that your project will run into problems along the way, a well-planned project will have a clear roadmap to follow, making it much easier to stay on track and avoid problems.
The Planning Process Group is made up of several key activities, as we defined earlier in this article. Let’s take a closer look at 5 of them.
Developing the project charter
The project charter is the document that officially starts the project. It includes information such as the objectives of the project, who is responsible for what, and the budget.
Creating the work breakdown structure
The work breakdown structure is a document that breaks down the project into smaller, more manageable pieces. This helps to make sure that all of the tasks are properly accounted for and that nothing is forgotten. The Scope Baseline is an important output of the “Create WBS” process.
Sequencing the tasks
Once the work breakdown structure is complete, it’s time to start sequencing the tasks. This means figuring out the order in which they need to be completed. Often, this can be done using a tool called a Gantt chart.
Estimating task duration and resources required
In order to create a realistic schedule, it’s important to accurately estimate how long each task will take and how many resources (including individuals, materials, and virtual tools needed to execute the project) will be required. This can be a tricky process, but it’s important to get right, so plan to spend some time researching and interviewing for this task.
Creating a schedule
Once all of the above information has been gathered, it’s time to create a schedule. This document will list all of the tasks, their estimated durations, and when they need to be completed. Often, this is done using a tool called a Gantt chart.
As you can see, the Planning Process Group is absolutely essential for setting your project up for success.
- Planning is the phase that sets the tone for the entire project.
- Bungling the planning phase is a great way to ensure problems later in your project.
- The outputs of the planning phase are critical to the success of later phases.
- It’s no wonder planning is such as important topic for the PMP Exam, so make sure you study this part thoroughly!