Project Managment for Small Business VII
Schedule: This is the list of all tasks that need to be accomplished to complete the project. While there are various tools to help organize a project schedule, I've found that Microsoft Excel is the simplest, and most accessible tool. New project managers can attempt to go too deep with the schedule, resulting in an unmanageable plan. When you make your schedule, create something that everyone can understand, a resource that allows all involved parties to clearly understand what has been accomplished, and what tasks remain.
Budget: When you make your budget, take the time to think through all costs, including out of pocket expenses. Depending on the project, you may or may not want to include employee labor cost, that decision is entirely up to you. For a clearer picture of project cost, include labor. You can then compare the total cost against the expected outcome to assess return.
Risks: An inside joke in the project management community is that no matter how big a project is, and how many tasks are on the schedule, there are always about 5 risks. Usually, these risks are an afterthought, but they shouldn't be. Identifying the risks is important, but remember that it's equally important to think through how these risks can be neutralized.
Assumptions: I've seen a lot of project managers use assumptions as a strategy to "cover their butts," which is not a very good strategy, because assumptions typically get even less thought than risks. Assumptions are external dependencies, and they are very important. Let's say you assume that a customer will be available 2 days a week throughout the project, but their schedule only permits half a day. Taking the time to think through all external dependencies that you have is very worthwhile. These external dependencies may reveal that the project is not feasible, or that the project needs to be postponed until everyone is available.
Issues: As one of my colleagues likes to say, "you have issues and I have tissues." If risks identify that something that can go wrong, and needs to be mitigated, and assumptions identify the external dependencies, what are issues? Issues are known challenges that need to be resolved. Risks may or may not happen. Issues are real; they are problems that need to be addressed. In the planning stage, the project manager should be thinking through how he or she will attack the issues.
The next five posts in this series will drill down into each of these plan areas in more detail, and identify strategies and best practices for each.