Two difficulties with project management are keeping a project on schedule and on budget. Failures to meet requirements in these areas have resulted in an over reaction in the level of detail put into early project plans. Nice little catch phrases like “He didn’t plan to fail, he just failed to plan” distort the realities of the situation.
Task based plans focus on the work that needs to be done and how long it is expected to take to complete this work. In the more complicated models, we are encouraged to estimate the minimum time, the expected time, and the most likely time each individual task or subtask will take. The more detailed the plans, it is argued, the more predictable the results. The job of the project manager is to make sure that the tasks are being completed in accordance with the plan.
But task based plans break down and subsequently lead to micro-management. The break-downs are seldom because we don’t keep up with the schedule. It is more likely that tasks were omitted from the plan or the resources required were greatly underestimated. In short, the plan becomes a substitute for responsibility and excuses like “We did it per the plan, it just didn’t work out” begin to be heard.
Ironically, the response to these issues is to create more and more detailed plans, which are likely to conclude with similar failures, because the real causes of our project failures have not been addressed.
Pull planning offers a dramatically different approach. Instead of focusing on the tasks, or the work, it focuses on the desired results. For example, when planning a validation test, a pull plan defines the objectives and the timing of the test. It defines the design release levels and the types of tooling to be used. The plan specifies the confidence that the team needs to have in the results and the methods or particular tests are to be performed. If there are any secondary considerations or objectives, such as using the build event as a learning opportunity for production associates, these are also listed. The consolidation of these plans for each controlling event becomes the project plan. The project team pulls and manages necessary resources to deliver the results for the controlling events as the project proceeds.
Even with a project using pull planning methodologies, there will be times when task planning is necessary. However, they are short-term, specific events on which the team is currently focused. For example, if a prototype event needs completed to facilitate a validation test, then release of Purchase Orders, delivery of components and planning of lab resources must be done on a micro level and in great detail. It is necessary to the success of the project.
But don’t try doing it months in advance. There are just too many unknowns to make it valuable. Instead, team members will become frustrated as the plans decompose. Project leaders will eventually give up and “re-plan” the project.
Don’t waste your time building a Microsoft Project Plan which defines exactly when specific tasks need to be accomplished. It is impossible to comprehend at the project initiation all the tasks that will be required to complete the project. Focus instead on deliverables and results required at specific, predetermined milestones. Then make sure you have a project team with the expertise, the knowledge, the responsibility and the authority to determine when and how to complete the work to ensure successful completion of the project.
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