A project manager’s job today very much resembles that of a ship captain in the 1800’s, having to think about every aspect of the boat while getting it safely from point A to point B in a timely manner. There tends to be no down time from the start to finish of a project, with every moment and every hour a consideration about what else could impact the project.
The sailing map for the project captain, however, doesn’t resemble some artistic cartography. Instead, the old-school charts and timelines are replaced by a more sophisticated project implementation plan. This set of documentation collectively details every step, phase, date and tasks of how the given project comes together. As a result, the project manager’s job involves not just creating the plan, but also ensuring compliance with the project.
The project implementation plan often provides the project manager a checklist as well as a set of performance metrics of expected results to aim for by each date or stage. Psychologically, a well-structured plan of progress usually provides better results than going into a project simply guessing how to proceed day-to-day. When used for benchmarking, the implementation plan may provide an early signal that project work might be steering off the rails and heading in the wrong direction. Finally, the plan lays out an approach that all the team members on the project understand and can reference.
A typical implementation plan appears as a large document with lots of columns and rows where each column represents a phase or step in the project. Each row accounts for a specific task or goal that needs to be accomplished. The display often includes priority rows and then sub-task rows underneath them. Measurement of progress occurs with factors such as:
- A complete task list differentiated by tasks completed and tasks yet to be completed.
- The percentage of completion in each task representing what areas are partially completed and to what extent.
- Day of project start and the number of days into implementation, as well as the time left for completion per expected deadlines.
- Prioritization of tasks and who’s responsible for each one.
- Key milestones and phases of the project.
Many times the implementation plan ends up being treated as the primary project document charter because of its frequent reference and use. However, this is a mistake. The implementation plan remains a separate tool from the project charter and overall policy justification document. To avoid confusion, it’s the project manager’s job to keep these records distinct and evident in their usage. The most common blending tends to be on financial issues and budget planning; apparently, letting a task schedule dictate a budget has the potential for cost erosion and budgetary mistakes.
Initially, implementation plan preparation started with paper and pencil. Today, more advanced software tools provide digital development and easy modification of plans. These tools allow not just extensive plan development, but instant modification, expansion, and detailed changes at a variety of levels. Project planning today includes extensive detail options, but the project manager still needs to retain control and produce a plan everyone can easily access and understand.