Project planning is a best practice. We all plan big projects at work that involve construction or R&D effort. We create project plans when there is a requirement for integration of many functions and the coordination of multiple tasks.
Types of Project Plans
Traditionally, project plans are created based on the scope of work. We estimate the tasks necessary to complete the project and calculate the duration of each activity. Next, we assign resources by function and name to each task. The output is a pre-determined project plan with a critical path of tasks and expected resources that show how quickly the project can be executed.
In an Agile framework, project planning uses progressive elaboration. As in traditional project planning, we determine a list of requirements upfront. However, in Scrum (the most common Agile implementation for innovation and tangible new product development, NPD) we determine product features necessary to satisfy the end-user’s application. A rank-ordered list of features prioritizes project execution based upon developing the most important features first.
Scrum estimates are usually relative and compared to tasks with known duration and cost. For example T-shirt sizing (small, medium, and large) is a common way of estimating Agile projects. In this example, relative sizes are based upon known standards and each feature development is estimated relative to that standard.
Visualizing the Project Plan
In traditional project management, the output is typically a Gantt chart showing task relationships and duration. The critical path represents all tasks that must be completed on schedule to prevent the entire project schedule from slipping. These tasks are often resource-constrained, as projects rely on experts to do specialized product development work. In other cases, vendor-supplied equipment and customer use tests can be limiting factors.
In Scrum, the project schedule is not usually illustrated as a whole. A product roadmap shows major feature releases for the product, often in conjunction with other products, services, and applications. Task level planning is done by the team using the prioritized feature list. Team members score the difficulty (and duration) of tasks needed to complete a specific feature. A technique called “planning poker” helps the team reach consensus on the “size” of these tasks (e.g. relative sizing of small, medium, or large).
For operational work of the NPD team, a Kanban board (sometimes called a Scrum board) shows tasks assigned to the sprint. As work is completed during a Sprint, a symbol of the task (usually a short description written on a sticky note) is moved from columns on the Kanban board indicating workto-do, work-in-progress, testing, and completed.
At a higher level, all of the “story points” or scores of the relative estimates for product design are added. As each feature is completed, its score is subtracted from the total. Thus the “burndown” chart shows an estimate of work remaining in each Sprint. The burndown chart may be used in conjunction with the Kanban chart or these tools can be deployed separately.
Adjusting the Project Plan
Of course, no project plan is accurate or perfect. The minute we put pencil to paper, the schedule is apt to change. In traditional project management, a Change Control Board reviews major project changes according to the advice of the project manager. In Scrum (Agile), changes to the project scope are expected, resulting in the iterative nature of the system. Tasks not completed in one sprint are added to the “backlog” of the next sprint. This is reflected in a lower-than-planned burndown rate as well as increased work-in-progress on the Kanban board. NPD teams must be concerned if this backlog is too high.
Innovation projects, construction projects, and engineering projects all require planning. We must anticipate the requirements, the schedule, and the cost. These estimates help decision-makers and project leaders determine investments and to assess tolerable risk levels. Project plans indicate whether a project can achieve benefits that outweigh costs.
Consider the following elements as you plan your next innovation project:
- Scope of work,
- Number and complexity of features,
- Necessary tasks and activities to do the work,
- Resources available and skilled to do the work,
- Realistic project schedules indicating duration (not just effort) of each task,
- How to assess changes, and
- Risk management.
Project planning is foundational to effective project selection and should be directly linked to Product Portfolio Management for innovation work. Please join me starting 7 February 2002 for a once-per-year unique opportunity to apply 100 Days to Effective PPM in your teams. Register here.
If you’re interested in learning more about hybrid project planning (traditional waterfall blended with Agile/Scrum), please join me for WAGILE Product Development on 15 and 17 February 2022. Register here.