An article exploring goal driven planning, the importance of measurement in project control, and some effective techniques for project, and life, management
Maintaining control is one of the toughest challenges we face in life, and in business. Understanding three simple concepts will help you approach everything from maintaining a household budget, to time management in a complex business environment.
These three elusive secrets are rooted in common sense:
- You need to make a plan
- The plan needs to be flexible
- The plan needs to be controlled
It’s no good trying to get by without a plan. Even a household budget needs planning, as it helps to make better use of the money that is there, whilst waiting for more to come in.
But, the best plans can be disrupted, so a certain amount of flexibility must be maintained. Complex, often lengthy, projects will evolve drastically as they deliver their targets.
However, change for the sake of it, or knee jerk reactions to external stimuli may have unintended consequences, so an element of control is vital.
Making these three important aspects work together is the key to success. It all starts with the plan…
Make a Plan, and Stick to It
Many people are fond of making a plan, and then putting it in a folder, and then embarking on the project in a reactive way, guided by their memory of the plan. If there are planning meetings, the plan is dusted off and referred to, but otherwise it remains as just another bit of paper.
For the plan to work, you need to stick to it. To stick to the plan, it needs to be referred to constantly in terms of deliverables on a time scale that match the stages in the plan as it unfolds.
So, rather than making a plan and putting it in a folder, it should become a series of smaller steps and goals, each with a time frame that makes them easy to achieve – a day, a week, a month, but no longer.
Smaller time scales also help to make the plan flexible.
Successful Plans Are Flexible Plans
The end goal of the plan should not change over time. If it does, then the project has changed, and it’s probably time to start thinking about setting up a new one.
The journey to the end goal, however, may take twists and turns. The time scale may be stretched or compressed as external influences come into play.
So, treat each step as a small segment on the journey from the last achieved goal to the next goal to be achieved. There may be additional steps that were not visible from the outset that need to be introduced (making the plan longer) or there may be technological or financial changes that mean that certain steps can be eliminated or reduced (making the plan shorter.)
But, how do you know when the plan needs to be changed? By using control.
You Cannot Control What You Don’t Measure
To exert control over the project, the metrics that define the project need to be measured. These may be financial (overspending leading to project scope reduction) for example.
They can be qualitative, with no real numbers behind them, or they can be quantitative, with defined metrics that can help ascertain success.
The important thing is that they need to be established at the outset, measured regularly, and used to exert control through changes to the flexible project plan.
So, be prepared to define targets, measure success against those targets, and change the plan according to the outcome, and remember that all the changes will be necessary for the success of the project, even if the end result is slightly different from the first concept!