Project Planning

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Project Planning - What and Why

For the purposes of this web site we clarify the meaning of some ideas:

  • the term project, 
  • why we plan a project
  • why we divide projects into 4 categories

What is a Project - A project is a group of related activities planned and implemented in the expectation of achieving known objectives in a known period of time and with a known set of resources with some component in the project being novel. If you are interested in very large engineering projects check the Project Management Institute web site at 

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The implication of the addition of "novel" is to emphasize that something about the project is unique and therefore untested.  For example, even in building a new house when a similar one has built before to the same design. The location will be different, the soil conditions will be different, the weather will be different, the staff and materials might be different. As a result, the three essential aspects of a project are:

  • the work is unique - which takes us to the work breakdown structure
  • the organization is unique - which takes us to the organizational structure
  • the results or outputs are unique - which takes us to the product breakdown structure

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Note: In  development projects an additional aspect, the presence of several hypotheses  becomes critical to the project's success. 

Why plan a project? We plan a project to increase the probability of it being successful. This implies we should be clear about 

  • what is understood by a successful project and 
  • who will judge the success. 

The project plan, through the planning process should provide the answers to these questions. 

The usual measures of success are that the objectives of the project should be completed on time, within budget and up to the required quality standards. Since one of the measures of success is that the project be completed within the budget, we should recognize that to fix a problem costs substantially more in terms of resources and time, as we progress further into the project. This implies that the costs of good planning will be repaid by avoiding costly mistakes later in the project.

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Why divide projects into categories? - Because the approach we use to:

  • plan the project 
  • startup the project
  • manage the project 

depend entirely on the type of project, therefore we should understand the "nature of the beast" before trying to plan it, or implement it.  Possibly, the type of personality or management style suited to each type of project will be different.

Also the probability of success depends on the type of project. For example the type 1 project (engineering) tends to have the highest probability of success because both the objectives and the methods are defined very early in the project (though there are some notable exceptions). Also, very often the methods are tried and tested.   In contrast, the type 4 project tends to have a lower probability of success because both the objectives and the methods are not defined early in the project. The section - What type of project, clarifies this point.

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Note: For-profit, and not-for-profit organizations. In addition to the 4 types of project there is another factor that should be considered. Whether the project is being run by a for-profit or a not-for-profit  organization. This facet of project planning will be added to the web site in the next revision scheduled for March 2004.


Phase 1 - definition

In the definition stage we attempt to clarify the broad objectives and methods used to achieve them. In large projects there may be feasibility studies or other "tests" to verify some aspect of the proposed project. Clearly the type of project will influence what portion of the objectives and methods can be defined. In many projects the definition phase and planning phase merge together. More information on project planning is provided in the topic Logical Framework Approach.


Phase 2 planning

In the planning phase the Who, How, What, Where, and When should be "clarified". This is covered in greater detail in the Logical Framework approach

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Phase 3 implementation

In the implementation phase the real work of the project starts. and the rate of expenditure usually increases rapidly because costs are incurred for example by:

  • engaging the staff and labor
  • renting facilities and equipment
  • purchasing the materials, equipment, land

Implementation issues are dealt with in greater detail in the Implementation and project management section.

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Phase 4 Handover and evaluation

The handover part is not applicable to all projects, however in general terms in this phase, the results or deliverables of the project are handed over to those who will be responsible for their continuing day to day use. 

Evaluation is an attempt to determine how successful the project has been and to learn from the endeavor. This is especially important considering two issues:

  • we cannot say we are interested in the project being successful and then not make an attempt to verify it
  • since there was an element of "experimentation " in the project (some aspects of the project are novel) we should learn about what worked, and what didn't, so that we can do better next time.

This topics are dealt with in greater detail in the Implementation and Project management section.

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