Building Workplans at the Right Level

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is the Practice Director for Slalom’s Delivery Effectiveness solutions. He is based in Chicago and enjoys bringing actionable, tactical solutions to his clients to help them improve their delivery.

Co-written by John Kackley

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
– President Dwight D Eisenhower

While hopefully none of us is planning for an attack, the wisdom of the 34th president can be applied to work more close to our hearts: establishing the foundation of a project. When supporting clients as a project manager, a lot of time is spent discussing what should be in a project plan. However, clients are usually not looking at the holistic planning process; they are focused on the mechanics of the plan itself and on how small to slice up the work packages. Notwithstanding Ike’s advice, the focus of this blog is on the plan itself. There is a common fear that if tasks are planned at too high a level, then critical details may be missed or team members may go too far astray before a misstep can be found.  This begs the question, “what is the right level of detail to create in a plan that makes it useful to manage a project?”

We think that it is important that one doesn’t start with the end in mind with regard to a  project plan. That is to say, you should not start with the tool or the template. A plan needs an outline. A work breakdown structure or a mind map are great starting points.

A mind map is a visual breakdown which can illustrate everything needed to be covered in the project. It’s visual, rather than linear, which makes it easier to digest. In addition, since it does not have the formality of a workplan, it can be used to discuss scope without getting hung up on workplan details (e.g., dependencies, resource allocations, work-day effort). Read more of this post


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