It may sound a little odd. If you've planned your projects to a T, why would you need to plan ahead to plan your projects? As project managers, we’re often typecast as planners, but we spend a significant chunk of our day executing a fair share of the project as well.
How Planning is a Form of Execution
Here’s a sampling of my execution-related daily tasks:
- Status updates via emails, phone calls and meetings for various stakeholders
- Answering questions from team members directly impacting their planned workload
- Scrums or huddles
- Longer brainstorms or strategy sessions
- Final review on deliverables
My team members may view all of these as planning activities, but to me they are small execution steps that lead to the large accomplishment of project launch. Every time I update my project plans or budget trackers, I’m doing my duty to guide the project to the finish line. With every huddle I lead, I’m doing more than just gathering status updates from everyone in the room. The outcome of my huddles is a behind-the-scenes to-do list to ensure that team members have what they need to do their jobs.
Why You Need to Make Time to Plan
Some days, I barely get to sit at my desk for longer than five minutes. But how does that leave any time for project planning? We get by with approximates or estimates when asked. We wrap up meetings with a promise to send around an updated plan. We’re constantly zooming around and our minds are bouncing around trying to resolve 20 problems at one time. Once all issues are resolved and we have collected updates for every project, we need to know how the day’s events has affected plans. While there is no doubt that our plans will get updated eventually, the bottom line is that some portion of your day needs to spent putting together and updating your timelines. How do you approach the concept of project scheduling when you have no time?
Well, I plan time to plan. And if you haven’t tried this, I highly suggest you incorporate it into your day.
Setting time aside specifically for project planning may seem excessive, but can be very helpful once a routine is established. This time should be spent reviewing your project plan, timelines, and any dependencies. It allows you to look at whether your plans are still on track, what works and what doesn’t. And when you are able to target the failing or high-risk items, you can begin to evaluate the current approach and develop new ones to keep your project on track.
Think of this as your project management "me" time.
How Often and What You Do During Your "Me" Time
Make time once a week to go over the project plan and determine the big accomplishments from the past week and define the goals for next week. Use this time to ensure that all resources are aligned to execute against those goals. While every project plan accounts for milestones and tasks, evaluating the realistic goals and accomplishments will help you refine the plan by adding definition to your plans and timelines where needed.
Schedule an additional 30 minutes every day to spend time alone and review the day or next day’s schedule. While I recommend that this chunk of time to occur either at the beginning or very end of your day, you can experiment with what works best for you. Right now, I’m finding that the end of the day works best for me. I review my schedules and update tracking gantt charts as needed. Once I am done doing this for all of my active timelines, I have a good picture of where each of my projects stand. Instead of providing ballpark dates and estimates off the top of my head to stakeholders, I am able to better recall dates and fine details on my team’s progress. Then, I make sure that all meetings scheduled for the next day are planned, confirmed and include an agenda and resources for discussion are attached. I also close the loop on any access issues participants may experience. For example, I make sure all invitees have the correct conference call or webinar information and that they have the technology to access these tools. Lastly, I break down the remainder of the day according to any execution-related deliverables. If needed, I’ll even begin to block time off in my calendar to work on specific tasks.
Start Now and Give It Time to Sink In
With this routine, I remain on top of my game. I know it may seem tedious to schedule time every day to review and update plans on a daily and weekly basis. But getting into the habit ensures that you stay on top of your plans. You are able to foresee and mitigate risks before they turn into major roadblocks. You will know whether your team is on track and able to better manage your project.
Do you schedule time specifically for planning and scheduling? Have you found it worth it? What works best for you?