5 Project Management Steps For More Flexible Planning

How often do you spend hours on a new project plan, only to have an unexpected hiccup push the deadline and skew your entire estimate?

Winding road through the mountains and over a river to symbolize flexibility

How often do you spend hours on a new project plan, only to have an unexpected hiccup push the deadline and skew your entire estimate? You end up with a project that takes longer than it should have or costs more than expected. And this ultimately leaves your client, or your accountant, unhappy... sometimes both.

Although it seems important to know all the project details when making estimates, planning your project at a high level helps you allow for roadblocks or changes that are sure to disrupt your flow.

Here are five project management steps you can take when planning your next project that will keep your plan high level and help you focus on the details you need.

1. Examine external influences. There are a number of externalities that can have an impact on your project's success. Look at the other projects your company is working on. Identify when the right people will become available and when you should be able to start.

2. Identify the project’s constraints. Knowing the limits you have to work within allows you create more accurate estimates that meet everyone's expectations. You should know the answers to questions like: How long do we have to work on the project? What is our total budget? Are we expecting a certain amount of fee from this project? What are the deliverables and specific skills we will need to be successful?

3. Use phases. Although not every project will need to have separate phases, projects with a lot of moving parts will benefit from having smaller sections to work with. Phases create project buckets for you to group team members and assignments in, and are a great way to add a bit more detail to your project plan without being too prescriptive.

4. Make quick calculations. You might know how much a project should cost from past experience, but you can also use rough estimation to set your budget by multiplying the number of work hours by your team members' bill rate. Of course, this is easier if you have software to do these calculations for you, but you can do this manually as well.

For example, if a project will take one designer and one developer 2 months to complete a particular phase of work at $150/h, the total labor cost for the phase will be $96,000. That is your total budget for the phase.

project over budget example

By repeating this process for all parts of the project, you will end up with a high level estimate of the project’s cost. As you plan and estimate more projects, you will get more accurate at estimating the number of hours certain types of work will take.

5. Match the plan to the budget. Take the initial constraints you defined in Step 2 and match them to your budget estimates from Step 4. If you did everything right, the total number of hours you estimated for the project should fit within the timeline and budget you have defined. If it doesn’t, you can look back and see where you can add more time or where to scale back to fit within the budget.

project over budget example

Everyone’s project management process is different, but these are a few tips to keep in mind that will help your plan be nimble and accurate. What strategies do you use for keeping your project planning at a high level? Let us know in the comments.

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