12 Steps to ensure a good night’s sleep every night…
We are all existing in an increasingly hectic and chaotic World. Having it covered, being in charge of it, being able to seize the initiative, being on the front foot most of the time; all builds our confidence in dealing with a stressful workplace and homelife.
Bringing order to the “chaos” of our various projects and being rewarded by a good night’s sleep every night will keep us energised, healthy and motivated to take on those life challenges the Future will be throwing at us all.  And It will!

Good PLANNING is THE foundation for successful delivery of projects.

Disciplined Project Management planning is the ONLY way you’ll be able to control your projects well and prevent a project from hurting you ever again. I thought I’d share an approach that has served me very well in practice.

Project Management Planning - Beyond the Timeline…
Too many people understand project management planning, or project planning to mean only the development of a timeline, or programme in order to see how long a project is likely to take and identify what the time-critical steps may be.

I prefer the Oxford English Dictionary definition:

"a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something"

If done thoroughly enough, the astute of you will see that Project Planning is synonymous with Project Definition.

For me, project planning starts at the beginning of the Project Management Life Cycle and continues all the way through a project's development, and ultimately all the way to its end point and beyond.  Past its end-point ???

Absolutely! - at the end of a project, review what could have been improved and plan to use the lessons on the next project. It’s so common that this gets overlooked.  Maybe don't wait until only the end to do this.  Continuously learn and improve during the project?

Like all other aspects of successful Project Management, PLANNING is an iterative process, continually being developed and honed as details become better defined and understood. Without planning, there is no project control. Without project control; failure, fast!

"The desire to plan well should be inherent in every project manager's DNA..."

Here's an insight into the way I believe planning should be approached and why.

It's a logical sequence of events.

The following process could take a few days, or several months to undertake. The time and effort taken should depend on the complexity of the project being undertaken. However, no matter what the complexity of the project:

I ALWAYS consider each of the following steps!
You could also use these steps as a checklist for carrying out your own health check on an existing project.

Understand the context of the project – the objectives, expected benefits, starting point conditions, outline scope – what does “success” mean and look like?


Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Chunk it down! - identifying and breaking down into logical and manageable chunks what needs to be done in order to deliver the project. I generally think of related chunks of work as Work Packages.


Organisational Breakdown Structure (OBS) - Who's going to be responsible for delivering the specific chunks of work, or Work Packages, identified during the Work Breakdown Structure exercise.


Task Sequencing - identify the logical sequence for carrying out the tasks identified from the Work Breakdown Structure exercise, as well as the inter-dependence of the tasks and activities.

IMPORTANT: this exercise starts to build the vision of how the project will come together.


Task Duration - identify how long each task is expected to take in terms of calendar time, one day, 3 weeks, 4 months .....


Critical Path Analysis (CPA) - With all this valuable information, now is the time to consider the timeline.

The process of CPA is best carried out using proprietary project planning software.  Critical Path Analysis identifies the shortest possible time for completing the project, as well as those tasks/activities that affect this.  You'll have seen the output of this process - the BAR CHART or GANTT CHART, same thing!

Basically, a time phased horizontal bar chart report of when activities will start and finish, as well as much more useful information. The Project (or Program) Time Schedule!


Non-Project Related Events - add in non-project related constraints in time which must be taken account of such as; scheduled plant/system outages, public holidays etc., then recalculate the project Critical Path - now you have your first look at the expected project end date - usually this date doesn't look so good.

NO WORRIES! this is all an iterative process…


Is the estimated end date acceptable? - do the results of steps 6 & 7 make sense, based on practical logic, common sense and experience?  At first, the answer is usually NO! So review steps 4 through 7 until you are satisfied you have reached a credible solution with the information available.


TIP: It's worth recording items you are unsure of, as well as the assumptions you have made - so you can sense-check them later on.


What are RESOURCES?  Project Management texts will refer to: people, materials and cash, though in my pragmatic world, people and materials always equals CASH anyhow.  Cash is merely the means to pay for PEOPLE and MATERIALS, so I'll only be considering PEOPLE and MATERIALS from this point forwards.

Resource Breakdown Structure (RBS) - construct an RBS, this identifies the type of resources needed to carry out the project.  You should also assign COST RATES to each type of resource.


Resources Schedule - by assigning quantities of PEOPLE or MATERIALS to activities in the Project Time Schedule, following step 8, it’s now possible to see how much of each Resource is needed at any point along the project timeline.

Resources are very rarely unlimited, so when Resource needs are compared with their availability, a series of mismatches (peaks and troughs) occur along the project timeline.  These mismatches need to be balanced (smoothed out).  This is generally done by extending the calendar duration for those project activities where identified resources are limited.

This could affect the overall Project Time Schedule, completion date and Critical Path.  You may need to review the HOWs again to create a way to do the project without missing the target end date.

'TIME' is MONEY! We’ve all heard that, and steps 1 through 10 reinforce that.  So it’s important to know how much 'time' is costing for your project.  During the project planning process you need to understand both Cost Commitments and Cash Required, with 'time'. Both go hand in hand.

Cost Commitment - this is how much money you will need to have committed to spend at any point in time to deliver the project as planned.  That is to say, cash has not yet left your bank to pay for relevant resources, but the project has committed, legally or otherwise, to spending cash in order to progress.

Back at step 9, when you assigned cost rates to resources... This allows you to identify the required cost commitments needed along the project timeline, in order to achieve the drive the necessary levels of progress.


Cash Flow - now the accountants wake up and take an interest! Cash Flow  identifies when the cash associated with your cost commitments actually leaves your bank.  Cash flowing out usually lags the cost commitments due to credit arrangements, invoicing times etc. BUT just like any business, cash is the lifeblood of the project and vital to project success.  If the cash dries up, so does the project!


"Strong Cashflow Planning is mission critical since it identifies when cash funding is needed by the project"


It's very rare for the project sponsor to dump the full agreed budget into the project's current account on day 1; so predicting the correct draw down of finances allowing the payment for commitments is key to maintaining the appropriate momentum in the project.


This being a rigorous process, without the benefit of perfect information, the Project Plan is an estimate, with an accuracy that depends on the amount of effort and development put into each stage of the planning process.
Like all good estimating, YOU MUST DOCUMENT all your assumptions in order to have some meaningful comparison for when it all changes.  AND IT WILL! It's now considered Best Practice to produce this as a controlled document.  This becomes a key body of work which defines the project baseline, against which Project Execution will be controlled and decision-making referred to.

The assumptions and clarifications help to identify and shape those items, that if different from the plan, could impact the project negatively - RISKS!

REMEMBER - projects are living things, they will develop and evolve as they become better defined and understood.

As a SUCCESSFUL project manager, you should always have your finger on the pulse, especially why changes have occurred.  This relies on having a clear, structured and logical plan to start with.