The planning tools industry is worth a small fortune – much of that being in the software arena. Since modern planning software has already made the shift from standalone products to software as a service (SaaS) it’s more accessible than ever.
And that’s a good thing.
It should be easy for anyone to be able to get hold of good planning software.
As with all tools there is a sexy glamour associated with having the perceivably best and latest bits of software. It’s a thing of prestige to be able to state to your customers that you are using the Version 10.5 of Plan-O-Matic while all your competitors are using Version 9.2 (Oh! The fools!). And I get that. I really do.
In fact, lots of large organisations stipulate that to work with them you must use a specific piece of planning software. And I understand that too. It’s brilliant to be able to exchange compatible file formats. It saves lots of hassle when informations fits in to the system you already have.
But there is an expectation associated with having the sparkliest planning tools. And that expectation is that the person behind the software knows not only how to use it, but also how to do planning. In the field of planning you need to be a software jockey as well as a planning master. The software makes it looks pretty, but the mastery gives meaning.
There is a very particular set of things that a plan must be able to do.
A plan must:
- Show (to a useful level of detail) all of the work to be done
- Show which pieces of work rely on other pieces (in the form of a sequence of work)
- Show all of the expected people and materials to be used
- Show who needs to do what and when
- Show start, duration and finish dates for all of the work
- Be able to be quickly modified and updated to reflect how progress (or change) actually happens
- Show how much progress has been made to date
- Be useful for everyone with a stake in the project
- Forecast a completion date
- Track costs expended, and forecast those still to be spent
- Be organised in a way that shows an incremental completion of the project in totality
- Show a comparison between where you thought you’d be, and where you actually are
If a plan that you’re using doesn’t include the features above, then see how they can be included.
I’ve heard a plan described as the ‘heartbeat’ of the project and it’s a term I agree with.
A useful plan is at the very core of a healthy project. Because it includes all of the communicable information as described above it is an invaluable tool to help guide good decisions – and projects are built on the ability to make good decisions.
So when someone presents you with a fancy plan, run through the list above.
Does it satisfy all of the criteria? Is it easy to understand? Are there any peculiar features that make you wonder if the plan is realistic?
Be dazzled by the sparkly colour scheme for a moment. Then look a little deeper. And if you need any help drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org