PM: “Hello, this is Your Awesome Project Manager here, how can I help you?”
Senior Stakeholder/Boss/Person with the corner office (SBP&Co.): “Hello Awesome Project Manager, I have a new project for you!”
PM: “Oh great! I love new projects! I just eat them up, you know? Sometimes, I even start projects at home just because I lo..”
Senior SBP&Co: “Yeah, yeah that’s just GREAT.
So, client X called me up yesterday and said they want features A, B, and C in time for their big launch later on this year. They want it to integrate into the existing solution and have the same look and feel. I’m sending you a quick description of each of the features in an email, and then I need you to get me a project plan written up to present to the other SBP&Co.’s tomorrow. Ok? Great, thanks.”
SBP&Co. hangs up, and the PM in this story starts sweating bullets as she recalls the many pages of the PMBOK it took to outline the contents of a project plan.
(Disclaimer: If you haven’t guessed already, the PM in this story is me, when I was just a fresh, newly minted Project Manager. Perfectionism was still running rampant in my internal dialog, and I needed to make sure I did everything EXACTLY RIGHT and earth-shatteringly amazing. Take it from me – NOT sustainable)
According to what I had learned, the project plan contains a number of other documents and plans, including:
- Project Objective
- Project schedule/timeline
- … Aaand others, depending on your source of information/school of project management
(For a good overview of the types of documents contained in a project plan, see this post from the Project Management Institute’s blog.)
Back to the
sweaty glowing project manager in the scenario above – HOW in the world was she to come up with a full project plan in less than a day?
Fortunately for me, I learned (after running to my supervisor, voice cracking and with a severe case of the shakes) that when SBP&Co’s ask for a project plan, they’re usually asking for a project schedule. (Notice that I didn’t say “they’re usually just asking for a project schedule – there’s nothing “just” about putting together a project schedule!!)
Although coming up with a project schedule is not trivial at this point in the game, it is possible to come up with an estimated timeline by:
- Utilizing historical knowledge of your team’s work
- Consulting with members of your development team to get their input based on the information available
Nowadays, I still cringe a little when asked to come up with a project plan on minimal information.
However, I make sure to proactively turn that feeling around by immediately talking to my stakeholders and clarifying that what they’re really asking me for is an estimated project schedule, and I encourage them to use that term moving forward in our communications.
So how do you solve the problem of project plan vs. project schedule confusion?
- Educate your teams and stakeholders on the difference between a project plan and a project schedule
- ASK! When you are asked to provide a project plan, simply ask whether the requester is looking for a project schedule, or a full-fledged project plan
Do you ever get confused by what’s being asked when someone requests a project plan?
Even better, do you ever refer to a project schedule as a project plan?