Planning determines what is to be delivered, how much it will cost, when it will be delivered, how it will be delivered, who will carry it out and how all this will be managed. It occurs broadly at two levels: governance and delivery.

The goals of management plans used in governance are to:

  • describe the principles that should be used to manage the work;
  • provide consistency with flexibility across multiple projects and programmes.

The goals of delivery planning are to:

  • describe the objectives of the project, programme or portfolio;
  • define the work required to achieve the objectives and describe how it will be performed;
  • estimate the resources and finance needed to perform the work;
  • document the plans and update them throughout the life cycle.

At the governance level a series of management plans sets out the principles of how each aspect of the work will be managed. These plans include documents such as the risk management plan, scope management plan and financial management plan.

These governance-level plans set out policies and procedures for each aspect of management. They list preferred techniques, including templates for documentation and defined responsibilities. These plans ensure the quality of the P3 management processes and deliverables. Therefore, developing the governance-level plans could also be termed ‘quality planning’.

Delivery plans address seven questions:

  • Why? Everyone involved in, or affected by the work should understand why it is being done. At the highest level, this would be a vision of the key elements and benefits of the work. As more detailed information is developed the question is answered in the business case.

  • What? The work will have objectives that are determined in requirements management. These will be described as outputs, outcomes and/or benefits in documents such as a specification, blueprint or benefit profile.

  • How? There are often different ways of achieving the stated objectives. Solutions development determines the best way and this is stated in the business case and embodied in many other detailed delivery plans.

  • Who? This covers the management organisation and the delivery resources as defined in organisation management and resource management respectively. Who will do the work is clearly closely associated with how the work is done and is also addressed in the detailed delivery plans.

  • When? Schedule management determines the timing of milestones, stages, tranches, work packages and individual activities.

  • Where? While many projects are located in one physical location, more complex projects, programmes and portfolios are spread across many locations and often time zones. The impact of this needs to be reflected in all delivery plans.

  • How much? Naturally, the cost of the work is an essential component of the business case. Financial management determines how much the work will cost and how it will be funded.

The life cycle of projects and programmes is designed to answer these seven questions in stages. Outline documentation is developed during the identification process and, subject to approval through the sponsorship process, is used to produce the detailed delivery plans during the definition process.

All delivery plans originate from estimates. These will be based on whatever data are available together with expertise in their interpretation and application. The more information available, the more accurate the estimates. Inevitably, in the early phases of a project or programme, there is less information available than in the later phases. This results in a funnel where the range of estimates narrows throughout the life cycle. The estimating funnel below covers a normal life cycle but the same principle applies to extended life cycles.


Estimating funnel


This inherent uncertainty in plans is often ignored or mis-understood by key stakeholders who interpret estimates in line with their personal requirements rather than practical realities. That is why techniques such as Monte Carlo in scheduling and the use of reserves as part of budgeting and cost control should be used as evidence of the effects of the estimating funnel.

The P3 manager owns the management and delivery plans but they should be developed with the wider team. Some specialist planning expertise may be provided by a support function. This removes ambiguity, sets expectations and develops commitment to the plan.

Once agreed at the end of the definition process, delivery plans provide baselines which are periodically reviewed and updated. These form the basis of reviews during the boundaries process where the continuing justification of the work is assessed.


Projects, programmes and portfolios

Small projects rarely have the opportunity to invest in the development of management plans. Good management practices will depend on the skill and experience of the project manager. In a more mature organisation, there may be standard management plans available that can be tailored to suit.

Where a project is part of a programme or portfolio, the parent body should provide management plans and guidance on the production of delivery plans. The exception to this is where a standard portfolio comprises contracted projects for different clients. Each client may specify the use of the own standard approaches. The portfolio management team must therefore concentrate on supporting management teams in their use of varied documentation standards.

Too much planning can be as damaging to a project as too little. All planning documents must be tailored to the context of the work. For example, a simple stakeholder map or risk register is far better than none at all, but time spent making them overly complicated can be a distraction. 

On larger projects and all programmes, it is unreasonable to develop detailed delivery plans for the entire life cycle. Later tranches or stages of work will be subject to change as a result of altered requirements and performance in the earlier stages. It is common to apply the principle of rolling wave planning where earlier stages and tranches are planned in more detail than the later ones.

Programmes and portfolios will have central plans and delegated delivery plans. For example, a programme may have a high level schedule where each project and change management work package is represented as a single bar in a Gantt chart. Each project with then have its own detailed schedule. The challenge for planners is to enable information to flow between the higher and lower levels of plan while preserving the planning autonomy of the project manager and business change managers.


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