When I take my draft project plan to my boss for his approval before it goes to the customer I really want my boss to make me sweat blood explaining the plan (if I can’t explain it to him then I stand no chance with the customer).
However, what I get is all wrong.
He (for my boss is a man) picks on the smallest detail in the plan and argues with me about it. He misses the big picture and focuses on something that he can understand (and, the cynic in me suggests, he can show off about). In reality he is not qualified to ask detailed technical questions, but he is absolutely qualified to ask questions about the processes I used to produce the plan.
Well, it’s just not good enough. This is what I want my boss to ask me:
How did you put this plan together? Did you make some private time for yourself, and focus on the plan, or did you get some folks together and run a workshop? No points for guessing that the first is WRONG – it means my plan has not been challenged by people with more knowledge than me, or just different knowledge from me.
Where did the activities come from? I want to show my boss that I have used records from similar projects, from discussions with experts, from talking to the suppliers and so on.
Have you spoken to the various team members and their line managers about this plan? This should also include the customer, the sponsor, the various Business Managers involved in the project, and any ‘inspectors’ – internal and external – whose involvement may be required.
How did you arrive at the estimates for effort and duration for the tasks? Not every single task, but what principles did you use (for example, did I allow for some of my technical resources having other commitments and so on).
Where are the milestones? Who decided that these are the appropriate milestones? What will be produced at each milestone? Who will sign these deliverables off? What are the quality management implications of the milestones?
How much time have you allowed for project management activity during the project? Where is it? Have you included the input from team members, suppliers, sub-contractors, and customer staff and so on? Where are the replanning activities?
How did you identify the stakeholders in this project? Who are they? What are their likely attitudes towards the project? What extra tasks are you building in to manage them?
Where is your risk management plan? Where did the risks come from? How do you plan to manage them? What risks can you transfer to suppliers? Which risks must we accept without acceptable prevention measures?
How did you arrive at the project budget? How does it compare with the target budget you were given at the outset?
Who will get copies of this plan? How will you control the distribution and updating of this plan?
If my boss asks me these questions then I think this is real support from the boss. Of course I must be ready with the answers, but, after all, that is how I put the plan together, isn’t it?
Now let is push this checklist into another useful area. If you out-source some of your project to an external supplier do you just rely on the penalty clauses in the contract to make sure that he won’t let you down?
No, of course you don’t (do you?)
But what can you do with only limited knowledge of the technical approach he will employ? Well, use the checklist above to ask him about the planning approach he used. Make him sweat blood explaining his planning methods to you.
I think our American cousins call this ‘due diligence’; I call it pro-active support, making sure that your project will progress safely.
© Mike Watson 2015