The importance of the project planning process
Before the start of any project is the planning phase – that process of scoping tasks, timelines, resources and everything else you need to know for the project to be a success. While some projects may be short bursts, planners of large, long-term pieces of work will know how important the planning process is. As such, this is often the reserve of senior project managers and those on the decision-making side of an organisation, but this approach can become unsustainable.
When lone managers decide the entire project scope and pass it down to their team members, it can create disconnects in their understanding of project goals. Even if you work closely with your team day to day, it’s not always possible to remain aligned on multiple projects with different team members as work picks up. Or worse, you’re simply left continually planning and only checking in from above while teams follow separate briefs, not certain of where their work is going or where they are in the project timeline.
If you want to be aligned with your teams on the goals of a project and the approach to achieving them, the best method is to involve your team from the very start of the project planning process.
Why involve your team in project planning?
Bringing your team members into the room as the first step in strategic planning has a variety of benefits, not just during the project life cycle, but for you and your project team going into the future:
Motivation and responsibility
When team members receive simple, individual briefs and tasks, it can be difficult for them to get a sense of the overall project objectives. As such, they may lack a consideration of how their work will affect the work of others on the project team and the eventual product or project deliverables they produce. Align your team using a team charter to establish a shared goal. Giving your team the space to collaborate and define their role in the project planning process will help them to see the bigger picture. Not only will this help them understand the purpose and therefore the need for quality in their work, it will help them buy into the project as a whole, making them project stakeholders in their own right. By encouraging them to take on that sense of responsibility for the project’s success, you’ll find yourself managing a much more driven and motivated team.
Up-skilling team members
Your team are always finding new ways to improve the quality and efficiency of the tasks they work on day to day. While some team members actively look for new opportunities to get involved with, others need to be encouraged in order for them to broaden their horizons in the workplace. Bringing your team into the project planning process can help provide new avenues for your team to experiment and learn new skills. In this way, you can simultaneously perform important planning tasks while also up-skilling your team and helping them grow as team members. Not only will they become essential in the project planning process with their new skills, they’ll eventually be able to lead and guide other team members in planning work. And of course, fostering an environment of shared experience and mutual responsibility is healthy for every organisational culture.
Efficiency through delegation
Once a project starts, the work gets split between the various members of the team based on their skills – so why not do the same during the planning phase? Once your team has an understanding of the steps in strategic planning for a project, you can begin to split up the work of planning between them. Not only will this free up your time from heavy project planning duties, it can really drive up the efficiency of the process when the work starts coming in more rapidly. If team members are as skilled in project planning processes as they are in their day-to-day roles, drafting and scoping projects together will become much faster. Just make sure that this doesn’t create silos in your team, as each member simply performs their individual planning tasks – it should still be a collaborative process.
How to build a team project planning process
Of course, building a collaborative approach towards project planning with your team requires the right methods and strategies. These are some of the essentials you’ll need for your team to better plan successful projects together:
Brainstorm as a team
The most common first step in strategic planning is the brainstorming and ideation phase. If you’re a project manager, you need to not just keep the door open for your team members, but also invite them into this process. Once you’ve briefed them on the upcoming project, schedule a meeting to brainstorm with your team on the initial plans. Consider including a premortem analysis in the meeting, so team members can visualise the project and expected outcomes. Make sure to send out an agenda and decide the purpose of the meeting ahead of time to ensure it is an effective meeting. If this kind of meeting is a first for your team, try out a meeting minutes or brainstorming template – a structured approach can help get the ball rolling.
Create a shared project plan document
Once you and your team are involved in the project planning process, create a shared and centralised project management plan and project planning document. This should function as a touchstone for every member of your team to understand where you are in the process and what has been decided. This could be done on a whiteboard, but project management software and team collaboration programs like Dropbox Paper can automate and simplify this process. Your entire team can collaborate on the same Paper document, with built-in version history and records of who made what changes. From there, you can link out to other Paper planning docs where necessary or share them with other teams in your organisation who need insight into your planning.
Use a planning or project management approach
If you’re struggling to define a method of approach that works for your team in project planning, there are plenty of purpose-built project planning and management approaches that you can try. The Agile planning approach creates a project schedule of sprints for your team to draft plans in short bursts, as well as offering opportunities to feed back and iterate upon them. By comparison, PERT, or the Program Evaluation and Review Technique, offers a comprehensive method for scoping out the requirements of a project, with built-in project milestones and risk management considerations. Alternatively, project planning tools like Gantt charts or the Eisenhower Matrix can help you organise tasks and processes with tried-and-tested methods.
Every approach has its strengths and varying levels of complexities. While your team may end up modifying or outgrowing them, using a methodology can get everybody involved with project planning as a process.
Ensure communication at all times
Strong communication is of the utmost importance when a team works closely on a project. While having shared documents helps, you should also ensure you have the right channels for communicating with your whole team. Communication tools like Slack let you create dedicated servers for you and your team – and when combined with Dropbox, you can even start conversations directly from your Paper documents or other files. Of course, you also need a method to have team meetings. Using Dropbox in tandem with video conferencing via Zoom can help you and your team collaborate and review your plans simultaneously.
Planning together as a team
Project planning doesn’t have to be the arduous initial step project managers tackle alone. Work together by running a project retrospective with the team and apply their feedback to the new project plan. With a whole team supporting in the process and the ensuing project, you can not only make the process more efficient but more rewarding for you and your team. By levelling out responsibility and driving investment among your colleagues in project goals, you can advance your team and their work as a whole. Whatever method you and your team decide to plan projects, collaborating in that process will lead to better results on individual projects as well as for your team, your organisation and yourself in the long-term.