In the film Oceans Eleven, George Clooney (Daniel Ocean), organises one of the most elaborate casino heists known to man. How did he do it? He was a Project Manager! Well, sort of. After some substantial research on the topic of project planning I thought that I could take a few pointers from this example of organised crime to help readers with something that is often overlooked, namely:
How Does One Plan Project?
For those that work in project management, to plan a project from start to finish can, well, seem impossible. Unless you are George Clooney of course.
So we’re going to look at how to effectively plan a project, like George Clooney did, by following a set of steps. In this short clip below, you will see George Clooney delivers his plan of robbing three casinos to the rest of his team. As correctly put by Brad Pitt himself, it’s not quite as simple as a smash and grab job.
Why Do You Need to Know How to Plan a Project?
Well, for those that are starting out in project management, it’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects and methodology of project management. Today we’re going to look at the broader picture.
Project planning involves taking everything you know about project management, and putting it to practise in the most practical and efficient way. After reading this, you will not only understand the project planning process but will be able to hopefully construct your own project plan. Before reading on, take a quick look at this clip below. This clip will help you get a better picture of what I’m about to discuss next.
As you can see from this clip, project planning can be quite complicated and I’m sure you were able to observe that there are a number of steps involved. Project planning after all is a plan for the project that is going to be managed.
However, to suggest that there are a certain amount of steps for every successful project implies that a project plan doesn’t change, or that all projects are the same. If you are an experienced Project Manager, you will know that this is not the case.
It should therefore be noted that this piece is a not a project planning one-size-fits-all, recipe for success. Rather it should be interpreted as a guide for project planning best practise.
Information and Methodology
To create a great project plan, there are a number of factors to consider before any plans can be made. Firstly you should consider:
- The information that you already have
- The methodology that you are planning to follow
For example, in a project that has a high level of uncertainty, an Agile approach is often considered to be the appropriate choice. This is because Agile recognises the uncertainty of projects and doesn’t demand a detailed plan up front. As the project progresses, so the details are elaborated upon.
This doesn’t mean that this approach has no upfront planning, it simply embraces change. Therefore the methodology that is selected can affect the project plan.
For the purpose of this article I’ve tried to make a list of general steps for project planning. Before we go into the steps to follow, let’s quickly talk about the concept of project planning.
What is Project Planning?
Project planning is one of the most important aspects of project management. A project plan, is a plan is written for management in order to give a reasonably detailed description of all the project activities. It often starts with the goals of a plan and lists all the deliverables and time schedule.
There is however some grey area as to what is project planning.
While searching for answers on what is project planning, I came across something that is in my opinion a misconception in the field of project planning. The misconception is as follows :
A plan is a detailed description of all the activities you need to undertake
In the film Oceans Eleven, if you have watched it, then you know what happened.
Their plan was perfect, and pretty much went according to plan. However this is almost never the case.
Plans can change
If you’re doing something new, it can be almost impossible to give a description of all the activities you will undertake.
Which makes planning every detail nearly impossible.
In short, plans need to allow for team members to discover, learn and revise.
Therefore, one of the most important aspects of project planning is collaboration.
Traditional Project Management
In traditional project management, it was often up to the Project Manager to outline the project plan and adhere to it throughout the project process.
This can be compared to the Waterfall approach in project planning, and is often seen as an outdated approach to project management. When projects adopt the waterfall approach, all the requirements and design work are submitted before the project commences.
Now organisations and Project Managers have recognised the importance of collaborative planning. Gone are the days of Project Managers being expected to sit in isolation and come up with a plan upfront. Now with collaborative planning the project team is expected to be involved in the development of the project plan.
Having input from the team has the potential to improve the quality of the plan and encourage commitment and a shared sense of ownership.
So, how does one plan a project?
Steps for Project Planning
As this is a best practise guide for project planning, we’re going to look at three of the steps involved. As mentioned before, every project is different, with different requirements and information available.
These three steps are a general overview for the project planning process and merely serve the purpose of assisting our readers in conceptualising the project planning process.
This is not suggesting that there are only three steps involved. These three steps should merely be seen as a guide.
George Clooney’s approach to project planning is clearly flawless, after all he managed to steal 150 million dollars. His attention to detail is not the focus of the discussion however. In the clip you will have noticed that he used three steps to convey his master plan. These three steps are considered to be important in the project planning process.
In the next section I will go through each step and help you to understand the concepts by elaborating on what we saw in George’s master plan.
Step 1: Project Aims
In project planning it’s crucial to start with the projects scope and main requirements. This is important for defining what you want to achieve and making sure it is understood by everyone.
It’s important to remember that a project is successful when it meets the needs of stakeholders.First of all, you need to identify who the stakeholders are, and then find out what their needs are. However, before you see any action, your project plan needs to be approved by these stakeholders. Therefore its critical that you have a vision for the project and be able to clearly communicate this vision.
This vision can come in the form of project aims or goals and needs to include the requirements of the client. These aims need to be clearly defined so that the team has a common understanding of what to deliver and how to go about delivering it.
In the short clip of the Oceans Eleven film that we looked at earlier, George Clooney is seen delivering the project aims. He starts by discussing the project environment and the project definition. This outlines their project goal, which is namely to rob the vault that houses $150 million dollars, without getting caught.
Step 2: Project Deliverables
Once you understand what the goals and aims of the project are, you can move on to the next step which includes defining the project deliveries. According to APM project deliverables are, “the tangible items that will ensure the needs of the client are met and will include time estimates.”
What the project should deliver
They are a list of things that the project needs to deliver to meet the goals that you have mentioned in step one. In this step you need to specify when and how you will deliver them. Therefore they need to come with an estimated delivery date.
Work breakdown structure
In the Oceans Eleven clip, George Clooney discusses their work breakdown structure. A work breakdown structure as defined in the PMBOK® Guide—Third Edition is “a deliverable-oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables. It organizes and defines the total scope of the project”
What this means is that a work breakdown structure is what’s needed to create the project deliverables.
Bad news and good news
In the clip, the work breakdown structure includes, the bad news and the good news.
The bad news, is the amount of security systems they need to get past to get to the vault.
The good news, is that there is a lot of money in the vault.
Together, this bad news and good news, is what can be used to create the project deliverables.
This is how we get to the next step, quantifying the project goals.
Step 3: Project Schedule
Once you have outlined your project deliverables, you need to craft a time-line or schedule. This is a list of tasks that need to be carried out for each deliverable.
According to Project Smart
For each task you need to determine the following:
- The amount of effort (hours or days) required for completing the task
- The resource who will carry out the task
Once you have noted the amount of effort and resources you will need for each task, you can work out what is required for each deliverable and when. This is when you need to take your already existing deliverables and update them with more precise delivery dates.
This is how we get a project schedule
In the clip we looked at earlier, George Clooney discusses quantifying the project goal. The goal, robbing the three casino’s vault, at this stage of the clip is given a delivery date. Due to the varying amounts of money in the vault on a given day, George Clooney selected a date when the most amount of money will be in the vault. He was able to quantify the project goal by giving the project a date for completion.
Between him and Brad Pitt, they also decide who will be in charge of every aspect of the plan. Of course, they selected team members with the most experience and knowledge, which is one of the reasons for the successful outcome. These decisions affected their time schedule as different team members needed to play their part at different intervals for the plan to succeed.
The planning stage of a project is an important aspect that is often overlooked. Often stakeholders find themselves rushing into development without proper planning which often leads to delays, misunderstandings and unsatisfactory results.
In this short clip of the Oceans’s Eleven project plan, it concludes with George Clooney convincing his team that he is committed to the goal. This wasn’t done by give an award winning speech. Instead, it was done by communicating a vision for success.
When a team member raised concerns about the logistics of the plan at the end of his talk, George replied with a simple, “Yeah”. But, it was enough to get a group of people to follow him.
How? He instilled trust in his team with an epic plan, which allowed him to be a leader. Essentially, this is what your project plan should be. A guide to help you lead and instill trust in a group of people to deliver the best possible outcomes.
As I have mentioned throughout the page, each project will present a unique plan and steps to follow. What steps do you consider important when constructing your project plan?