In the popular Science-Fiction film, “Back to the Future”, a mad scientist makes possible time travel. Marty, the film’s hero, can travel to the future. In real life, we can’t travel to the future, but we often need to imagine the future.
The project manager (and programme or portfolio manager) is a change agent, who will change or innovate, to build a different future. The project manager’s job is to imagine a new future and how to get there. We travel to the future in our imagination.
So the Project Manager imagines the future, and converts it into a plan. A good project manager will spend a lot of time planning, which is almost “living in the future”

  • planning the journey to the future (how to get there)
  • planning the destination (what the future will be like)

The experienced Project Manager is constantly thinking weeks ahead … imagining what will happen next week, next month, next year. That’s a key characteristic of a good Project Manager.
Planning can be a major, time-consuming activity for the Project Manager. If done wrongly, the Project Manager can waste much time on planning, as one plan gets replaced by the next and then the next…
To plan effectively and avoid wasted time, methods like Prince2 (for Project Management) and MSP (for Programme Management) can help enormously.
Three key strengths of the Prince2 approach to planning are:

  1. Prince2 starts the planning process with Product Based Planning. You start with the “What” (your deliverables, which give a picture of the future) before the “When” or the “Who” (which tell you about the journey). Product Based Planning generates more robust plans, which are easier to understand and maintain.
  2. Prince2 has three levels of plan – project plan, stage plan, team plan. This reduces complexity, and aligns planning to the team structure.
  3. Prince2 uses just-in-time planning – as the next stage approaches, the stage plan is created. This avoids the need for a hard-to-build and hard-to-maintain mega-plan for the entire project.

MSP has a similar approach :

  • MSP separates the picture of the destination (the Blueprint) from the journey (the Programme Plan)
  • MSP has several types of plan – programme plan, project plan, transition plan… This is aligned to the programme organisation, and avoids building one hard-to-handle mega-plan

Planning is important. As project teams move to “light” forms of Agile, some fall into a trap. Essentially, they move to “discovery mode” and stop planning. The daily stand-up meeting can’t replace a plan, it’s too focussed on the present, not the future. Planning is not optional. As the old saying goes “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
So make sure you are a time traveller. Spend time in the future, and build your plan. Then use it. As the other saying goes “Plan your work, then work your plan”.

Written by Jeff on May 21, 2012 in blog
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