The importance of planning in avoiding failure, and analysis of why organisations do not always plan
Prepared by: Majed Abdeen
I worked in some companies which believed that not only was planning not essential, it was also very easy to do, so they chose to plan only if they were forced to. Frequently they had excuses such as: too many projects going on at the same time; too much to do and to implement now; we can't wait to plan; and there isn't enough budget for planning. I feel that many of these problems stem from senior management having a poor understanding of the role of the Project Manager, in addition to assigning unqualified staff as PMs.
Feeling under pressure from the customer's desire to see results as soon as possible, management preferred to avoid planning, however, on this occasion I used the Agile approach, since it allows value streaming. This meant the customer saw value early, and we were able to plan appropriately.
Regardless of the sector or the work undertaken in organisations, whenever there is management, planning should exist. Inadequate planning leads to failure, although planning does not mandate success (Dvir, et al., 2003, p. 89). The Project Management Plan provides guidance on "How" project work is performed, monitored/controlled, and closed (PMI, 2017, pp. 82, 83), in addition to "What" work is needed, and "When" it is used (Meredith, et al., 2015, p. 204). Time spent on planning conserves 90% of executing time (Brian Tracy, quoted by Meredith, et al., 2015, p. 204).
The importance of planning to avoid project failure
Planning is essential to project success, no matter the size or complexity (Kerzner, 2017, p. 386). Planning processes create scope/schedule/cost baselines, allowing the project to be executed/managed/measured and compared with the baselines (PMI, 2017, p. 83). The project plan is one of the Critical Success Factors (CSFs) (Meredith, et al., 2015, p. 547; Dvir, et al., 2003, p. 90), against which outcomes are measured to ensure the planned goals according to the iron triangle, and the benefits and value are met.
Planning provides direction for managing project work and implementing approved changes, to achieve project objectives (PMI, 2017, p. 90). Planning is fundamental to avoid acting blindly, thus increasing chances of success. The plan determines whether to continue or preventive/corrective actions should be taken, or if termination is necessary (PMI, 2017, p. 547).
Reasons organisations fail to plan
Some organisations fail to plan, perceiving it as wasted effort, since cost/activities/duration are unknown at the beginning (Dvir, et al., 2003, p. 90). When planning is viewed as unimportant, the 'halo effect' results in unsuitable staff being appointed as PMs. Executives should choose a PM with planning and execution skills, but often technical specialists without planning skills are chosen (Kerzner, 2017, pp. 377-378). CSFs for projects include senior management support (Papke-Shields, et al., 2010, p. 651); executives should be active and involved in planning (Kerzner, 2017, pp. 377-378), yet frequently executives are uninterested and uninvolved. With disinterest from management, there may be no systematic planning process established for projects, leaving departments to create their own (Kerzner, 2017, p. 380).
Companies may develop the business case before assigning the PM, which contributes to failure of planning, as the PM may not understand all factors considered during development of the business case, and constraints of schedule and budget will not be considered (Kerzner, 2017, p. 348). It may be felt that PMs do not have sufficient knowledge to contribute to the business case, that hiring them early is unnecessary expense, and that there is insufficient information to assign a qualified PM (Kerzner, 2017, p. 348).
Further, organisations frequently maintain unrealistic milestones, budget, expectations, outcomes and goals. Executives may feel there is insufficient budget/time for planning; projects are small and temporary; they do not see the benefits of planning, and they prefer to proceed straight to executing. They may force unreasonable deadlines (Kerzner, 2017, p. 378). A common view is that planning is easy and simple; that a PM just needs to prepare and follow the plan to ensure success (Dvir, et al., 2003, p. 89).
Although uncertainty and risk cannot be avoided, careful planning enables project teams to deal appropriately with these. Thus, planning is strongly linked to successful project outcomes; the project plan must ensure delivery of the objectives (Meredith, et al., 2015, p. 204). Planning is an iterative process (Meredith, et al., 2015, p. 206); project plans must be flexible enough to respond to the changing circumstances of the project (PMI, 2017, p. 83), thus organisations must prioritise planning to ensure success.
Dvir, D., Raz, T. & Shenhar, A. J., 2003. An empirical analysis of the relationship between project planning and project success. International Journal of Project Management, Volume 21, p. 89–95.
Kerzner, H., 2017. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. 12 ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Meredith, J. R., Samuel J. Mantel, J. & Shafer, S. M., 2015. Project Management: A Managerial Approach. 9th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Papke-Shields, K. E., Beise, C. & Quan, J., 2010. Do project managers practice what they preach, and does it matter to project success?. International Journal of Project Management, Volume 28, p. 650–662.
PMI, 2017. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.