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10 top tips for creating timing plans: Plan for it not going to plan

Treading the line between optimism and pragmatism can be a difficult one when creating timing plans and project plans. Creating a project plan which gives flexibility to mitigate against unforeseen change is critical to project success. Simply planning for the best case scenario, or Plan A, isn’t good enough – you need to bake into Plan A, Plan, B and Plan C too.

Don’t stick your head in the sand

Being optimistic is nice, it’s fun, it’s easygoing. But it’s also a very quick way to shortcut project failure. You need to be realistic and anticipate for the fact that no matter how good a PM you are, projects don’t go to plan. Things always take longer than they should. Things are going to go wrong, people are going to be ill, you’re not going to get resource when you need it, the client won’t like the design, the client will change the scope and the developers will struggle for ages with Android 2.1 and a slew of IE8 bugs.

Turn over every stone – identify the risks

It’s worth sitting down with the team at the beginning of the project and exploring with them the parts of the project that make them nervous. There will always be something that’s making people slightly uncomfortable. It could be that there’s a new server, a new CMS, a new prototyping tool, or even just that someone hasn’t got the software they need or their computer keeps is on the blink. Whatever the potential pitfalls and risks could be, you need to make sure you know each one of them so you can account for them.

Explore the alternatives and actively mitigate against risk

So how do you actively manage and mitigate against risk within your timeline? The key is to throw aside your optimism and develop worst case scenarios. You should be asking yourself ‘What would happen if…’ and developing alternative timelines based on those scenarios. Together with your risk register, identify which risks are high impact and high probability and build your timeline around accommodating those risks becoming issues.

Remember the unknown unknowns and load on the fat

There are known unknowns and unknowns unknowns – the latter is much harder to mitigate against. Consequently, it’s more prudent to put away your optimism and be pragmatic and realistic about the reality of projects. There’s a high probability that something will come up in the project that you didn’t anticipate, nor had identified as risk (whether or not you’re at fault for that). So the only way to mitigate against this type of risk is to plan for it the only way you can – add in additional buffer to your timeline.

What do you think?

What do you think we’re missing? What else is there to planing for it not going to plan that should PM’s be thinking about when creating timing plans? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any more tips – why not share them using the comments below?

10 top tips for creating timing and project plans

This 10 top tips blog series has been written as a guide for estimating and approaching creating cost estimates in the midst of it all. In this series of posts we’re looking at the following:

Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.


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