Project Plans in a Nutshell

Note: This article is updated at Project Plans in a Nutshell.

"I love it when a plan comes together." -- Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith, The A-Team

Project plans are tough.  No matter how many times you do them – they are always tough.  I’ve been doing them for years, and yet the path from zero to a "good enough" plan is always a lot of work.  But it's worth it.  It's often what separates the failed projects from the successful ones.  When a project fails, you can usually find clues in the plan (or lack of.)

Regardless of how you get there or how you share the plan, the following are essential elements:

  • Problem statement
  • Customer / who’s it for
  • Vision / strategy
  • Goals
  • Outcomes
  • Deliverables
  • Timeline
  • Tests for success
  • Measures / metrics
  • Scenarios / stories
  • Resource map
  • Risks
  • A map of the work (work breakdown structure)

In question form, some simple checks are:

  • What are the most important outcomes?
  • Do we know what good looks like?
  • Who's doing what when?
  • What's the minimum we need to accomplish or it's not worth it?

It's worth noting that projects often fail because

  • Lack of clarity on the goal
  • Lack of understanding the work (work breakdown structure)

Interestingly, I know of some executive reviews that boil down to two cutting questions:

  • What's the investment?
  • What are the results?

It helps answer the higher question -- “Why are we doing this and does it make business sense?”