The right level of planning

We, at eMentum, considered multiple topics to discuss for this first post, including Quality Management (and IV&V), Engineering PMOs vs. “Lean” PMOs, and when to implement release management instead of just project management, based on level of usefulness and interest.  Additionally, we considered the timing of this blog.  After all, October is Cyber Security Awareness month, which is core to the work we do at eMentum.  (We will likely come back to some or all of these topics later in the year.)  We also spent weeks researching blog providers and approaches to manage this blog, including review/approval processes, how often a new blog is posted, and response time expectation and by whom.  The approach was documented with overall objectives/goals and ROI discussed, and it was ultimately approved by a Sr. Director.  This level of planning is required for a company blog to have a chance of success.

A different level of planning is required when getting your toddler ready for his first trip to the zoo.  As a parent, you might ask:  Will he need a jacket?  How long is the commute?  Will it interfere with nap-time?  Should I bring snacks? Does he have enough to keep him busy?

Separate considerations will be made when planning for a Federal Agency’s implementation of an enterprise-wide Attribute Based Access Control (ABAC) solution.    How many applications require this enhancement?  How does the agency manage its attributes?   Are their mandated deadlines for implementation? Who are the stakeholders and how do I get them on board with the proposed approach?

Different projects have different questions that need answers.  Resources should not be wasted in any phase of the project; hence the need to understand the right level of planning that is required.  The point is that planning is scalable depending on the endeavor, and the right level of planning is essential to the success of a project.  It cannot be overstated.  That is why we have chosen to open our blog with this topic.

For this post, we will concentrate on IT project planning.  The Attribute Based Access Control (ABAC) example will be used for this post (with a mention of “toddler management” used when possible).  If you’re interested in learning more about ABAC and how to implement an ABAC Solution, eMentum has a white paper on the subject that can be found on our website.

Over the past few years, we have seen a steady increase in our federal clients’ requests for PMP certified staff.  In fact, most RFPs for government work specifically require key personnel to be PMP certified.  At the core of the PMBOK is the project planning stage, and it where you find the majority of knowledge areas.  In fact, of the 42 PM process areas, 20 are within the planning process group.  That’s almost half the project!

The Project Charter is key to understanding the level of planning required.  One could argue that developing the Charter in itself is part of project planning, because you are exploring what questions must be answered in the planning phase.   The Charter defines your project.  Who do your answer to and who are your clients (stakeholders)?  What is the scope of your work?  When is it due and what are the expected outputs?  Are there any initial risks or assumptions worth noting?  Answering these questions will lead you to the right level of planning.   Once the project is initiated and the Charter is signed, the work truly begins.

Going back to the ABAC example, a government agency had a hard deadline based on federal mandates which framed the project, and those due dates were clearly noted in the Charter eMentum delivered to help drive the planning phase.  The federal mandates were documented and determined the impact to the agency we were servicing so that the project team understood the percentage of applications and number of users involved in the implementation (the scope).  Additionally, the agency’s stakeholders were outlined upfront to ensure we knew who was affected and needed to obtain input from.

In most cases, the planning process will produce the largest amount of client deliverables.  The following deliverables produced during the planning phase must be created and managed throughout the life of the project:

  • Project Management Plan
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
  • Schedule (Project Plan)
  • Risk Management Plan
  • Risk Register
  • Budget

Planning should start with the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).  I would argue that the WBS is the most critical of deliverables.  It will allow the PM and team to develop an understanding of the project as a whole and determine what additional supporting/planning documents are needed from there.  It cannot be created in a vacuum.  Developing a WBS is an excellent reason to get all stakeholders in the same room and work through the tasks and activities that are required to achieve a successful result.  With everyone on the same page regarding the work that must be done and ownership of those task, other planning deliverables can be explored.   An ABAC implementation requires detailed considerations around the technical environment and existing infrastructure, as well as a change in the way people manage IT assets and administer their identities.  Spending the time upfront in the beginning of the planning stage of the project in developing a WBS will allow for a fuller understanding of the undertaking.

For larger or more complex projects, the following deliverables should also be developed:

  • Communication Plan
  • Asset trackers
  • Human Resource Plan
  • Procurement Plan
  • Concept of Operations (CONOPs)

The goal of all this hard work in the planning phase is to ensure management has the ability to monitor and control the project through its life.  So, PMs must remain flexible and think outside of the box regarding deliverables.  While PMBOK practices are vital, other deliverables can (and should!) be considered to support the client.  For example, we found that the ABAC project required the development of a maturity model to explain the concept and approach to the stakeholders.

Successful planning involves a lot of careful thought and consideration (including stakeholder engagement), hard work, and a long view towards an end product.  We could discuss any area of planning at greater length, but for now, it’s time to get back to servicing our valued customers!   We look forward to hearing any thoughts or feedback you may have regarding this topic or future topics you would like us to discuss in our next blog posting in a few weeks.

Thanks for reading!  Do Good.  Have Fun.  Add Value.

John B. Carr, PMP, CSM, ITIL, is a senior project manager, scrum master, and strategic consultant who enjoys exploring creative solutions to resolve those complex, “wicked” problems of the federal government using empathy and agile approaches. He is the author of several white papers including “Innovating IT Solutions Using Human-Centered Design” and “Implementing Attribute Based Access Control in the Federal Arena” found here. Feel free to contact him at jcarr@ementum.com.

John Carr

John B. Carr, PMP, CSM, ITIL, is a senior project manager, scrum master, and strategic consultant who enjoys exploring creative solutions to resolve those complex, “wicked” problems of the federal government using empathy and agile approaches. He is the author of several white papers including “Innovating IT Solutions Using Human-Centered Design” and “Implementing Attribute Based Access Control in the Federal Arena” found here. Feel free to contact him at jcarr@ementum.com.

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