5 Key Tips for Strategic Project Planning

5 Key Tips for Strategic Project Planning

Written by : Brad Egeland

Strategic planning is defined as “an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy.” Basically, strategic planning is planning that is setting the course for success. Based on that definition strategic project planning becomes setting the course for your project's success in terms of planning, performance, deliverables, the schedule, your team, your customer and all stakeholders.

The next thing to consider is this... is strategic planning a separate meeting or series of meetings or something that is just “incorporated” as concept going forward? My quick answer is this... it's both. It can and should be a specific meeting and it should be a best practices concept throughout the engagement.

If we consider this as separate planned activity, then who should be involved and when should strategic planning happen? For me, this happens internally with the team and with the customer – preferably involving the project sponsor on the customer side and a couple of subject matter experts (SMEs) and future end users of the project solution. This happens once the full team is assembled. For me, that has usually been after the formal project kickoff session. Given that, this happens directly after the project kickoff session but prior to other planning processes begin like business process analysis and requirements definition with the customer. Successful strategic planning like this for the project is best when the kickoff session discussions are fresh in the mind of the project manager and business analyst and the team is assembled and ready to move forward on the project.

With all of that in mind, here are my top five key tips for successful strategic project planning...

Network. Use your network of colleagues where ever they may be. Inside your organization manning similar projects under the same methodology and outside the organization or online and on social media providing a fresh and possibly alternative perspective to what you'll find within. Many options - don't limit yourself or make rash and rushed decisions unless you absolutely must. At this point in the project, the more information and information sources, the better. You may have executed dozens of successful projects before, but there's always something new, always something different. More information is usually going to be better.

Use your team to the fullest. Project managers - you have a highly skilled project team - use them. Don't try to do strategic planning for the project alone. Two to six heads are usually better than one anyway. All these team members know the project and are likely fairly battle-tested so lean on them. Consider the outcomes from the kickoff sessions and any change in direction or additional information that provided. Revisit and revise the draft project schedule at this point. What about the solution – the technology to be used? You have a lot of planning ahead including risk planning and requirements definition so be considering all of that and how best to prepare for those as part of this strategic planning process.

Utilize customer input. It isn't all on the delivery team nor should it be. Your project customer may not make the 'A' list as a tech expert but they - and end users and their subject matter experts are your best source of information about the environment and processes where the solution will be rolled out and must function within. Yes, this is going to come about during business process analysis and requirements definition, but you can also get their valuable information about those processes now and it can be very helpful when finalizing the project schedule and strategically planning the path to success for the project.

Plan early plan often. As indicated above, this happens post kickoff session with the team, customer and possibly and other major stakeholders that could provide any relevant or necessary input. But it doesn't have to be just once, nor should it. Just like I am a fan of lessons learned happening several times during a project (like at major deliverable completions) rather than just at the end of the project, I believe that the strategic planning for the project is something that can and should happen throughout the project engagement. Yes, you could consider that this happens – informally – at ever weekly internal project team meeting. But that would not be assigning enough importance to this effort. It's bigger than that and more critical than that. You should be plotting a course for success – looking at all phases, considering the current status of issues and risks and any change orders and the technology and performing strategic planning multiple times throughout – so schedule it as such and make sure you carry out on that. From my experience, it is best to revisit this after every deliverable – and it can be combined, if needed, with the periodic lessons learned sessions. That has worked well for me and my teams to ensure that it is happening on every project.

Summary / call for input

Strategic project planning. Planning with the team – and client – early and often for the best for the project. For success. Planning may seem like a waste of money and time, but the more focused planning time you spend early on in any project the less chance you will have for misunderstood or mis-communicated project requirements. The less chance you will have that everyone is not on the same page. And the less chance you will have to experience costly and schedule disrupting re-work. More planning = less re-work.

Readers – what does strategic project planning mean to you? You're probably doing it on an ongoing basis with your team every week. But starting it out with a formal strategic project planning session and possibly more placed carefully in the schedule throughout the engagement ensures that a focused effort is placed on it? Do you do this? Please share your thoughts and experiences.