A workplan states the goals and timelines for the overall project. It includes breaking the project down into tasks and delegating those tasks to owners with specific timelines. A well-written work plan enables a project manager to see the big picture while managing smaller project components.
Here’s a glossary of terms to help you understand what's included in a typical workplan and common features that are often discussed:
Usually, we define scope by describing the outline or parameters of the project. Defining what your project will – and will not – do, is important and can help to prevent what project managers often call “scope creep.”
For example, think about the last time you went to the grocery store: Did you go with a shopping list? In this scenario, the list is your “project scope.” If you simply went to the store with a general idea but found yourself adding a variety of things to your cart – that’s scope creep.
Goals and objectives are related in that they both point to things you hope to accomplish through your workplan. While some people do tend to use these words interchangeably, there are distinct differences between them.
Goals focus on the big picture of your project. People have a lot of goals during the course of their lives: buy a home, graduate from college, have enough money to retire on time. These are all fine goals.
Objectives are SMART. They are specific and measurable. In other words, you should be able to check these off your list when you accomplish them. Objectives are generally written in the active voice and use action verbs with specific meanings (e.g. "plan," "write," "increase," and "measure") instead of verbs with vaguer meanings (e.g. "examine," "understand," "know," etc.).
Using a scenario from above, a goal might be to “buy a house.” The objectives for that goal might include “Save X amount of money from each paycheck so that I will have X amount of money for a down payment on a X house.”
Tasks (also known as action items or action steps) usually refer to a clearly defined piece of work, sometimes of short or limited duration, assigned to or expected of a person. Again, using our scenario above, tasks might include filling out the paperwork to set up an automatic savings plan to set aside a pre-set amount of money from every paycheck.
A milestone is an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development. Milestones help you to know how to measure your progress in your plan. For example, again, using the example above, let’s say you want to save $20,000 to buy a house in a year. It might be safe, then, to assume that you should have $5,000 saved in 3 months and $10,000 saved in 6 months. Those would be your milestones. If, in 3 or 6 months, you’ve not met those milestones, then you would know to either adjust your savings plan, adjust the value of the home you’d like to buy, or to extend the timeline for saving.
Depending on the project you have proposed, your solution might require others to participate in the project. For example, let’s say your project is a newly proposed product for your company. The New Product Development Team for your proposal might include representation from Legal, Operations, Marketing, Finance, Research, and a Product Manager.
Your tasks will lead to deliverables. A deliverable is a thing able to be provided, especially as a product of a development process. For example, using the home purchasing process above, your “deliverables” would be the savings account, the paperwork, and/or the saved amounts of money (ie: tied to the timeline described above in milestones.)
You should have a schedule or timeline when deliverables are delivered. Again – when do you want to buy that house? A year from now? Or 5 years from now? Your expectations will dictate how much money to save each month, how much of a house you can buy or when you’d buy it.
Resources are what you have to work with, including budget, people, facilities, equipment, etc. Do you know what resources you need? Do you have them? If you don’t, can you get them temporarily? For example, rather than dedicating full-time headcount to your New Product Development team, can you have staff temporarily assigned for a part of their time to the project? Instead of buying facilities, can you lease, rent or temporarily borrow?
Constraints are the potential obstacles or limitations that could impede your project. What could stand in the way of completing your project?
And don’t forget to establish accountability: Who is going to make sure that the tasks are completed or that the goals and objectives are met? While this is often the project manager or project owner, it can also include individuals of the project team who are responsible for the tasks or the executive champion who provides sponsorship of the project.
Remember: Your proposal was only the first phase of this process: Now it’s time to make the proposal reality. Workplans are where the “rubber meets the road” and detail the “how” you are going to accomplish your proposal.
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