Over the years we have seen that there are many different ways that successful A/E firms handle project planning. We have seen that not only does each firm plan differently, but also disciplines within a firm plan differently, and even project managers within a discipline plan differently. This presents numerous challenges when firms try to synchronize on project status, staffing, and forecasting. It is no wonder that firms consider PLAN to be a four-letter word.
However, with the right approach and the right tools, every firm can be successful at setting up Plans that work for them. As part of our structured approach with "Plan. Manage. Forecast." this blog post will establish a few baselines to help A/E firms and the industry evolve project planning.
The first step to every plan is to begin with an estimate. Every project manager does an estimate before a project ever becomes a project. Just like every firm handles project planning differently, every project manager has a different approach to how they estimate. Some use top-down estimation, others use bottom-up estimation. Many times it is based on experience and “the way I’ve always done it.” Whatever approach they chose, in the end, project managers are looking to provide a project fee proposal that is likely to both win the contract and make money.
Step 1: Verify The Budget
Okay, now fast forward to once an opportunity becomes a project. Now, we have a set fee to work with and we can begin to tackle the "Plan". We recommend that firms start the planning process by verifying the budget and then break it down by phase.
Step 2: Establish Schedule And Deliverables
With the budget verified, the project is starting to take a more formal shape. The focus now is to assign actual dates to phase start and end dates. Also included in the process is to set the targeted dates for key deliverables of the project.
Step 3: Create The Staffing Plan
Now that we have some of the key dates and deliverables established, the next step is to determine the optimal staffing resources for the project. There are a number of variables that need to be considered as part of the overall staffing plan. This can be done one of two ways:
- We assign roles and assign actual resources later or
- If you have the capabilities to project staffing several or more months in advance, assign named employee resources.
With the completion of these first three steps, you have progressed down the path towards a successful project plan. Having these steps completed puts you on the path towards accountability. While these steps may seem simple and straight forward, formalizing this process will help to create standards within your firm for successful project planning.