The Project Planning Process

The life cycle of a project has five stages.

Stage 1: Visualizing, Selling, Initiating the Project

The only effective way to get buy–in for your idea is to link it to what’s important to the person you are approaching, and demonstrate that you are openly soliciting his or her input. It’s a rare person who will immediately accept an idea without being involved in shaping the concept.

Stage 2: Planning the Project

Assuming the project concept and feasibility have been determined, the “Plan-Do- Check-Act” cycle (see figure below) is directly applicable to project planning and management.

figure 1
Using the PDCA cycle for projects

Stage 3: Designing the Processes and Outputs (Deliverables)

When the project is approved, the project team proceeds with the content design and with the procurements needed to implement the project.

The design process includes defining:

  • Measurements.
  • The monitoring method.
  • Status reporting protocols.
  • Evaluation criteria.
  • Design of the ultimate processes and outputs.
  • Implementation schedules.

Stage 4: Implementing and Tracking the Project

The project design team may also implement the project, possibly with the help of additional personnel. A trial or test implementation may be used to check out the project design and outputs to determine if they meet the project objectives.

Using the planned reporting methods, the implementation team monitors the project and reports on its status to appropriate interested parties at designated project milestones. Measurements of interim results may also be communicated to interested parties. The implementation team makes any course corrections and trade–offs that may be necessary and are approved.

Stage 5: Evaluating and Closing Out the Project

The implementation team officially closes the project when the scheduled tasks have been completed.

Usually evaluations are done to determine:

  • Objectives met versus objectives planned.
  • Actual tasks and events scheduled versus planned.
  • Resources used versus planned resource usage.
  • Costs versus budget.
  • Organizational outcomes achieved versus planned outcomes; any unplanned outcomes.
  • Effectiveness of project planning team (optional).
  • Effectiveness of implementation team (optional).
  • Team’s compilation of project documents, evaluations and lessons learned.

The project is then officially closed out. Team participants are recognized for their contributions, and the team is disbanded.

For some types of projects, many organizations find a post-implementation assessment of the outcomes achieved from implementing the project, several months after project completion, is valuable.

Outputs and Outcomes

Frequently the terms “outputs” and “outcomes” are used as if their meanings were interchangeable. But they aren’t.

  • Outputs are what the project produces. Project outputs may be an improved process, installation of a new machine, a benchmarking study, etc. Outputs of the project team process itself may be project plans and supporting documents, status reports and the like.
  • Outcomes are the effects that the implementation of the project has on the overall organization, and should support the strategic direction of the organization. Outcomes may consist of measurable improvements in customer satisfaction, profits or cost containment, improved market position and market penetration, etc. For ease of understanding, outcomes are usually expressed as dollar values.

Excerpted from Russell T. Westcott, Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional: Managing Small & Medium-size Projects, ASQ Quality Press, 2004, pages 11–19.

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