Planning is a vital part of the programme and project management process. A plan is basically the route-map through the programme or project from start to finish.

What is a programme or project plan?

Programme and project plans are generally produced in Gantt chart format. However, it is important to make the point that having a Gantt chart is not the same as having a good plan. Planning is a much more all-encompassing process which describes:

  • what work needs to be done
  • how the work will be done
  • when the work will be done
  • who will do the work
  • how much it will cost to do the work

Control is a significant part of the project planning process. Projects are usually split into blocks or stages which facilitate control and provide natural break points for review, decision-making and commitment to the next phase. For programme and project planning the control cycle can look like this:

Planning Control Cycle
Planning Control Cycle diagram

Purpose of programme and project planning

Depending on what the plan is for, the level of detailed required in it can vary. Plans are resource intensive in terms of their creation and maintenance so it is important to give the right level of detail to the right audience.

Typically, a number of plans may be produced:

  • overarching portfolio or strategy level plan
  • programme plan
  • programme tranche plan
  • project plan
  • stage plan
  • team plan
  • individual plan

The level of detail shown in the plan will be greatest at the lower (individual) plans and will become less detailed in the upper levels (project, programme and overarching programme or portfolio).

At programme level, a summary of the main contents would be:

  • project timescales, costs, outputs and dependencies
  • all risks and assumptions
  • a schedule showing the programme’s tranches and project milestones
  • a transition plan through to business as usual
  • monitoring and control activities plus relevant performance targets

In a project environment, planning is driven by the products and services being produced or delivered by the project. Programme plans are partly an aggregate of the associated project level plans and partly a reflection of the strategic context for the programme.

At project level, typical steps woul be to:

  • define and describe the major products or services
  • identify activities to develop the products or services
  • define the sequence of identified activities
  • visualise the order (in a network diagram) including inter-dependencies
  • estimate the duration and effort required for each activity
  • identify the critical path (by taking a second pass through the network diagram)
  • analyse and minimise resources required, resolving any resourcing conflicts
  • identify major and minor decision points
  • decide on milestone and review points

Programme and project planning roles and responsibilities

Programme planning

The main roles and responsibilities associated with programme planning are:

  • senior responsible owner - approving the programme plan and leading monitoring activities, including end-tranche reviews; these reviews should measure programme performance in terms of benefits realised and outcomes achieved
  • programme manager - designing and implementing the programme plan, monitoring and control of resources; the programme manager must work closely with the business change manager to ensure that the programme plan, benefits realisation plan and benefit profiles are consistent and up to date
  • business change manager - managing the transition to business as usual, working closely with the programme manager on defining the project portfolio (the group of projects that make up the programme); the BCM also works with benefit owners to ensure the transition aligns with the required benefits realisation
  • programme management office - supporting the programme manager in developing and implementing planning and control processes; the PMO is also responsible for collecting, updating and publishing measurement data as part of the ongoing programme communications activities and for ensuring that defined planning standards are being adhered to across the programme and in its projects

Project planning

The main roles and responsibilities associated with project planning are:

  • senior responsible owner - ensuring that the project has a coherent set of plans at the appropriate levels; the SRO will approve plans including any proposed changes to scope, cost or timescale and monitor the impact of plan changes on the business case and stage progress against agreed tolerances
  • project board - is responsible for the decision making process supporting project plan creation; the board will approve all stage and project plans including exception plans and all associated resource, time and cost implications
  • project manager - preparing project and stage plans, monitoring and updating them regularly; the PM will liaise with the programme manager on relevant planning issues and alert the SRO or project board to any potential exception conditions, preparing exception plans as required
  • project management office - administering project change control procedures, maintain planning standards and procedures and updating and maintaining all project, stage, team and other relevant plans under the direction of the project manager; the PMO will provide advice and guidance on practical matters associated with plans

Monitoring, reporting and control

Monitoring is about assessing what work has been completed for a programme or project including costs, risks and issues. In addition the SRO and board will routinely monitor if the business case continues to be viable and in alignment with strategic objectives. This usually takes the form of the production of documentation and reports at key stages. Monitoring is used to oversee progress of products, outputs, and outcomes. 

Reporting provides the programme or project board with a summary of the status of the programme or project at intervals defined by them. Reporting advises the correct people at the correct time of positive and negative events, allowing for progression or remedial action as appropriate.

Controls usually relate to stages in projects and are established to control the delivery of the project’s outputs. In project management, controls are:

  • event driven - meaning that the control occurs because a specific event has taken place; examples are end stage reports, completion of a project initiation document and creation of an exception plan
  • time driven - meaning controls are regular progress feedbacks; examples include checkpoint and highlight reporting

Controls then assist with both monitoring and reporting by provision of required review points such as end stage assessments. This does not replace the need for the board to maintain an overall view of progress.

Diagram illustrating an example of the monitoring process in a project environment.
An example of the monitoring process in a project environment.

The key programme and project monitors, controls and reports are:

  • business case - this effectively describes what the value is to the sponsoring organisation from the outcomes of the programme; managing the business case is about value management of benefits, costs, timescales and risks
  • project plan - a comprehensive plan which clearly defines the products to be produced, resources and time needed for all activities, any dependencies between activities and points at which progress will be monitored and controlled with any agreed tolerances
  • project initiation document (or project execution plan in construction projects) - this document defines all major aspects of the project and forms the basis for its management and the assessment of its overall success; the two primary uses of the document are to ensure that the project has a complete and sound basis before there is any major commitment to it and to act as a base document against which the project can assess progress, change management issues and ongoing viability questions
  • stage plan - provides detail of how and when the objectives for the stage are to be met by showing the deliverables, activities and resources required - it provides a baseline against which stage progress will be measured and is used as the basis of management control throughout the stage
  • work package - sets out all information needed to deliver one or more specialist products; the necessary information is collated by the project manager and used to formally pass responsibility for work or delivery to a team leader or member
  • change control strategy - this documents the procedure to ensure that the processing of all project issues is controlled, including the submission, analysis and decision making
  • highlight reports - provide the project board (and possibly other stakeholders) with a summary of the stage status at intervals defined by them; it is used to monitor stage and project progress and will be used by the project manager to advise the project board of any potential problems
  • checkpoint report - these are sent from the team manager to the project manager at a frequency defined in the stage plan or work package detailing the status of work for each member of a team
  • project issue log - this is a generic term for any matter that has to be brought to the attention of the project team and requires an answer
  • risk management log - risks can be threats to the successful delivery of the programme or project; they are usually recorded in a risk register
  • end stage report - summarises progress to date and provides an overview of the project as a whole, including the impact of the stage on the project plan, the business case and identified risks; the project board uses the information to decide what action to take
  • end project report - this is sent from the project manager to the project board; it confirms the hand-over of all deliverables, provides an updated business case, and an assessment of how well the project has done against its PID
  • lessons learned report - describes the lessons learned in undertaking a project; it is approved by the project board then held centrally for the benefit of future projects - if the project is one of a number attached to a programme this document will also be used as input to the programme review
  • post project review - this will document whether business benefits have been realised and if recommendations for future improvements have been recorded
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