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Getting the Most Out of Your Project Planning Sessions

~ By Sebastian Bos

Man knealing in front of a large project plan on the floor

As a manager or team leader, you should be full to the brim with innovative ideas about how you can improve both your workflow and business objectives. When you come across an idea that you want to implement - whether that's a new way to sustain growth, manage your inventory, or hire new staff - chances are you'll be in a rush to get it launched.

However, this is where many businesses fail at the first hurdle - by hastily signing off on projects before any strategic planning has commenced. Being able to effectively hold a project planning session is one of the most powerful weapons in a business' armoury. Without this, plans can be rushed through without the necessary preparations or, even worse, forgotten altogether.

Project planning sessions are important and should aim to examine all aspects of a project; stakeholder engagement, business benefits, risk assessment and, of course, the project plan itself.

Any good project planning session ensures that all stakeholders (be they company directors, product owners, suppliers or employees) are on the same page. Every party needs to be working towards the same outcome. Your project plan should show how you can get buy-in from everyone that matters, and maintain it throughout the project.

Any disagreements on the project between stakeholders will cause conflict down the line. If you're finding that during planning sessions people are vocally opposing ideas, ask for specific feedback and listen. Open communication is a must. Conflict resolution during project planning sessions is essential. Address conflict directly and find a solution to the issue.

Around 70% of a project manager's time should be spent on planning. Dissecting every detail in your project planning sessions is a must. Who is taking responsibility for what areas? What are the deliverables? How can managers deliver these within their departments and maintain their existing work? Have structure and cover all your bases during your sessions, and look to iron out any potential uphill struggles or flaws with your project.

Be readily available to address any resource concerns. Are the HR department aware of your project? Are there any additional hires that need to be made? Do any departments need restructuring or organising into project-specific teams before you execute? Do you have the right tools and systems in place to complete the project from start to finish? Involve those who need to know and keep them engaged with the project by being transparent, focused and energised.

If you're using any project management software in your business, do all those involved know how it operates? Will there be any additional costs to install, or train staff how to use it? Discuss project management software in your sessions, how it will be used, and whose responsibility it is. Not every business and project will need to use it, and remember, sometimes a whiteboard and dry marker are just as effective as expensive software packages.

According to Harvard Business Review, communication is project management's "dirty little secret". Not executing effective and clear communication will alienate teams and stakeholders, and make it tricky to ensure project completion. Feedback is important, as is notifications of delivery dates, key milestones, and praise for outstanding work.

Ensure that project planning sessions discuss how you will measure performance. What KPIs are there? Build timelines, budgets, and sprints. How can these be regularly measured? Without measuring your project, you'll have no idea on how it's actually performing, and put your hard work at risk of failure.

Be flexible throughout your sessions. The complexity of the business world means that obstacles will get in your way. New information can pop up at any time - keep an open mind and flex to accommodate this when needed for successful project planning sessions and overall project management.

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Sebastian is an digital marketing executive at RocketMill and spends a lot of his time building relationships with industry experts. He spends a lot of time playing team sports or catching up on his favourite TV series. For more information on management efficiency why not check out the Cryoserver blog


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