Planning is choosing. Planning is never just spelling out the most practical or efficacious way of performing an action. Planning is an expression of why we want that action and how we want to do it. Planning on the one side is a response to an objective problem that we want to address; and on the other side is a subjective expression of who we are and how we want to work. That is why it is opportune, in project planning, to involve all major stakeholders: all should be sure that their voices are heard and that their views are kept into account. (see more in ⇒ The participatory approach).
Absence of documented plan will result in authoritarian project management, while a document plan promotes cooperation and constructive participation by all team members. A plan document is required to generate a sense of partnership between those who are involved in the project so that reciprocal expectations are clarified and documented. Once a plan is approved, it is expected that those who participate in the plan implementation perform their tasks for achieving the project scope in conformity with the quality specifications of the deliverables, the methodology indicated and the time/cost constraints defined in the plan.
In project planning we decide what we think it is necessary to do in order to achieve the project objectives, what is the best way to do it, who will be the actors implementing it and what are the risks involved. In planning we divide the whole action into tasks and figure out the time and the resources, both human and material, required for each task. Then we calculate the cost necessary for performing each tasks, calculate the cost of the whole project and decide how to raise the financial resources required for covering these costs. Finally we decide how we assign the tasks to the persons who will execute them, how we will select them and how we will supervise and coordinate them. If the project is well designed, the correct performance of the tasks assigned will produce the project outputs, which will empower the project beneficiaries to achieve the project objectives. If the project is not well designed, we will not be able to complete the action, or produce the expected outputs, or even if we complete the tasks and produce the outputs these will not be used by the beneficiaries and we will not achieve the project objectives.
Moving from the onset of the original idea to the phase of execution (when resources are allocated and the tasks implemented) requires a number of steps. These steps vary according to the organizational culture, the size of the project and the number of actors whose consensus is required for the project to happen. There will be a series of "judgments" (or "ex-ante evaluations") concerning the coherence of the project design and the feasibility of the project activities. Each organization and each partnership has its own approach to giving green-lights to desired projects. There are some general principles, however, that apply to any effective evaluation and project selection process: the deciding body must have enough information about the needs that the project wants to address, about the coherence and merits of the solutions proposed and the viability and feasibility of its required actions.
An analysis of the coherence of the project design will focused on the logic of the project assumptions:
- will the products expected results (products and services) generate a real change in the social environment?
- Will the project have a positive impact in due course of time?
- Will the project be a concrete step towards achieving programme objectives?
Feasibility analysis will instead evaluate if the organization is really equipped for choosing and implementing all the activities required to produce the expected project results (products and services).
Although the formal classification of the planning steps is different in different organizational cultures, we can say that in a general sense project planning moves through three major preparation steps:
- Project origination stage, when someone has an idea and proposes a project that can help to achieve the objectives of a programme;
- Project initiation stage, when consensus is already achieved amongst the decision makers in the organization and a project designer is appointed who start drafting a proposal to be discussed with other stakeholders like partners, sponsors, beneficiaries.
- Detailed planning stage, when we divide the whole action into tasks and figure out the time and the resources, both human and material, required for each task. This process is concertized in the development of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and the Action Plan, usually represented through a GANTT. Once we know what are the tasks, what are the resources required and the duration for which they need to be employed, then we can produce the budget.
In this manual we will now see each one of this phase in a separate chapter and share, tools and guidelines that can facilitate the management these project planning steps.