A 3-Step Process for Painless Project Planning

Do you know what the biggest pain in project management is?

I’ll tell you what it is.

Building something nobody wants.

I’ve learned the hard way over the years that it’s easy to forget the basics when you start getting immersed in all the flashy concepts, funky language, and fancy tools out there for planning projects.

But it all really comes down to 3 things.

And they must be done in order.


How many of you have managed a project without any clear idea of why you are doing it?

*Josh raises his hand*

You may think you know.

“Well, we’re going to set up this ERP system and customize it.”

But why?

If you are managing a project because some customer or government agency gave you a contract, that’s not a good enough “Why”.

Be it user stories as in Agile development or some other method, “Why” should be answered at many levels.

“Why” for the whole thing. “Why” for this feature. “Why” for this requirement. In particular, with the context of whom you are providing the benefit to and a clear understanding of why it’s a benefit to them.


Only after you know “Why” can you effectively define “What”.

This is your product breakdown or work breakdown structure. Even if it’s just a list of deliverables, it’s the “What”.

It must be deliverables-based, else you’ll fly off into Neverland.

It’s got to be clear “What” you are delivering and how those deliverables fulfill the promises you defined in the “Why” step.


This should be the last step.

Unfortunately, it’s the first step for many project managers.

If you fire up MS Project or other scheduling tool first thing, you’re doing this all backwards.

You’re getting into the solution now. How are the deliverables going to be provided, who will do it, and when will they be delivered?

You iterate between these three aspects of the solution as your basis of estimates or task list, schedule, and resource planning come together.

But again, these can only be grounded when you’ve already got your “Why” and “What” clearly defined.


This is blocking and tackling, folks.

If you disagree with me that every effective approach to planning projects must follow this framework, leave a comment. I’d be interested to hear about it.

If you agree these 3 steps are critical, tell me so.

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