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Reflecting on Common Mistakes

Watch Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne explain mistakes that are commonly made as a plan is developed.
As we progress through the planning process, it might be worthwhile pausing and reflecting on some common mistakes that firms make throughout the planning process. Together with my long-term collaborator and co-author, Bertha Wright, from the University College London, we’ve compiled a list of the most common mistakes that we’ve seen as we’ve engaged with many different firms from large aerospace companies to small independent entrepreneurs. Reflecting on this list might help you shed some light on what you’ve done along the way that you might want to improve on as you develop your plans. Here are the most common mistakes. Many firms dig in to the plan, and they neglect to stop and come up with a proper work breakdown structure.
It is the most crucial step of the plan. No work breakdown structure will imply missing tasks, complete pieces of work that are neglected to be considered as part of your plan. It is all too simple to forget, or to neglect a component of your project and therefore conducting a proper brainstorming se, session, or working out your work breakdown structure, will ensure that you do not find yourself without a proper scope. If you don’t have a proper scope, then you won’t have the proper project estimation, the duration estimate. You won’t have a proper, network diagram or critical path, and your cost estimates will be way off, so spend the time working through the work breakdown structure.
Other typical mistakes are the task durations are specified in terms of work and not in terms of actual durations. Neglecting to realize that individuals have to go home for the weekend or they have to take some time off once in a while in order to come back the next day refreshed. And so, think about durations and not only work. No network diagram. The network diagram is a visual tool. It is appealing in the sense that it gives us an overview in a very visual way of the flow within our project. Make sure to spend some time. Look at your network diagram and make sure that there is a logical flow of your chain from start to finish.
That will allow you to spot your critical path and your entire set of precedence. Other common mistakes have to do a lot with the precedence relationships. These can often be pretty tricky to identify. And so, as we think through our plan and we work typically looking at a gantt chart, we might rush in and we might neglect to identify proper precedence relationships between predecessors and successors. And so, don’t use fixed date to mimic a relationship. Don’t expect, that if a task, if you fix it to start at the first of August, it represents a link, or a flow from other tasks that are feeding into it. The first of August is arbitrary.
If you postpone the entire project, what you really want to be saying is that task b, depends upon task a. And so represent it with the proper dependency. If you happen to have tasks in your project that are scheduled in the right sequence but don’t have the relationship, you might not realize in the future as things change, that they’re actually linked by some information flow or from some even material flow from one to the next. And finally, if you’re working with a work breakdown structure with a complicated project and you have summary tasks, don’t link the summary tasks. Those tasks include the detailed individual level tasks, and the relationships should be formed only at that level.
Following, or thinking about these common mistakes, and reflecting and ensuring that you don’t exhibit them within your project plan, will allow you to put your best step forward, and have more confidence in your plan. I’ve also prepared a checklist that might help you walk through your project plan and ensure that you’re on the right track. The checklist make, you know, pa, takes you through the steps and allows you to reflect on the work breakdown structure. Is it available? Is it complete? Did we show it to enough individuals within the organization to ensure that we have confidence and that everybody agrees on it? Did we look at the network diagram? Do we have one start and one finish?
Do we have successors and predecessors to all of our tasks? Did we consider milestones? Are there natural points in our project that have important deliverables? Or that many different paths meet and come together. These are important to identify upfront.
Did we actually spend some time looking at the gantt chart and making sure that it reflects everything that we would like it to reflect? Are the dependencies properly presented? Are we not making use of any dates in a wrong way? Are we making sure that we don’t link any of the summary tasks, and that not any specific task takes way longer than the rest of our project, which might mean that it actually should be broken down into sub-tasks. And do we have a clear critical path from start to finish, and does it make sense? Does it fit our intuition around what is going to take us the longest in our project?
Coming together, we’ve gone through many different steps, and this checklist will allow us to make sure that our planning process so far has followed the steps and has been checked for sanity and make sure that we are detailed enough and that we’re following the guidelines to ensure that we have the most confident in our plan. Let’s summarize and wrap up the key steps in pla, planning projects. Well, first remember that it is the crucial part of our project planning. If we spend the time planning properly and not rushing to execution, we will have a higher chance of success. We know that successful projects have gone through the planning process properly.
We also want to remind ourselves, as we set out to do the planning, that the plan is not a straitjacket. It is a guideline, it is supposed to get us started. But we will allow for flexibility, and for changes, as time goes by. We will also be following our steps, through word breakdown structure, and identifying the scope, through a complete project schedule. We will make sure that the project goal is clear to us and that we know where the trade-offs are going to take place among the different objectives, and making sure that we have a complete scope. Starting a project without identifying the complete scope is almost a guaranteed failure.
A few more points as we think about wrapping up our planning phase. Make sure that we estimate our individual activity durations. We know that there are some challenges associated with estimating our task durations, so spend some time reflecting on some of these individual biases such as overconfidence and anchoring. Decide who’s going to own each one of your tasks and communicate with them. That they understand whether they’re critical or not and what tasks depend on them further down in the project, and who they depend on upstream. Identify your critical tasks in terms of your duration, not necessarily in terms of the importance of the scope. Prevent conflicts up front and add dependencies if need be, to represent conflicts.
And finally, know that you have, in your back pocket, the tools to decide to accelerate the project if need be, and to trade off your cost, time, and scope associated with your priorities of your project. Putting this all together will ensure that you’re on your way to a successful implementation of your specific project.

In this video, Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne explains mistakes that are commonly made as a plan is developed. While watching the video think about some common mistakes that you have made during the project planning process.

Once you’ve completed watching the video, go to the discussion questions to share your experiences of common mistakes and how you might approach the planning process differently next time to improve it.

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Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management

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