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Project Planning Tools

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Project Planning Tools

Planning before Design is more powerful and effective

How to Use

Each of the four pages listed above is a separate way of thinking about projects. Choose the one most helpful for the challenge you face. Duplicate the page and complete the plan.
Below is a brief introduction to each type of plan.

The Project Plan

Years ago I stumbled upon a series of inexpensive management booklets published by Dorling Kindersley Limited. The one that was most helpful to me was Project Management. In particular the section on Planning A Project. The booklet describes eight steps that I have used every time I tackle a new project. As designers we have learned to do this, but not in a formal way that always leads to a good plan. Too often we just jump on the first ideas and start designing. Or for non-design projects - just start doing stuff without a clear picture of the whole process.

The 8 Project Planning Steps

Defining the vision. What's the big picture look like?
Setting objectives. What specific things do you want to achieve?
Assessing constraints. What is in the way; what approvals are needed?
Listing activities. What are all the tasks that make up the project? (Forget sequence - just brainstorm.)
Committing resources. What is the budget and are you ready to accept responsibility for it?
Ordering activities. What is the logical and effective way to tackle the list of project tasks?
Agreeing dates. What is the timeline and can everyone involved meet it?
Validating the plan. Do the stakeholders agree with the plan?

I have found that, whenever a project seems especially complicated, frustrating or just plain stuck, a review of these eight steps will bring clarity and show you the way through the impasse.

Make Three Lists

When considering a new project, it might help to make three lists - what has to be true; what skills will be needed; what could derail you.
On paper, it's a lot easier to find the real truth.


PROs, CONs, and Interesting
When faced with alternatives, identify the benefits, and the downsides. Include anything ‘interesting’ about the alternative. Seeing the alternatives evaluated on paper usually makes the choice clear (or at least clearer).


Priorities is useful in a different way. For architectural projects this way of prioritizing your work can be a powerful way of avoiding re-work for everyone involved.
First - Resolve decisions that others need from you so they can keep on schedule, too. Also, ask your client for all the information that “you are waiting on to get started”.
Second - Resolve the unknowns so they don't come back to make you change things or re-design. This is really critical. It will seem like your time could be better-spent ’putting lines down’. It’s not. You will waste more time later accommodating the unknowns than it takes to resolve them up front.
Third - Tackle the hard, messy, complicated stuff so you aren't swamped at the deadline with what will probably take longer than you think.
Last - Wrap up with the easy stuff because nothing else depends on it and it will go quickly.
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