Chapter 4. Project Planning and the Project Scope

4.1 Project Planning

Planning consists of the processes required to establish the scope of the project, refine the objectives, and define the course of action required to attain the objectives that the project was undertaken to achieve[1]. Although most of the project effort (i.e., making use of the workforce and other resources) is spent during the execution phase that occurs after the planning phase, project managers and their teams face the most challenging tasks and perform many processes during the planning phase. The project planning phase is often the most challenging phase for a project manager, as the project manager is often required to make educated guesses about the team members, resources required for all the activities, and the schedule and budget needed to complete the project. In addition, the planning includes communications and procurement activities, as well as planning contracts with any third-party suppliers.

Thorough and proper planning helps the team have a smoother execution process with a better prediction level. However, it is of high importance to keep in mind that predictability is at low levels in many projects in terms of scope (requirements and project activities), schedule, budget, and risks. This is why agile (adaptive) project management comes to the forefront, which started in the 1990s with software projects and extended to information systems projects over time, and other fields such as, but not limited to, new product development, high technology projects, and start-ups. Agile project management will be discussed in Chapter 12 “Agile (Adaptive) Project Management”.

Project planning is at the heart of the project life cycle and tells everyone involved where the project is going and how the team is going to get there. It involves creating a set of plans to help guide the team through the implementation and closure phases of the project. The plans created during this phase help the project team manage time, cost, quality, changes, risk, and related issues. The purpose of the project planning phase is to:

  • Provide guidance and direction on how scope, schedule, cost, quality, resources, communications, risks, procurements, and stakeholders will be managed throughout the project[2],
  • Refine and elaborate on the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) objectives, establish the business, stakeholder, solution, and transition requirements, and translate them to project activities by defining the scope and create WBS (Work Breakdown Structure),
  • Develop project schedule by defining and sequencing project activities and milestones, and by estimating activity durations.
  • Determine resources, identify risks based on the requirements and activities, and eventually estimate costs and determine project budget,
  • Identify the methods to track, review, and regulate the progress and performance of the project (e.g., EVM – Earned Value Management),
  • Communicate and collaborate with all the stakeholders, and obtain the approval of the sponsor and the client, and proceed to the next phase, which is the implementation (execution) phase.

Project managers identify the work to be done for the project in collaboration with the stakeholders including the project sponsor, team members, relevant functional departments of our organization, end-users, customers, regulatory organizations, and government agencies – in short, all the stakeholders that are affected by or are affecting the overall project or at least one activity, decision or outcome. Once the major components of the project are known, the project manager can assign those in the team who will carry out the detailed planning of the project’s sub-components. The lowest level manageable activities are called “work packages” in predictive (waterfall) methodology. We will discuss Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) which is composed of work packages in its section below. In agile methods and frameworks, especially in Scrum, which is the most common agile framework utilized by organizations worldwide, “sprints”, “timeboxes”, or “cycles” are used with compressed life cycle stages (see Chapter 12).

The planning phase refines the project’s objectives in the Project Charter, which were identified at higher levels during the initiation phase. This phase also includes planning the steps necessary to meet those objectives by further identifying the specific activities and resources required to complete the project. Once the project objectives have been fully recognized, they must be clearly articulated, specifically developing each of them according to the SMART protocol. These objectives would lead to the identification and elaboration of product requirements in line with the project deliverables. Often, the very act of describing a project’s objectives using detailed, precise language allows us to better understand the project’s scope. This articulation serves as the basis for the development of requirements. What this means is that, after an objective has been clearly articulated, it can be described in concrete (measurable) terms and the steps to achieve it are easier to identify. If a poor job is done of articulating the objectives, the requirements will be misdirected, and the resulting project will not represent the true need.

In general, the planning phase involves three fundamental components: Identifying the scope, preparing the schedule, and estimating the costs. These are triple constraints that also serve as our baselines throughout the project to measure the project’s success. After these activities are complete, it is a good time to identify and try to deal with anything that might pose a threat or an opportunity to the successful completion of the project. This is called risk management. In risk management, the threats and opportunities are identified along with the action that is to be taken as a response in order to optimize the likelihood of project success (see Chapter 10). In the initiation phase, a preliminary list of project stakeholders was identified. During the planning phase, the list is reviewed to ensure that it remains current and stakeholders continue to be prioritized. Stakeholder engagement is a critical success factor, and communication plays a key role in this engagement. Effective project leaders spend about 90% of their time on a project communicating with stakeholders[3]. An effective communication plan is one of the tools used to ensure stakeholders remain informed and supportive of the project’s objectives (see Chapters 5 and 6).

In some instances, organizations need to obtain products and utilize services from outside of the organization. Overseeing these transactions is known as procurement management. During the planning stage, procurement management involves identifying the type of vendors required and the selection criteria to be used. Finally, project managers ensure that the team understands the quality expectations of the stakeholders. In order to fulfill these expectations, a quality management plan is developed to identify quality targets, assurance, and control measures, along with an acceptance plan.

Throughout all these project planning activities, it is the job of the Project Manager to integrate the team’s planning efforts—a process known as integration management. Developing a project charter and a project management plan are two processes of seven processes carried out within the project integration management[4]. Project managers should assure that all the necessary processes and activities are included to identify, define, combine, unify, and coordinate the various process and project management activities. They should manage the interdependencies among all the project management knowledge areas. Consequently, a comprehensive project plan should be created to ensure all the various management plans identified above are cohesive and well-aligned.

In this chapter, we will elaborate on the development of a project scope management plan including requirements management. Other subcomponents of the project management plan will be explained in their respective chapters (e.g., project communications management plan in Chapter 6; project schedule management plan in Chapter 8).

  1. Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.
  2. Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.
  3. Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.
  4. Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) (6th ed.). Project Management Institute.


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Project Management by Abdullah Oguz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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