When it comes to developing a thorough and workable project plan, team participation sounds like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, PMs sometimes forego involving the wider team in these crucial early project planning efforts. The reasons for their decision vary, but two of the most common explanations are also the simplest: The time and effort required.
Executives and sponsors often want to see their important projects started as soon as possible. They may have made commitments to investors or business collaborators, for example, or they might want to capitalize on favorable market conditions or take advantage of anticipated cost savings. This drive to see tangible progress puts PMs under considerable pressure to save time by moving through the planning stage quickly and getting task execution underway. In other instances, a PM may feel that including large swaths of the team in planning efforts will be cumbersome or unwieldy to oversee.
But problems begin to crop up almost immediately when project team members aren’t engaged in the planning function. If you’re being pushed to move straight to the “doing” phase of the project, consider some of the reasons it’s critical that your team be involved in developing the plan.
1 – Better data used to create the plan. When team members participate in planning a project, you’ll come away with a plan that’s based on the best and most complete information available. The project group is closer to the action than anyone else, and they have useful insight into factors such as deciding between internal resources and third-party vendors for specific tasks, or where the schedule can be compressed without sacrificing the quality of the results. They will also be in the best position to determine if any knowledge gaps exist in-house, giving the team the opportunity to add necessary expertise before project execution begins.
2 – Access to tribal knowledge. Every organization contains a wealth of tribal knowledge, and by making project team members integral players in the project planning phase, you’ll gain access to all of that important historical intelligence. Where did problems arise during previous projects? Are there technology issues lurking within legacy systems that will likely require extra attention? Which vendors provide the most accurate budget estimates and which may be too conservative? Have staffing or other internal resource allocations commonly been problematic during past initiatives? Tribal knowledge is often instrumental in helping teams develop workable contingency plans and avoid unexpected trouble down the road.
3 – More accurate task duration estimates. No one is better at determining how long a task will take—as well as what resources are required to execute that task and where dependencies or links to other tasks may exist—than those who will be directly involved in coordinating and completing each activity. Soliciting information about tasks and gathering all the related details from team members while the plan is still under development will result in task duration estimates that are far more accurate. This in turn will contribute to an overall project plan that’s more complete, reliable, and realistic.
4 – Improved accountability and commitment. Team members that contribute in a meaningful way to the development of a project plan have a far stronger commitment to seeing that plan to fruition than someone who is handed a task list and a timeline and told to get to work. It’s human nature. Accountability at the individual level is one component of a strong project management methodology, and you want the group to be deeply invested in achieving success. Participation in project planning efforts creates the commitment necessary to drive accountability from the project’s beginning to its end.