Why Project Teams Work Without a Master Plan

Though some teams wouldn’t consider starting a project without a workable and realistic master plan, other groups routinely begin executing tasks before their overall strategy has been finalized and communicated. For PMs wondering why a project team would start work before having a high-level plan in place, the reasons can often be traced to a few key factors.

master plan

High-level pressure. Typically driven by a desire to get the project underway as quickly as possible, PMs may be pushed to abbreviate—or even abandon—the planning process by executives and other members of the leadership team. Aside from the time factor, pressure may still exist because high-ranking influencers don’t understand what a master plan does for the project and where its absence is likely to create problems down the road.

Lack of plan development experience. Depending on their previous roles and the projects their company normally tackles, it’s not uncommon for some PMs to have very little exposure to the plan development process. If they’ve successfully executed projects without a master plan in the past, that experience only reinforces the belief that a high-level strategy isn’t truly necessary. It’s a knowledge gap that may also lead the PM to undervalue the usefulness of a master plan because they haven’t experienced how much more efficient a project can be when a top-level plan is in place.

Too few resources to create a useful plan. Some organizations are notorious for running their project teams extremely lean. The PM may understand the need for a master plan but there simply isn’t enough people or money (or executive support) to go through the plan development process. These same project teams often encounter significant challenges throughout the project lifecycle because they continue to be understaffed and underfunded from beginning to end, exacerbating the problems caused by the lack of a high-level plan.

If you’ve already been asked to launch a project without a master plan or you’re worried you may face that scenario in the near future, consider these strategies that can help you ensure you have the opportunity and the knowledge to develop a reliable and realistic top-level plan. The more efficient and repeatable you can make the process, the better your chances are that it will become an accepted matter of course for projects in the future.

Identify which resources your team is missing—staff, expertise, time, funding, sponsor support—that contribute to your inability to create a master plan. Are the causes within your control to resolve or do you need to convince other stakeholders to help you develop and implement a solution? You can’t fix the problem if you don’t have a clear idea of what the problem entails, so begin by gaining knowledge about what you currently lack.

Gather data on the value of a master plan. Even an anxious and time-pressed executive team may have their perspective shifted when they see the cost savings, the return on the company’s project investment, the improved project results, and the long-term benefits that only come when a master plan is available to help guide the team through each phase of the initiative.

Partner with a project management consulting firm. The expertise and guidance offered by an experienced advisory group can give your project team the insight and support necessary to push through a range of obstacles. Whether you’re facing pressure from senior staff to move ahead, you don’t have a strong background in plan development, or your access to resources is limited, the right outside partner can help you identify the issues and find solutions to get you moving in the right direction.


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