Project Management Planning Tools & Techniques


Project planning is at the heart of project management. One can't manage and control project activities if there is no plan. Without a plan, it is impossible to know if the correct activities are underway, if the available resources are adequate or of the project can be completed within the desired time. The plan becomes the roadmap that the project team members use to guide them through the project activities.

Triple constraint The development of a project plan is often an optimization process. Therefore it may require several iterations to establish an acceptable plan. Every project activity has risk in it. The planning process needs to balance the risks in a way to minimize risk on high priority items from the project charter, and take greater risk on lower priority items. This optimization revolves around the "triple constraint" of project management: scope management, schedule management, and resource/budget management. These three elements of project planning are so significant that I have dedicated a separate page for each of them.

Scope Planning Tools & Techniques

Schedule Planning Tools & Techniques

Resource/Budget Planning Tools & Techniques

There is one additional planning topic that is inter-related with all aspects of the triple constraint, that topic is estimating and I have dedicated an entire page to this topic also

Project Estimating Tools & Techniques

Once the triple constraint has been addressed, the project leader and project team must address several other elements of the project plan. These topics are broad enough that they impact the planning, executing, and controlling processes. Therefore I have created a standalone page of tools and techniques for each of them. They are:

Project Risk Management Tools and Techniques

Project Communication Tools and Techniques

Project Team Leadership Tools and Techniques

There are several other tools and techniques that span scope, schedule, and resources, but are specific to project planning. These include using a Tollgate/Phasegate approach, establishing a Quality Management Plan, and conducting Procurement Planning for the use of vendors and suppliers to accomplish project activities.

Tollgate/Phasegate Planning Tollgate Methodology

Tollgate planning, also known as Phasegate planning, is used in order to control high project risk. Tollgate planning divides the project tasks into phases. Each phase is structured around being able to resolve a major risk issue on the project. The phases are then ordered so that risks are addressed in a manner that minimizes the impact on later phases. Once all the tasks for a phase have been identified, the tasks are then budgeted and scheduled for that phase. Often the detailed tasks of a later phase can not be identified until an earlier phase is complete.

The Tollgate planning approach is excellent for managing risk because as each phase completes, a business decision meeting, called a Tollgate, is scheduled. The project team and appropriate stakeholders meet and review the results of the work from the preceding phase to determine whether the risk has been adequately mitigated. One of three project options is selected by those at the meeting. The first option is to continue on to the next phase since the risk has been adequately mitigated. The second option is selected when the risk has not been adequately mitigated. In that case the decision is to conduct additional activities beyond what were originally planned for the phase. These additional activities are designed to mitigate the risk. This entails a rebaseline of the project with appropriate adjustments to project end date and total budget. The third option may be selected whether the risk has been mitigated or not. This option is to cancel the project. Either the business needs have changed, or the activities needed to resolve the risk are more than the business is willing to undertake. In those cases, the project is canceled and the resources are released to work on other projects.

Phase/Tollgate Scheduling Technique:
  • Identify the key project risk milestones
  • Sequence the risk milestones to minimize overall project risk
  • Identify the tasks needed to resolve each of the risk milestones. This does not need to be accomplished until preceding milestones have been completed
  • Create a schedule (network diagram or Gantt) of the tasks supporting each of the milestones. This does not need to be accomplished until the activities for that phase are about to begin.
  • Conduct tollgate meetings at appropriate points in the project and decide to continue, rebaseline, or cancel the project.

    Project Quality Planning

    Quality planning is a project management activity that occurs on every project, but often it is done either haphazardly or unconsciously. A maxim in business is that, "You get what you measure." The project Quality Plan identifies what will be measured. By establishing the project performance characteristics that are to be tracked, the project leader indicates what project attributes are most important. If the schedule is most important, then that is the key quality attribute and schedule milestones should be what is primarily tracked and measured on the project. However, if technical compliance to a product or customer requirements document is most important, then that is what should be measured.

    The characteristics of the project that are the key success factors for the major stakeholders should be the starting point for determining the quality characteristics for each phase and each activity. There are numerous quality analysis tools that can be used to assist in setting targets, such as Design of Experiments, and tools that can be used to establish the methods for measuring performance, such as Sampling Plans. However, I have found that the most important aspect of quality planning is to consciously consider with the key stakeholders and team members which project characteristics are the indicators of success on this unique project.

    The results of quality planning are captured in two different ways. On the one hand, modifications are made to the project plan to add tasks or activities that will improve the probability of project success. On the other hand, the quality plan is used to guide the development of the project control plan be establishing a clear definition of success on each vital project characteristic.

    Project Procurement Planning

    The characteristics of project procurement are different from the characteristics of production procurement. For this reason, a project leader can not afford to just turn the procurement portion of the project over to the organization that handles production procurement. The differences are caused by the differences between project management and process management. Production procurement buys a well-documented, often commodity, item - and it buys a lot of them. Production procurement is focused on establishing a long term relationship with a supplier who will provide high quality at a reasonable price and will deliver the amount contracted for on time - every time. Project procurement often requires that a supplier deliver only one item for which no specification yet exists, and it is needed by tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM. Many production procurement organizations are not equipped to support project procurements, therefore, the project team must take on that role.

    Supplier Relationship I have found that when planning project procurements, it is best to start with the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) activities that you want to supplier to perform. Using those WBS activities and the project risk management plan, determine what level of specification can be created for the effort. Is it very specific or is it very general? Also, consider how complex the procurement will be with respect to the rest of the project. Does the supplier need to integrate with many other organizations? Does the supplier need to provide extensive reports and documentation that is unique to the project? The answer to these questions will indicate the type of relationship is needed for each of the project's suppliers.

    If there is low complexity and a highly developed specifications, there is no need for a unique project relationship with the supplier. These types of procurements can be turned over to the production procurement department and handled through normal procurement channels. As a project leader you can keep the supplier at Arms Length. You do not need to expend any of your time and energy interacting with the supplier.

    As the complexity increases or the specification becomes more general, the relationship may need to migrate to the Product/Service Provider interactions. In this case you typically have unique project requirements, either with the specification or with the project integration. Because of these unique requirements a standard Purchase Order is probably not adequate. Normally, in this type of relationship, the project leader or appropriate project team member must meet with the supplier at the beginning of the procurement to clarify the unique requirements. In addition, periodic meetings are usually needed with the supplier to answer any new questions that come up.

    As the complexity further increases or the specifications become even more general, the relationship should change to the Solution Provider interaction. In this case the project leader or appropriate project team member will meet with the supplier on a regular basis. The contracted item is general enough that the supplier and the project team must agree on the solution that is being suggested by the supplier. There is often a great deal of give and take in this relationship as the solution is developed. Often the solution will have impacts on other aspects of the project that are not being performed by the supplier. The project leader or project team member must closely supervise the supplier activities or significant cost and schedule issues can arise throughout the project.

    The most complex relationship is the Partnership relationship. This partnership is a partnership on the project. The corporation may have a partnership relationship with a supplier that is only providing commodity items on a specific project. On that project the supplier relationship within the project would be Arms Length. In the case we are addressing at this point on the project, the project circumstances dictate that the supplier is a partner on the project. This will often take the form of joint venture or business consortium. It is often difficult in this relationship to determine who is the buyer and who is the seller. Both parties are working together on the project team to achieve shared project objectives.

    Although there are four different types of relationships, once a relationship is determined a subcontract can be crafted that contains appropriate deliverables and oversight to achieve the project objectives. Typically, for Arms Length and Product/Service Provider relationships a Fixed Price contract is used. However, a Cost Reimbursable or Unit Price (time and material) contract is often more appropriate for a supplier who is operating as a Solution Provider. A Partnership relationship often will require a Memorandum of Agreement or joint venture documents that are much more complex than what can be documented on a Purchase Order.