How much Planning is enough, Project Management Tips?

I’m a fan of planning. I really am.  I’m a fan of project success, too.  And I strongly believe that those two concepts – planning and success – go hand in hand.  Without proper planning, processes, methodology…and best practices in general…in place, then I strongly feel that you are leaving your project successes to chance.  Or luck. You will continually be frustrated by frequent project failures and setbacks and you will constantly be struggling to understand how your successes happened and you will be finding yourself unable to repeat those successes.

I know this from experience.  I was part of a newly created project management office (PMO) in a Fortune 500 aviation and engineering firm that had relatively no structured methodology in place … and certainly no experienced PM leadership … and we failed miserably. In fact the PMO actually failed twice, believe it or not.

One size does not really fit all

But how much planning is enough?  How much is too much?   Can you overdo the planning process?  Some may disagree, but I believe that there is a point on certain projects where the law of diminishing returns kicks in.  I am a strong believer that the amount of planning and structure is often going to be in direct correlation to the size and complexity of the project. One size does not fit all.

I’ve been part of some very high dollar, complex projects where we started out with mind mapping software to ensure we were capturing everything we could about the business processes, capturing everything that all stakeholders could possibly see as areas of the business that are affected by current processes and areas that would be affected by the new solution.  We used the mind mapping software as a way of capturing the before and after scenarios and what was needed from the end solution.

I’ve also been part of some very straightforward projects that I was able to move from kickoff to development with very little planning because the high level requirements we had from the outset were quickly turned into adequately detailed requirements and then into a requirements document and signed off without much fanfare.  Why?


Because the final solution was not too complex and because it was a path we had been down before in terms of work and technology.  No other real planning documents were needed for my delivery team to get started on the solution and enough had been covered at kickoff time with the project sponsor to properly set expectations on meetings, communication, methodology, schedule and the change control process.


How much planning that goes into each effort may depend on the methodology and practices in place in your organization.  Your leadership and even your industry may mandate the same rigid planning and documentation be completed for every project no matter the size and complexity.  But, in general, I feel that much time and cost can be saved on projects where it becomes obvious that extreme planning is unnecessary.

Complex projects need detailed planning in order to succeed. Less critical projects, less complex projects and engagements involving end solutions that you’ve delivered before can certainly take advantage of current knowledge gained from previous project experiences and deliver success with less cost and in a shorter time frame by requiring less effort in the planning phase.