A 3-Step Process for Painless Project Planning

by Josh

Do you know what the biggest pain in project management is?

I’ll tell you what it is.

Building something nobody wants.

I’ve learned the hard way over the years that it’s easy to forget the basics when you start getting immersed in all the flashy concepts, funky language, and fancy tools out there for planning projects.

But it all really comes down to 3 things.

And they must be done in order.


How many of you have managed a project without any clear idea of why you are doing it?

*Josh raises his hand*

You may think you know.

“Well, we’re going to set up this ERP system and customize it.”

But why?

If you are managing a project because some customer or government agency gave you a contract, that’s not a good enough “Why”.

Be it user stories as in Agile development or some other method, “Why” should be answered at many levels.

“Why” for the whole thing. “Why” for this feature. “Why” for this requirement.  In particular, with the context of whom you are providing the benefit to and a clear understanding of why it’s a benefit to them.


Only after you know “Why” can you effectively define “What”.

This is your product breakdown or work breakdown structure.  Even if it’s just a list of deliverables, it’s the “What”.

It must be deliverables-based, else you’ll fly off into Neverland.

It’s got to be clear “What” you are delivering and how those deliverables fulfill the promises you defined in the “Why” step.


This should be the last step.

Unfortunately, it’s the first step for many project managers.

If you fire up MS Project or other scheduling tool first thing, you’re doing this all backwards.

You’re getting into the solution now.  How are the deliverables going to be provided, who will do it, and when will they be delivered?

You iterate between these three aspects of the solution as your basis of estimates or task list, schedule, and resource planning come together.

But again, these can only be grounded when you’ve already got your “Why” and “What” clearly defined.


This is blocking and tackling, folks.

If you disagree with me that every effective approach to planning projects must follow this framework, leave a comment. I’d be interested to hear about it.

If you agree these 3 steps are critical, tell me so.

Leave a Comment

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Arturo Alvarez P February 4, 2013 at 11:40 pm

I tottaly agree the best way is to start with these basic questions. I will also add the committment is basic for the accomplishment of every deliverable.


James February 7, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Hi Josh!

I agree with you. A project needs to be perfectly planned in able to get to the success. This is a very effective approach.



Marian February 12, 2013 at 6:48 am

couldn’t agree with you more Josh. The more basic questions tend to be overlooked especially if someone is very excited about the project and is in tunnel vision. Taking a step back and evaluating the plan from all sides is ideal.


Emmanuel Perez, PMP February 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Hi Josh
I agree with this approach. I’d add this should be repeated for every goal/deliverable. At early stages in lifecycle I place these elements in a previous phase I call origination. Thanks


Proxalt March 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

A comprehensive plan is essential for completing the project on time, and retaining the client. The basic points will make it easier for project managers to deliver results in a global environment by overcoming the language and cultural differences.


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