Planning a project
Planning a project

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Planning a project

3.3 Using a logic diagram to identify key stages

To use a bottom-up approach to planning, the activity schedule is best compiled by drawing on the collective experience and knowledge of the project team that is going to carry out the tasks. Grouping their ideas into related tasks will remove duplication and you can then start to identify activities which have to run in series and those that could run concurrently. Some tasks have to be sequential because they are dependent on one another: you can't put the roof on a house until you have walls strong enough to take the weight. Other tasks can run concurrently and the overall plan needs to make the most of these opportunities: the most successful project plans tend to be those that optimise concurrency because this reduces the project length and intensifies the use of valuable resources.

From the clusters of activities and tasks, you can begin to identify key stages by creating a logic diagram. This exercise can be approached by writing the key stages on cards or coloured self-adhesive notepads, so that you can move the notes around and then arrange them on a whiteboard or a large sheet of paper. Put cards labelled ‘start’ and ‘finish’ on the board first and then arrange the key stages between them in the appropriate sequence. Then draw arrows to link the stages in a logical sequence. The arrows indicate that each stage is dependent on another and sometimes more than one.

Example 2: Processes in developing a directory

A training agency that provided work placements for young people decided to develop a directory of services available for young adults in the community. The key stages identified were:

A Secure funds
B Negotiate with other agencies
C Form advisory group
D Establish data collection plan
E Collect data
F Write directory text
G Identify printer
H Agree print contract
I Print directory
J Agree distribution plan
K Organise distribution
L Distribute directory

Figure 4, showing the logic diagram for directory production, illustrates each of these stages. Each stage has at least one arrow entering it and one leaving: for example, organising distribution (K) is dependent on agreeing a distribution plan (J), and collecting the data (E) cannot happen until a data collection plan has been established (D). However, preparatory activities for distribution (J and K) and printing (G and H) can run concurrently. We have assumed that the advisory group will make decisions about the acceptability of the data collection and distribution plans and will agree the printing contract.

Figure 4 Logic diagram for directory production

The following conventions might be helpful in drawing a logic diagram:

  • time flows from ‘start’ on the left to ‘finish’ on the right, but there is no time-scale;

  • each key stage must be described separately;

  • the duration of key stages is not relevant yet;

  • different coloured cards can be used for different kinds of activities;

  • debate the position of each card in the diagram;

  • show the dependency links with arrows;

  • when your diagram is complete, try working backwards to check whether it will work;

  • don't assign tasks to people yet;

  • keep a record of any decisions made and keep the diagram for future reference.

A comparison chart is not a formal technique as such, but is a way of setting out for oneself and others the relative merits of different approaches. The only ‘essentials’ in this are the three criteria of quality, cost and time-scale against which subjective judgements are made. In this case study various elements of each approach are considered against these three criteria, but both the format and the method could have been different.

The comparison chart below covers a project to develop an induction programme for new staff in a call centre. It shows how different ideas are put forward for how the induction might be undertaken. This shows that there might be different ways that a company could develop an induction programme, and there would be different implications in terms of timescales, the quality (in terms of how different approaches would seem to new employees) and finally in terms of different costs.

Figure 5 An example of a comparison chart

Activity 2

0 hours 45 minutes

Imagine that managers in your organisation are considering developing a directory to be given to new staff appointed, as part of the induction process. You expect that you will be asked to manage this project. You want to be well prepared for the meeting at which the potential project will be discussed. Draw up a list of the tasks involved in the project and organise them into key stages on a logic diagram.

Discussion

Your diagram probably looked similar to the one in Figure 4. You should have noted that you would need approval to use resources (A), which might include approval to involve others in the organisation and to interview people in each area of work (B). You might have decided to have some sort of steering committee (C) – this is often a good idea because it brings ideas from various perspectives to the project and it also helps to attract support for the project and its outcomes. You would have needed to plan for data collection (D and E) and someone would have to create the text (F) which would need to be printed or produced in an accessible electronic form (I) so that new people to the organisation could easily access the information. The production process would need steps G and H, as in the earlier logic diagram. You would also need to consider how the directory should be distributed to each area of work in the organisation (J, K and L). There are essentially three sequences of activities that must be completed in sequential order before the whole project can be completed.

An overview of the key activities and stages of the project provides the skeleton of your plan. You can then work out the details in each of the stages. Your understanding of the project will develop and change as you become more familiar with the issues raised in each stage of planning. Planning is a dynamic process and one of your main roles in managing a project is to keep the balance between:

  • the need to have a plan to ensure that the project outcomes can be achieved within time, budget and quality requirements;

  • the need to respond to change in the setting surrounding the project and in the understanding of all of the people involved in the project.

It is helpful to keep a project brief as the starting point in each stage of planning, to ensure that the purpose of the project is not forgotten in the practicalities of planning. As each part of the plan develops, use the project brief as a basis for checking that the key outcomes are still the focus of activity and that the balance of budget, schedule and quality are being maintained.

A checklist for drafting a project brief appears below.

Project title
Name of sponsor and main contact for project approval
Locations – address of sponsor, project location, contact address
Name of person managing the project and possibly their organisation if different from that of the project sponsor
Date of agreement of project brief
Date of project start and finish
Background to the project and purpose with goals outlined
Key objectives with quality and success criteria
Details of how achievement of these will bring benefits to the business or sponsoring organisation
Scope of the project and any specific boundaries
Constraints
Assumptions
Timescale of the project
Deliverables and target dates (milestones)
Estimated costs
Resourcing arrangements
Reporting and monitoring arrangements
Decision-making arrangements – level of authority and accountability held by manager of project and arrangments for any necessary renegotation
Communications arrangements
Signature of sponsor with date, title and authority
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