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How To Phase Your Project Plan


The full Moon is a sight to behold. Nowhere is it more beautiful than when it is suspended above the ocean on a clear night. You can stand on the shoreline and watch the translucent light shimmer across the water.

This beautiful display of illumination and waves occurs whenever the Earth is directly between the Sun and the Moon. The Moon is bathed in the full light of the Sun and is able to reflect this light to the Earth.

But, it’s not always this way. Sometimes only 75% of the Moon’s surface is illuminated. Sometimes, only the slightest sliver of the Moon is reflecting the Sun’s light. It all depends upon which Phase the Moon is currently in.

There are eight phases: New, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full, Waning Gibbous, Third Quarter, and Waning Gibbous. Each Phase of the Moon comes with its own beauty, but there’s nothing quite as magnificent as a Full Moon.

It would be nice to have a Full Moon all the time, not only for its beauty but also for the light that it showers on the Earth in the darkness. But, we can’t. We realize that we’ll get different phases of the Moon as each month goes by and that’s something we’ve all become used to.

Projects can be compared to the Moon. Projects are many times presented to us in an all or nothing manner. “We need to have this entire project complete in 2 months. “No if, and or buts about it!” the executive may bark. You know all too well that in the best of circumstances this project would take six months to complete. This is where you can follow the Moon’s example and look at a phased approach to project planning and scheduling.

What is a Phased Approach to Project Planning and Scheduling?

A phased approach to project planning and scheduling is when somebody shoots for the Moon and faces the reality that everything can’t be done in the time period they are requesting. The project can then be broken down into multiple phases in order to bring it to completion.

Each phase would focus on creating a product or functionality that could stand on its own, be delivered to the internal or external client, and then move on to subsequent phases. The phased approach to project planning and scheduling has a number of benefits. For example:

  • It Allows for Feedback on Subsequent Phases: There’s an expression that saysNot all feedback is what you want to hear “you don’t know what you don’t know”. That holds true for whenever you are managing a project, particularly if it is an IT or software project.Business Analysts, Engineers, Project Managers, and others involved with designing the project and solution may have an idea of how they think things should work. They will spend countless hours in meetings, asking questions, brainstorming, white-boarding, and pontificating about the best approach.This is all necessary activity and important to do as you go through your project planning and scheduling activity. But, where the rubber meets the road is once the solution is actually being used.What does the end user think about the solution? Is it as graceful and elegant as you envisioned or is it disjointed and clunky? Is it easy to use and intuitive or do you need a three inch thick manual to find your way around?No need to get downhearted if the feedback comes back less than stellar. One benefit of the phased approach to project planning and scheduling is that you can take this feedback and apply it forward to the next phase of the project. Ideally, that would include going back and fixing what is not working as expected in the first phase as well.
  • Easier to Implement:  We’ve all heard the joke before about how do you eat an elephant. You eat an elephant one bite at time. That’s kind of disgusting, but it does encapsulate the point that huge, mammoth projects come to completion one activity at a time. The good news about a phased approached to project planning and scheduling is that the elephant may be just a little bit smaller.Breaking a project up into phases allows for more focused attention on a smaller set of activities. There may be fewer people involved, less meetings, and it may not be quite as complex to manage as it would be if the entire project was undertaken at once. The reality is that the entire project going through all phases is going to have to be implemented at some point, but, breaking this elephant sized project into smaller sub-projects seems to make things a bit easier to, um, digest.
  • Something Usable is Delivered Early:  Another benefit of the phased approach to project planning and scheduling is that something usable is delivered early and often. The phased approach concentrates on the core functionality that will provide enough business value to the users to get the job done.It may not be all that they requested out of the gate, but it is some of what they requested. This will allow them to get on with the business at hand while the next phases are worked on and delivered.
  • Financially Attractive to the Client: Here’s another intangible benefit financially attractive dealto breaking a project into multiple phases…it may be financially attractive to a client. Here’s the scenario…A client comes in and says they want all of these features and functionality wrapped up into a project they are looking to accomplish. Perhaps it’s a complete redesign of their website with all the bells and whistles. They want it done within 30 days.You know this is just not possible based upon your experience with project planning and scheduling and knowing past responsiveness of this client. You typically require 50% payment up front and 50% upon the delivery of the project.These payments could be broken down by each phase and allow the client to spread the financial obligations of the project over a bit more time. This allows for a basic website to be up and running in most likely under 30 days and easier to manage financial arrangements for a client as this is spread out over time.

Where Do You Start with a Phased Approach to Project Planning and Scheduling?

The best place to start is to find the heart of the project Where do you start with a phased approach?and build out from there.

What is the central piece of the project that everything else is bolted into?

For example, you may be developing a custom estimating and invoicing application for a company. The core of the project would be the ability to generate an invoice. You could start with that component immediately. Then, you start bolting on other functionality such as reporting, the ability to e-mail invoices, the ability to generate estimates, and other nice-to-haves but items that aren’t mission critical to getting the invoice out.

Here’s something else to consider when it comes to the phased approach of project planning and scheduling: Sometimes project managers will use this to shut down and not discuss relevant functionality that should be included in Phase 1. But, because they may be too busy or they feel as if it will add unnecessary complexity they immediately push it into another phase.

“Phase 2” can become synonymous with “I don’t want to talk about that right now. Let me quickly dismiss it by relegating it to a future phase. I may deal with it then…” Don’t allow this attitude to creep up on you as a project manager. If it makes sense to include it in an earlier phase then do what you can to make it work.

We’d love to have the Full Moon all the time. We know we can’t so we are pleased with its 8 phases. We’d love to deliver full working projects within the timeframe requested. We know we can’t so we are pleased with the phased approach to project planning and scheduling.

Try this approach on your next elephant sized project and see what a difference it can make!

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