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How to Use Past Project Plans to Improve Future Planning

Published by Karoline Holicky

March 23rd, 2021

in Project Portfolio Management

We spend a lot of time trying to plan for the future. What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow? Should I go to the grocery store this weekend? Is this the year I replace the roof on my house or do I wait until next year? We don’t just ask these questions and make these types of plans in our personal lives. We do this in our professional lives too. What’s a good time next week for the quarterly meeting? Is next month the best time to start the new implementation project? Should we move to larger facilities this year or wait a little longer? With so much focus on the future, we don’t think about the past very much, but knowing how well our past projects and initiatives went can be incredibly powerful for making plans for the future.

A Complete 180

You might think in order to make plans going forward, you don’t need to take a look backward, and that’s true. You can absolutely make a plan for the future with no consideration of past projects and initiatives, but it wouldn’t be the best plan you could put together. If you’re thinking I’m about to tell you, “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” you’re absolutely right. I’m also about to tell you that it’s incredibly important to learn from your mistakes and this is particularly true in professional settings. When we create plans for our organizations, the stakes are quite high. Dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people employed by your organization rely on its success for their livelihood. Making mistakes can cost time, money and even jobs. While no one can completely avoid mistakes (they happen because we’re all human), we can absolutely avoid making the same costly mistakes again. And guess what…the flip side of this coin is that we can not only learn from our mistakes but also our successes. Let’s dive into how we can move forward by looking back.

Did My Projects Go as Planned?

Before putting together project plans for the future, you should ask several questions about whether your past project plans were successful. The questions you should be asking will depend on the needs and priorities of your organization, but as a starting point, we’ll break down questions into a few categories. With a regular project review process in place, you can better understand how your projects went and adapt these questions to fit your organization.

How Did My Project Go
Were My Projects on Budget?

Financials are likely a huge part of any project plan. A basic question for all completed projects is, “was this project over budget?” There are a number of reasons why a project may be over budget. Maybe the scope of the project changed, or it required more resources than originally planned. Projects can also become over budget if they’re delayed. Maybe you needed more resources than originally planned but didn’t have them, so the project stalled. Maybe the project stalled waiting for other dependencies. When you can identify the cause of increased cost, you can make sure to avoid them in the future. You can nail down the scope before the project gets approved, improve your estimation of required resources and plan a little more wiggle room for dependencies that might bring the project to a stop.

If you had a project come in under budget, identifying how you were able to save money is probably something you’d love to know so you can apply it to future projects. Maybe a project team developed a way to work more efficiently or project managers were able to remove common roadblocks or solve issues that slow things down. Whether a project came in over or under budget, reviewing how and why your budget planning was off will help you figure out ways to improve your planning and create more accurate plans moving forward.

Were My Projects on Time?

“Were the projects completed on time?” It’s a simple question, but the answer can be packed with complexities and nuances. There are both external and internal factors that cause projects to miss their completion dates and we have limited control over the external ones. Maybe a project was waiting for a supplier to deliver equipment or maybe regulation changes affected your ability to deliver. While we can’t control these external forces, we can identify when we need to have a Plan B ready to go.

Internal factors like not having enough resources available or changing priorities that deprioritized a project can also put a project in jeopardy of not being completed on time. If why a project wasn’t completed on time isn’t apparent, try asking project managers. They’ll have a wealth of information about the tactical and day-to-day things that can slow down a project. If you have a project that was completed on time, take a look at how you estimated resources, scheduled the project or swiftly responded to escalating issues. There may even be times when a project is completed ahead of schedule. Determining how and why that happened can help you ensure that you avoid having employees or resources available but not assigned to a project and you can time future projects more accurately.

Was Capacity Planned Accurately?

When you have a higher demand for resources than you planned for, it can not only increase costs but also put projects at risk for not being completed on time. This means it’s really important to ask the question, “Did the projects have enough of the right resources?” When a project requires significantly more resources than planned, the simplest answer is that you just underestimated the work. Maybe the second phase of a new IT project actually took a developer two weeks instead of one. If you struggle to estimate certain special skills and resources, connect with experienced project managers and ask for their guidance in estimating required resources.

It’s also possible that in the process of completing a project, bigger issues are discovered that require more manpower or special skills to resolve. This isn’t always something that can be avoided, but you can do more to prepare for projects that are more likely to have critical issues. If you have a project that had just the right amount of resources, give yourself a big high-five. This is not an easy thing to do. Whatever process or calculation you used to estimate resources for that type of project can be applied to future project plans.

Plan for the Future with the Knowledge of the Past

Accurate planning is a difficult skill. It will take time to learn, but if you regularly reflect on how successful your project plans were, you help build this skill. Continually refine your processes and calculations and celebrate when you get it right. When projects can be delivered on time and on budget, you help your organization reach its goals. Meisterplan supports organizations in making better plans. You can create project portfolios and identify at-risk projects early so you can react before it becomes a bigger issue. To see how Meisterplan can help you make better plans with actuals for projects, contact us today to request a one-on-one demo.

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