A project is anything that you plan on doing. Creating a website can be a project. Building an software application can be a project. If you plan on completing a project on time then you need a project plan.
Milestones in a project plan
A good plan must have clear milestones that are practical. Lets say you wanted to create a website. “Finalize website home page” can be a milestone. A website home page is something you will finalized at the last. A home page can only be completed after you complete every other pages in your website. Hence from a practical point of view this can be considered as a major milestone.
A milestone must be a key deliverable. For instance, “Uploading home page to server” cannot be a milestone because it is a task and may not be considered as a key deliverable. On the contrary, if there is a major bug on the home page and you have a fix that must go in immediately. Then this “Uploading home page to server” task could be considered as a key deliverable and hence could be treated as a milestone.
Based on the needs and situation demands every tasks can be considered as milestones or just tasks. In bigger projects you could consider analysis completed, design reviewed, code approved, etc as milestones.
Tasks in a project plan
Every milestone must have accomplishable and unambiguous tasks. Tasks must be simple and easy to interpret. “create home page top banner image ” is a simple task example. You can easily tell if it is complete or not complete. Whereas “complete images for website” is ambiguous and hard to determine when this task is complete. This tasks bring more questions such as how many images are there ? Is this is for a website then how many webpages are there ? How many images per webpage ? These are very valid questions if you wanted to complete this task.
As this point you could consider “complete images for website” as a milestone rather than a task.
Task Start and end date
Every tasks must have an start and end date. Start date can be further classified into planned start date and actual start date. Similarly end date can be further classified into planned end date and actual end date. Planned dates are the dates which you plan on completing a task. Actual dates are the dates which you actually completed the task.
For example, you plan on start working on home page today and end day after tomorrow. So today is your planned start date and day after tomorrow is your planned end date. You just now realised that your homepage work cannot be started until other pages are complete. You are still working on the last page and you will complete this last page today. The next day you start working on your home page. So tomorrow becomes your actual start date.
Remember you do not update actual start date until you have actually started the task.
Dependent tasks in project plan
In the previous section we discussed how creation of the last page in the website is dependent on the home page creation task. If tasks are dependent then they must be clearly specified. Dependent tasks can be a tasks that existed before or logically precedes another. Such a task is called antecedent task. This is a basic Finish to Start (FS) Dependencies where tasks A must complete before tasks B can start.
Task owner in a project plan
Every task must have a single owner assigned to it. This single owner must be aware of this task and its dependencies along with its associated start and end date. If the task is big then a single team can be assigned to it. Bottomline, task ownerships must be agreed and communicated unambiguously.
Recording task progress
Since the tasks are simple and unambiguous it is easy to determine completion status. Status can be binary, which means a task is either complete or not complete. In other words its 0% complete or 100% complete. Based on the tasks you can determine the progress. If a task has more than a day to complete then it makes sense to report percentage complete. For example, “complete home page” task starts today and this task has 2 days to complete then today end of day you can update 50% complete. This means you are on track to complete this task for tomorrow.
Project plan and its importance
A project plan is an evolving document. This updates every time a task is complete or in progress. It is best practice to update percentage complete and actual start and end dates daily. This is how you track track the progress against time.
A project plan helps you track and determine completion and a mechanism to measure activities. If you cannot measure something then you cannot improve it. You will be using this plan to track your current status against your planned status at that point in time.
A good project plan helps anticipate future roadblocks and mitigate risks by identifying potential issues early.
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