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In the definition phase, we prepare our team for success.

By getting into the details of our planning.

Some people refer to this phase as the ‘detailed planning’ phase. I like that for simplicity. But have to point out it could easily leave out all the human elements of the definition. So we shall stick to [project] definition phase.

The project team work on the solution we selected in the concept phase. They evaluate it and optimise it. This detailed activity will challenge the requirements. A good thing. It will also affect the scope, time, cost and quality goals of the project. Better now than in the implementation phase.

The project manager facilitates this activity while they crack on with the Project Management Plan (PMP). The PMP is the project’s handbook. It describes what the project will deliver and how it will deliver it. We manage the PMP by referring to the business case and the schedule. We keep the PMP small by linking to the risk register and the communications plan. The sponsor and the Project Manager review and agree the full document and instruct the team with it. As with most project documents, other stakeholders often like to see the PMP in bite-sized chunks.

Definition phase deliverables

  • An optimised solution
  • Updated Business Case
  • The Project Management Plan (PMP)
  • Work breakdown structure and network diagram
  • Cost breakdown structure
  • First issue of the risk register
  • Schedule
  • Work scope definitions
  • Communications plan including stakeholder engagement
  • Project Quality Plan
  • A recruited team – or plans to recruit in longer projects

A bit about scheduling

Many people confuse schedule and plan. The plan defines the project from targets to sign off criteria. The schedule tells the team who is doing what and when. To build a schedule I use three steps:

1. Work breakdown structure (WBS)

– I have to confess to having a crush on the WBS. It helps the team identify every activity and it is easy to communicate.
– I use simple desktop tools to create my work breakdown structures.
– The WBS is a good start point for the Cost Breakdown Structure, as well as providing the contents for the network diagram.

2. Network diagram

– Network diagrams lay out the logic of the schedule by defining the relationship between tasks.
– In very simple projects you can skip this stage.
– I like to create my network diagrams with the project team using paper and sticky notes.
– Microsoft Project has an excellent Network diagram tool. If you have a plotter to hand, you can print out the network diagrams for large and complex projects.

3. The Schedule

– Before opening Microsoft Project and creating a Gantt chart, consider the purpose of the schedule.
– If you can instruct your team and report progress using a simpler tool, do so.
– I once made a schedule using different coloured sticky notes for each team member and a piece of A3 paper.
– You can also use one of many advanced apps such as Trello to shape your project, assign tasks and monitor progress in a people-oriented way.
I would rather see a well-defined to-do list than a badly defined Gantt chart

The definition stage requires an analytical eye, a listening ear and an open mind. Decisions made during the definition of your project will influence its success.

I love getting the definition right and enabling your team to do its job. Can I help?

Want to deliver benefits from Customer Experience Management, but not sure where to start?

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