“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by” – Douglas Adams.  

As a project manager, I probably like that quote more that I should.  However, planning a project from a blank sheet of paper can seem like a daunting task.  Whether it’s a new IT delivery or something more personal like planning a party or a holiday, where do you start and how do you avoid the whoosh of your passing deadlines? Here are a few simple steps to follow:

·         Identify who your stakeholders are. Find out what their expectations and objectives are, whether it’s the scope, cost or timeframe for when the goal needs to be achieved by.

·         Set your objectives. Take each of your stakeholder’s needs and prioritise them. Of course, if you have multiple stakeholders, each will believe that their objective is the most important!  Understand the real importance and urgency of each.  A prioritisation matrix is a useful tool to use.  Agree the criteria; strategic alignment, regulatory, customer impact, cost, risk etc and use these to order the objectives.

·         Define what your deliverables are.  This isn’t just the final result, but any key outputs and milestones along the journey. The definition should also include its acceptance criteria. 

·         Create your plan. Start to estimate the dates that these deliverables will be met and set deadlines for any that are essential, such as regulatory compliance deadlines.  Break down each of your deliverables to the individual steps that are needed to complete them, and estimate how long each step will take, making sure you identify who will be responsible for each.  Remember, everything that needs to be done must be written down!

·         Now see if there are any dependencies, and what order specific activities need to be completed in.  It is best to involve the team and individuals who will be completing each of the tasks. Use their knowledge and experience to make the estimates as realistic as possible. This also helps to get their buy-in to the final plan.  

·         Risks and issues. Ask yourself what you can see that could prevent you from achieving the goal. This could be around people (holiday / availability of key resources) integration, design, approvals, anything that could go wrong and impact the planning process.  Work through how you could mitigate the risks by avoiding, reducing or transferring it.

·         Share your plan, with your stakeholders and team that are going to help you execute the plan.  Get their feedback, deal with any areas that do not meet their expectations early on, and be clear what you need from them to make the plan a reality.  

But of course that's not the end. The plan is a living document and will evolve as the project does. Leonard Bernstein said "to achieve great things, tow things are needed; a plan and not quite enough time". You need to be flexible and adapt, but these steps should provide a good foundation and help prevent the whoosh of that passing deadline.