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I would like to become better at planning in my role as PM and would like to know what makes a great planner?

I was told efficiency is an important attribute and im not sure if this is correct.

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    Voting to close as this question doesn't meet guidelines defined in the FAQ practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face – jmort253 Feb 15 '11 at 14:58
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    Agreed. Very broad and general question. – ashes999 Feb 15 '11 at 15:02
  • I have updated the question. – Kieran Andrews Feb 15 '11 at 23:54
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According to my experience, three things:

  • Great estimation skills: count; if you can't count, compute; if you can't compute, estimate (see McConnell).
  • Not afraid to use uncertainty (uncertainty cones) and distinguish between the concepts of an estimate, a target and a wish.
  • Ability to continuously rework the plan as you go, and not afraid to make corrections if needed.

Efficiency is not especially related to planning.

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    Agreed: Efficiency is not especially related to planning. – hitec Feb 17 '11 at 14:52
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I've found that better planners are great delegators. I find that I'm more able to focus on the future of a project if I have time to research the market, read research articles, and communicate with other teams if I delegate actual work to other people.

The times when I've tried to take on work myself, I've been less able to focus on planning the future of the project; however, it's helped me gather more information about the state of the project.

Maintaining a balance is key to both being aware of the project details as well as being prepared to delegate future work.

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Consultation, communication and humility. No matter how good you are, you don't know the work as well as the people who do it. Listen to the people who do the work, discuss the estimate with them and plan based on their estimate.

I'm aware of one PMO (I won't name them for reasons that will soon be obvious) that plans in isolation. The planners sit in metaphorical ivory towers and create plans. Because they don't consult with those who are responsible for the work they omit things from the plan like

  • Availability of safety equipment
  • Verify that the work area is clean and safe before beginning the project and after completing (this is a bit more important than it sounds for the projects in question.
  • Movement of equipment into and out of the production space
  • Shipping parts and equipment from storage to the production space.

In one case that comes to mind they estimate hours for a task that actually required multiple weeks/worst case months. Obviously these plans bear no relationship to reality. The planners have no credibility and the staff have to build their own shadow plans.

The other error is to assume that listening is simple or fast. I fall into this trap often - assuming that I'll just wander over to the technical folk and ask them for a quick PERT estimate. If I do that, they'll stare at me blankly. I need to spend some time with them talking about what the work involves and what could go wrong, what might go right. After 20 minutes of active listening, I might be ready to say, "So I'm hearing that in the best case this will take a week, but if step X doesn't work, or part Y isn't as advertised, then the calendar duration could expand to 9 weeks, of which only 2 weeks will be actual work. Does that sound right? What's your best guess? If I bet you $50 that you could do it in less than 4 weeks, would you take the bet?" I have to remember that they aren't paid to do estimation, and that if I want good estimates, I need to interview/listen/etc.

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  • Good at estimating
  • Good at building in sufficient time into the original schedule to accommodate all the changes that will come as more is learned later in the lifecycle.
  • Experience in the margin of error estimates carry with them at different stages of the project lifecycle.
  • Ability to get estimates from subject matter experts that will be doing the work or have done similar work.
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Planning occurs at different levels, depending on the stage of the project. There is an initial estimate, followed by more detailed stage plans for each stage of the project, and then very detailed plans for each work package. A great planner will have the following:

  • Good experience of all of these levels of plan, built up over a number of projects;
  • Access to data relating to other, ideally similar, pieces of work (whether well planned or not);
  • The confidence to explain the level of uncertainty in the plan, and the communications ability to put over this message effectively;
  • A willingness to refine the plan as better data becomes available;
  • The ability to delegate the detailed planning for each work package to the leader for that piece of work, and sufficient technical knowledge to challenge the resultant plans;
  • The ability to motivate people so that they commit to deliver against their plans;
  • The strength to resist demands for unrealistic changes to plans to meet artificial deadlines, and the flexibility to accept that there may be ways to deliver early to benefit the business.

Ultimately, it comes down to a combination of technical awareness, good documentation, and very effective communication with all parties.

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Just a very brief response from me as previous input has pretty covered all grounds.

I've found that it can be very useful to schedule some self-analysis exercises one a month or so to zone in on any weaknesses you may have; be it in contract knowledge, technical knowledge or communicative skills. This will then allow you to spend some Personal time researching and improving. I myself have managed to spot many flaws in my processes doing this and have subsequently added priceless attributes for my capacity.

Regards

S

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I was told efficiency is an important attribute and im not sure if this is correct.

  • Effectiveness and efficiency is exactly what project management is about. In other words, achieving all objectives as fast and as cheap as possible.

Project management is, in fact, shorthand for project, program and portfolio management. And more companies are clearly seeing the payoff from investing time, money and resources to build organizational project management expertise: lower costs, greater efficiencies, improved customer and stakeholder satisfaction, and greater competitive advantages.

Project Management Institute

What makes a great planner?

  • Here you will find a very good article with "must have" capabilities for a great planner.

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