Section 3: Developing project plans print

Wed 26. Oct 16 21:30

Section 02: Unit 2: Developing project plans

The NASBM Competency framework highlights the need for school business managers to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding required to help lead, plan and implement organisational change. The framework also identifies the attributes, knowledge and understanding required of school business managers to develop, monitor and implement project plans.

In order to plan projects effectively you need to be aware of a range of project management tools. The following section describes briefly a few of these well known, tried and tested approaches to project management and suggests when they might be most useful.

In this unit, you will revisit the ideas you developed in unit 1 and begin to turn these ideas into a concrete plan of action

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of this unit, you will be able to:
  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of key concepts and techniques of project planning
  • apply those techniques to the preparation of a project plan in a school setting
  • analyse risks and resource requirements in developing a project plan
  • negotiate with key stakeholders and prepare clear and persuasive project plans
Project planning
Project planning and project management have become established as professions in their own right over recent years. An internet search will bring up lots of websites providing advice on project planning and lots of examples of how to do it.

You will find that the advice is broadly similar, and that the key message that comes through is, quite simply, the importance of planning, expressed in the adage:

In the following topics, we will explore some of these activities in more detail, focusing our attention on the things that need to be done at the start of a project.

We look at:

  • defining your project's scope
  • assessing and managing project risks
  • preparing a project plan
  • time management
  • project resourcing
  • measuring success
Project management – overview
Effective project management is usually achieved by following a basic process:

  • Identify and agree the remit of the project – this is setting terms of reference.
  • Plan the project – this will include how much time is needed to complete the project, associated costs, consideration of who needs to be involved taking into account expertise, selection of project management tools. Ideally all members of the project team should be involved in this stage.
  • Communicate – ensure that anybody who may be affected by the project is kept informed, set up a process for line management updates. This aspect is critical for ensuring ongoing support.
  • Agree actions – make sure everybody involved in the project is clear about their specific role.
  • Manage the people – keep everyone informed, encourage by commenting upon progress, listen to the team.
  • Monitor and review – keep checking to see if the project is on target for the agreed time frame and costings. Be prepared to amend actions when necessary.
  • Completion – celebrate success and reflect on any aspects that did not go according to plan.

Defining the scope of your project

Know where you are going
Once you have the project's vision clearly in focus and have talked it through with the key players, you will need to get down to planning the work in detail.

Planning helps you to work out how to tackle the project, and where the pressure points are likely to be.

Planning also helps you to identify problems early, when they will be easier to fix, and stops you wasting precious resources on the wrong things. Good plans will reassure everyone (from stakeholders to team members), that the work is under control and you know what you are doing.

When you are ready to do more detailed planning, you will find the following items most useful:

  • a project brief – this is a statement of intent (the vision)
  • a summary of the key issues that you have considered
Setting these out in one document will ensure that everyone has a common understanding of what you are trying to achieve and what the main issues are. With the project plan, this gives you a baseline against which you can measure how the work is progressing. The ideal time to finalise the project brief is following the discussion with the school leadership team or governing body to secure the approval of your project proposal. This will summarise the specific requirements you have been mandated to meet and the key issues that will impact on the project.

Project scope
When you define the scope of a project, you set the 'boundaries' – specifying what is included and what is excluded.

To help you scope your project, ask yourself some questions, for example:

  • What is the project responsible for delivering (what is in scope)?
  • What is the project not going to deliver (what is out of scope)?
  • What are the main objectives? Why are you doing it?
  • What needs to change in order to achieve these objectives
  • What will the effect of those changes be?
  • What will stay the same?
  • Which stakeholders will be affected and how?.
  • What other work or projects are there which might impact on this? You must agree boundaries, avoid duplication or omission of tasks or deliverables.
The answers to these questions will help you define the scope of the project. Knowing what is included and what is excluded is fundamental for planning a project.

Even if you know that the scope is likely to change, it is still important to set out:

  • your current understanding of the objectives
  • what is included and (even more importantly) what is excluded
This will help you to plan and estimate the resources you need to do the job.

Assessing and managing risk

Assessing project risks

All projects face risks which could affect their eventual success and you may have already identified some of those that affect your project through a SWOT analysis whilst completing unit one.

Assessing and rating the likelihood and impact of individual risks relies on the judgement of the project manager rather than on simple facts and figures. However, it is useful to have a systematic approach to assessing risk which is applied to all projects within the organisation.

One approach to the evaluation of risk is provided below and it is broken down into two operations. The first step is to assess the likely impact should the risk occur, the second step is to assess the probability that the risk will actually occur.

Clearly the SBM cannot be certain about these risks, and he or she has to make a judgement. Thus, in the case of 'resistance to change by the office staff' in the example below, the SBM may have concluded from his or her personal knowledge of the individuals involved that this is unlikely – but that if it does happen it could have disastrous consequences for the project as a whole.

Impact: definition
The effect that the risk will have on the organisation's ability to achieve its project's strategic aims or objectives.


Probability: definition
The likelihood of the risk happening.

High (H) More Likely to occur not (>60%)

Medium (M) Fairly likely to occur (20-60)

Low (L) Unlikely to occur but not impossible (<20%)

To see how we can use this tool in practice, we can return to our example of the SBM who has decided that he/she wishes to redesign and develop the school's reception facilities. One possible risk could be a reduction in the school's budget; a further risk might be resistance by the office staff to new ways of working. The SBM might assess the probability and impact of these risks as shown above.


2.1: Risk assessment

Using a table similar to the one above:
Identify and evaluate any potential risks to your planned project using the table as a guide

Managing project risks

Once any risks have been identified, these should be recorded in a 'risks register'. Plans or a strategy should be devised for managing these risks in order to ensure the successful delivery of the project.

Referring once again to the SBM who is planning changes to the school's reception area, what might he or she do to minimise the potential for the risk occurring or to reduce the impact of the risk should it happen?


From the example above, you will see that risk management usually involves choosing either to reduce the risk, by taking steps to ensure that it is unlikely to happen, or to avoid the risk by providing options or alternative courses of action should the risk happen.

Examples of the types of risk projects can face include:

  • optimistic estimates of time to complete project
  • funding cuts that could not be predicted
  • optimistic estimates of project costs
  • failure to communicate effectively with stakeholders or within the team
  • changes in project specification as project develops

2.2: Risk management strategies

Record some of the risks that your project will face.

What is your strategy for managing each of these risks

Preparing the project plan

Seven steps to planning
You should now be in a position to start putting together the details of your project plan. There are many ways you can approach this, but you may find the following general model useful.

We will look first at the overall approach and then we will explore some of the elements.

1. Break the work down into manageable chunks or 'stages
2. Within each stage what outcomes or deliverables will there be? Remember, the further away the stage, the less easy or important it is to include a lot of detail. You can firm up plans for later stages nearer the time.
What are the milestones? These are key points that show the project is going according to plan and they provide a measure of progress
4. How much time will each deliverable take? You will need to estimate this.
5. Are any deliverables dependent on each other? Identifying these will help you organise the work so you can see when you expect them to be done
6. What is the sequence of the deliverables? Can some be completed at the same time as others? Do some deliverables have to be completed before another can start? Can some only start on a fixed date?
7. Who will carry out the work involved in each deliverable? Have you got sufficient resource to make your plan work?

Project stages
An integral part of project management planning is the act of splitting the project into manageable chunks or 'stages'. Each phase could be seen as a mini project in its own right; each with its own plans dovetailing into the overall project level plan.

Examples of possible stages include the

  • consultation stage, if further groups need to be engaged with, for example pupils
  • procurement stage if new resources are being purchased
  • trial stage if new ideas or systems need to be tested before being adopted across the whole school
For large projects, the distinguishing features of a project stage are that it normally requires:

  • a project board decision for it to start
  • possibly a discrete team or new team to undertake it, for example a consultation team, a procurement team or a trials team
  • a project board decision to approve its outcomes
Outcomes or deliverables
Breaking your plan into outcomes or deliverables will:

  • help you spot when things are going wrong, sooner rather than later
  • allow you to identify and support any item which is taking longer than expected
  • make it easier to assess the impact of changes, and easier to change the plan if need be
  • create a feeling of success when items are finished on time or early
You need to find the right level of detail – too large and it will be hard to monitor and control; too small and it becomes unwieldy.

Managing time

How much time will things take?
As a general rule, people tend to underestimate how long it will take to get things done. Estimating how long it takes to complete a task is something which comes with experience, although we can all gain experience by asking other people who have been through similar processes how long it took them. Individuals will have their own preferences for recording the detail of their project plan.

Estimating time
A key part of planning is estimating how long you think each piece of work will take and how much resources will be required to complete it. Here is a real-life example of one method used when taking others through project planning:

"I put a large sheet of paper on the wall and mark it out in weeks. Then, I put all the key tasks on individual post-it notes and we discuss when they need to be done by and stick them on the wall chart. Once you have the key tasks up you can begin to ask yourself 'what do we need to do to make these happen?'

Again, put these on post-it notes and add them to the chart. It's helpful because as you realise that timings need to change the post-its can be moved to new dates. It's simple but very effective and a group of you can project plan together. Once the plan is agreed it needs to be typed up because the post-its tend to fall off!"

Gantt charts
A very popular tool among project managers is the Gantt Chart, named after a US engineer, Henry Gantt, who devised this tool in the 1910s.

This chart helps the project manager to schedule all the factors related to the project. The time line can be in terms of days, weeks or even months for very long projects. It is useful for showing how individual components of the project may be linked.

Gantt chart planning
Identical activities are shown as bars against a timescale. The length of the bar represents the expected duration of the activity. The process requires careful identification of each stage of the process and an accurate estimation of the time involved.

A Gantt chart will enable you to show timelines, tasks and phases of your project. It will form part of your project plan. Please refer to the 'project plan' form for more details of what a project plan should include.


Gantt chart planning example
Mrs Robinson is very keen to impress a VIP who is visiting the school, and wants to present an image of clean, almost clinical, efficiency. The VIP will be given a briefing on the school in Mrs Robinson's office and she has decided that it must be redecorated for the purpose and the lighting modified.

She is horrified to learn that she is required to vacate her office for nearly nine days while the decorator and electrician are busy. In disbelief, she insists on proof of this requirement. As a result, the tasks have been scheduled on a bar chart.

Note the following points from the diagram above.

A bar chart shows the sequence and duration of activities and readily reveals any options for changing either the duration or the sequence. For instance, activities (a) and (b) can overlap in time, so if more manpower were available, the stripping could start before the room had been completely cleared. Day 7 has not been fully used because time must be allowed for the paint to dry. Alternatively the decorator, if behind schedule, could catch up here by painting all day and allowing the paint to dry overnight.

A bar chart can show those activities that can be carried out concurrently. For example, the work of the electrician, if carefully co-ordinated, could be carried out while the decorator continues uninterrupted.
Bars need not be continuous. The electrician's work may be phased, as illustrated, over several days and may include gaps. Each phase could be a totally different element of the job.
Arrows can be used to highlight key events. In this case, the key events are those in which Mrs Robinson is personally involved.


2.3: Mapping out your project

The preceding section provided you with two examples of how you might record the timeline for your project plan. The first method is home-grown and has the benefits of flexibility; the second method uses established formal techniques familiar to project managers.

These are not the only ways to map out your project, and you may have used a different method which suits the way you manage.

Whichever method you choose, it is important that you map out the key stages of your project in advance and that you incorporate the type of information discussed above.

Discuss with your colleagues the different methods available for mapping out your project. When you have done this, reflect upon what your colleagues have said and what you have read in this unit, then draw up a timeline or map for your project in a format which best meets your needs and way of working

Resourcing your project

Resource implications
Finally, however large or small the project, there will usually be some resource implications. Even if the project does not involve the purchase of new equipment or materials, there will always be a time cost, and in particular the cost of the person who is leading the project.

In industry, managers who propose new projects are usually asked to produce a business case; for this project, you are asked to put together a rather more straightforward 'financial case'.

Financial guidance
You will need to put the financial case for your project, setting out the estimated cost of development and the anticipated benefits to be gained.

It provides an initial appraisal of the options available and forms the basis for future evaluation of the chosen option.

It secures senior management and stakeholder commitment from the outset. It is also the vehicle by which the project manager establishes a commitment to the project, prior to the commencement of work and the agreement of resources. It is the case by which the ongoing viability of the project is monitored and will provide a basis for the evaluation of the project at its completion.

The financial case should demonstrate that the proposed solution:

  • meets the business (school) need
  • is affordable
  • is feasible and achievable in the time allowed
  • has been chosen after exploring inherent risk and appropriate options
  • is likely to achieve value for money
2.4: Resourcing your project
Research all the likely costs associated with your project. You might wish to consider the following:

The cost of any new equipment/materials and so on.
The salary cost of any additional employees/employee hours.
Hidden costs, such as the time of the individuals who will deliver the project.
Future costs – what ongoing costs will there be? For example replacing worn-out equipment, ongoing salary costs and so on.
Possible sources of revenue – are there any external grants that can be bid for?

Measuring success

Choosing evaluation criteria
Finally, you should also include the success criteria by which you will evaluate your project as part of your financial case. You should think about how you will measure success and what evaluation criteria or performance indicators you will use. For project outputs, performance indicators may relate to user satisfaction, improvements in pupil performance, efficiency, effectiveness, take-up, and so on. For the project, they will relate to achieving your objectives.

By using SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed), you can demonstrate they have been achieved. It may be useful to discuss how you will measure success with stakeholders to understand success from their point of view.

Think about the level of success you hope to achieve (for example the level of user satisfaction or take-up). This may be difficult to assess at the start of the project, but setting targets will give you something to aim for.

It is important to quantify success in some way, to ensure that your evaluation results are objective, valid, reliable, repeatable, and so on. For example:

  • The school will attract 20 more pupils next year.
  • Parental attendance at school events will rise by 10%.
  • Energy costs will fall by 25%.
  • Student examination marks will improve by 10% in two years.
  • 90% of users questioned will say the new process/method saved them time (for example as a result of introducing a new photocopying system).
Go to the 'Assessment tasks' in the Introduction topic and review the task for this unit.

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