3 Ps of Proper Planning - The Hallmark of Any Successful Project

June 2, 2016

There is an age-old cliché "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Ask any project manager and they will tell you of their own experiences where this cliché became an axiom for them. Sometimes it is the project manager's naiveté that leads them into failure. At other times it is the project manager's over-confidence in their experience and skill that leads them to failure. Regardless of any other factors, proper planning is the hallmark of any successful project

In her article "Five Factors That Lead to Successful Projects[i]", Erin Palmer lists ‘Smart Planning' as one of most important factor. She states:

There are many benefits to smart planning. This first step in the project process allows for a reliable and realistic time-scale to be created. Assuring accurate time for cost estimates to be produced and for clear documentation of milestones and deliverables will make things much easier as the project progresses. A proficient plan details all resource requirements and doubles as a warning system. If task slippage is at risk, then a warning system will provide clear visibility of what to expect.

Given all the real-life horror stories of failed projects where a lack of planning was the primary culprit for failure, one would assume that proper planning should be a non-negotiable on any project. This, however, is not true. Under constraints of time, delivery, competition etc. project teams are often forced to fast track the planning process, and even provide schedules and budgets with minimal planning behind them. More often than not, many of these factors are out of the project manager or the team's hands. This makes it critical for the project manager and the team to fully capitalize on the time they have been given to plan their projects.

I believe that the following three Ps are critical to proper planning.

3 Ps of Proper Planning:

Purpose-Driven Planning

The first ‘P' of proper planning is "Purpose". Before you dive into your planning session, clearly define the purpose. Develop a purpose statement for your planning activities. A purpose statement becomes the guiding star that allows you to move in the right direction. A purpose statement should clearly and concisely communicate what the team needs to accomplish during the planning session. Following are some examples of such purpose statements:

"The purpose of this planning session is to clearly identify the risks that may impact the schedule, scope or budget of this project."

"The purpose of this planning session is to explore possible solutions for the identified problem, and determine the best solution."

Going into a planning session without a defined purpose is like getting into a car, and driving without deciding on the destination.

As the project manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that all attendees are aware of the purpose of the session. Whenever the conversation drifts off-course, you should remind the attendees of the purpose of the session and keep the conversation on track.

Process-Supported Planning

The second ‘P' of proper planning is "Process". A precisely outlined process is an essential tool for proper planning. The process is a step-by-step guideline that leads the team to successfully achieving the purpose for the planning session.

If the purpose is like deciding upon a destination for a road trip, then the process of planning is like plotting out the journey. This means setting the pace, identifying stops, establishing checkpoints etc. Setting the pace is an essential element of the process. If you go too slow (taking in every sight and scenic route) you will not achieve the goal, and may even create frustration among the team. If, on the other hand, you go too fast you are liable to miss critical details along the way. This can result in inaccurate results, and will require re-work.

The following could be an example of the process that supports planning

"In order to achieve our purpose for this meeting, we will follow this process; first, we will create a list of all possible risks. Second, we will prioritize the risks based on their likelihood of occurrence and impact to the project. In our last pass, we will identify mitigation strategies for each risk."

As the project manager, you should walk the attendees through the process before starting the planning session. It is imperative that the attendees understand the purpose and the process of the planning exercise.

People-Centered Planning

The third ‘P' of proper planning is "People". More specifically, it is the right people. Having the right people participate in the planning session is critical for its success. The right people:

  • bring a wealth of skills and experience to the planning session to contribute,
  • are aware of the diversity of experience around the room,
  • support the facilitator to move discussion forward,
  • do not have hidden agendas or ulterior motives, and
  • are genuinely interested in the outcome of the project.

As the project manager, you should invest sufficient time in determining who should attend the planning session, and why. Having the wrong people in the room can quickly turn a planning session into a ranting session, personal glorification session, or a push for someone's pet deliverable on the project.

If the purpose is like deciding upon a destination for a road trip, and the process is like plotting out the journey, then selecting the people is like choosing your trip mates. The trip could be a lot of fun, filled with memories, as long as you have the right people with you. People who do not belong on the trip should not be in the car with you.


In conclusion, there is a direct correlation between project success and the level of planning that was done. However, proper planning must be done with care and diligence to ensure that it contributes to the success of a project.

A properly executed planning session is driven by a purpose, supported by a process, and centered on the right people.


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