Project Management Tips

3. What is the difference between defining a project and planning one?

In defining a project (also called defining the  "scope" of the project), you are setting parameters -- building the box to hold the project plan. The plan is the detail of how the project will be accomplished. The project definition tells you what is inside and what is outside the box. It sets limits on the project. A good project definition is defense against "scope creep"  that gradual (or not-so-gradual) expansion of the project as it unfolds.


When defining a project, it is also important to establish the difference between the necessary components and deliverables and those that are desirable but not absolutely necessary.


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One way to do this is to define Needs and Wants. This yields a short list of those things that MUST be part of the project as opposed to a long list of all the things that COULD be part of the project.


Think of Needs as "black and white"  a Need must be met in order for the project to be seen as even minimally successful. A Want, on the other hand, is a "shade of grey."  some Wants are more important than others but, none of them are absolutely necessary for minimum success. Rank the list of Wants in order of importance  the most important at the top of the list and the others in descending order of importance down to the level of, "That would be nice but I really don't care."


Use the lists of Needs and Wants to evaluate What you propose to do with the project -- your proposed solutions. First, test proposed solutions against the Needs. Discard any that do not meet all the Needs. Next, test them against the Wants. Which solutions meet the most important Wants? Which meet the largest number of Wants? The solution that meets all the Needs and as many of the Wants as practical, is probably the best.


Once you have defined the project, you can plan to deliver the required solution. Obviously, if you can meet all the Needs and the majority of the Wants, it is going to be seen as a resounding success. However, if all you can do is meet all the Needs and a few of the Wants, it can still be viewed as successful.


Defining Needs and Wants is an excellent way to define the scope of a project and to set the parameters for project planning. It can be a catalyst for discussion about what is really needed from the project. And, it can force realistic decisions about what can and can't be done.


With our user-friendly wizard format, you'll end up with a complete plan. Using needs and wants, as well as goals, obstacles and resources, you'll end up with a great project plan. Download our free trial here.

If you learn better by doing, you'll want to download our software as we've incorporated many of the approaches and best practices cited in the tips section. In less than 30 minutes, you can have your first project created. Jumpstart my project, with Project KickStart.


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Jeff Crow is a Portland, Oregon consultant and trainer. He conducts seminars and workshops on project management and organizational development for corporations and through the Professional Development Center at Portland State University.

Find out about Jeff's on-site workshops.


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