A Project Plan is Much More Than an MS-Project File


Let us start by stating what will seem like breaking news to a lot of people: A project plan is so much more than an MS-Project file or any other list of activities with start and end dates attached.

When reviewing projects, we often come across project managers that - when asked for the project plan - respond by emailing us an MS-Project file. If only we would receive a quarter every time someone handed us an MS-Project file when we asked for a project plan, we would be mill…  Well, let's just say we would be mulling over the menu at a nice restaurant now.

Sure, an MS-Project file contains a lot of very relevant planning information, but in the end, it is mostly a project schedule. It is a listing of a project's milestones, activities, and deliverables, usually with intended start and finish dates and with a bit of luck budget and dependencies thrown in as well for good measure.

These schedules we receive come with various degrees of detail. Some show only high-level activities and deliverables with little detail on dependencies or resources, but there are some very impressive schedules as well.

You might have seen those. Elaborate MS-Project files breaking down the project phases into sub-phases, headline activities, activities, and sub-activities. All dependencies will have been meticulously recorded, and every sub-activity will have one or more resources assigned. It is a real work of art. 

Regretfully, art that will only be truly appreciated by the lucky few that actually have MS-Project installed on their computer. The rest will have to settle for screenshots of a very zoomed out bar chart embedded into a slide deck.

But no matter how high level or how detailed your schedule is... 

it. is. still. not. a. complete. project plan. 

If we would intend to rob a bank, we would indeed be wise and do some proper planning. Who digs the tunnel? How turns off the alarm?  What tools are required to open that safe? How much do we spend on the guns to hold the hostages secure and how much time do we have to get to the getaway car? But still...

There is essential stuff missing. Stuff we believe is even more crucial to the success of your endeavour. 

A project plan, according to the Project Management Body of Knowledge guide, is: “…a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control”.

The key is in the very last 2 words. A plan is much more than stating what the people will do and when they will do it. These activities change all the time anyway. The real plan is how you intend to manage that project. What your project governance model is. How you will manage risks, changes, and issues. What is communicated to whom and by when. The list goes on and on…

So before we put on that ski mask storm into that bank in search of our luxurious pension, I would like to know a few things first. How do we manage the hostages if there are more people in there than expected? Do we let the old guy behind the teller die if he gets a heart attack? Who's in charge if that chubby guard manages to shoot our leader before being taken out himself? What do we say if we get captured? 

Let's face it!  When watching the Netflix hit show La Casa de Papel, we were not really impressed by the break-in, hostage taking or the escape plan from El Profesor. We all loved how he had almost absolute control over every possible scenario. 

That show is truly a testament to proper project planning.

- Photo by Jens Johnsson from Pexels -