There are seven phases for project planning, each named for the result of the phase. Follow these phases in order:
- Phase 1: Planning
- Phase 2: Production
- Phase 3: Review
- Phase 4: Implementation
- Phase 5: Launch
- Phase 6: Retrospective
- Phase 7: Close
Phase 1: Planning
By then end of this phase you will have an understanding of what you are creating, why you are creating it, and how you are creating it.
Step 1: Identify the needs you are trying to solve.
Consider what brought you to this project. What’s compelling you to create this? What problems are you hoping to solve or outcomes do you hope to gain?
Step 2: Describe the ideal solution for the needs if obstacles didn’t exist.
If money or physical limitations weren’t a problem, what would the best solution be to meet the needs of the project? Performing this exercise may help you to better visualize the project goal or remove a preconceived idea from your head. Since the ideal solution you conjure is not necessarily within your means of production, it should only be treated as a tool and not serve as a commitment.
Step 3: Explore the scope of the project.
Solutions are not always easy to envision. It’s helpful to identify the boundaries and factors that otherwise hinder the vision. Performing this step reveals what research is required as well as teases out potential objectives.
You will need to explore the scope of the product that you want to create as well as the project that you are managing to create it.
To explore the scope of the product, contemplate the limitations, including project unknowns, that cloud a clear vision of the solution. During your exploration, consider things like the definition of the target audience and the scope of the content. Take some time with this step to solidify the fuzziness of the project. As unknowns are identified, conduct research to learn as much as needed about them. There should be few unknowns before moving on to the next step.
To explore the scope of the project, consider the time, resources, and costs required to complete the project. Time might dictate the deadline and the duration. Resources should include stakeholders and materials. Costs could be split into direct and indirect costs.
Here is a sample of project scope and product scope:
- Format: Text format hosted directly on the web AND print format available
- Availability: Freely available on projects.cryptiquest.com
- Breadth: This is a guide that will explain theory, provide step-by-step instructions, and contain templates for creating how-to guides.
- Subject Expertise: I’m currently looking for a SME, I might not find one in which case I will rely on this well defined guide by the University of Bath.
- Target Audience: The target audience is considered “mostly internal”.
- Deadline: Production should be complete by end-of-January.
- Duration: Should not take longer than 80 hours.
- Direct Stakeholders: Me, those who wish to make guides (including instruction manuals), the subject matter expert
- Indirect Stakeholders: Reviewers
- Invisible Stakeholders: Future consumers
- Materials: None
- Direct Expenses: Proofreading costs (<= $5)
- Indirect Expenses: Website costs
Step 4: Define the project goal.
The project goal defines the nature of the product and indicates the need. The goal always starts with the preposition “to” followed by a verb that is used to produce the result. Consider this sample goal:
“To create a short story that will serve as the background setting for the CQ StoryHammer Game System“
It starts with the preposition “to” followed by the verb “create”. The words “short story” define the nature of the product while “background setting for the CQ StoryHammer Game System” spells out the need of the project.
Step 5: List out the objectives for this project.
The objectives serve as a litmus test to determine whether the project was successful or not. They ensure that the project meets criteria that are important to you. If you don’t know what criteria are important to you then you may want to consider starting a separate project to determine your personal (or company’s) objectives.
As you list objectives, they need to be written with a measurable and neutral structure. Consider the following example: “The story is entertaining.” This is not objectively measurable. How do you determine if a story is entertaining in a way that’s not subjective? A better way to write this could be: “When surveyed, all reviewers report that the story is entertaining.” Even though the reviews themselves will be subjective, there is an objective unit to measure: reviewer survey ratings.
Step 6: Identify the project tasks required to take your project to launch.
The tasks to complete the project are presented in an outline format with the phase as the first level and the tasks for each phase listed in the second level (and sub-tasks in subsequent levels). You may need to conduct some research – especially for the production phase – before writing these down.
Phase 2: Production
By the end of this phase, you will have the first drafts created, internally reviewed, and edited for an external audience.
Step 1: Create the first drafts of the product defined in the project goal.
The way this is handled will vary based on the type of project you are managing but ultimately the purpose is to draft the first version of the product.
Step 2: Conduct an internal review and make edits.
The goal of this step is to iron out large or simple mistakes that you can catch before sending it to reviewers. Reviewers will find easy-to-catch mistakes before tackling more nuanced editing that you more likely need help with. By removing those easy fixes, you will assist reviewers in digging deeper to provide a more effective review. To conduct an internal review, read the first draft in the following ways:
- Silently read through the draft to yourself (and edit);
- Read the draft aloud (and edit); and,
- Look over the project’s objectives and read through the draft again with the objectives in mind.
- Once these three readings are complete, you should be ready for the next phase. By all means, keep editing if you think it isn’t ready for others to read.
Phase 3: Review
By the end of this phase, you will have gathered feedback from various sources to refine your work into a semi-final draft.
Step 1: Identify your target audience and their needs.
Now that a draft has been created, it’s a good time to research the target audience for the project. You need to explicitly answer the following questions:
- Who would benefit from this product?
- How does this product meet their needs?
- How do I reach the audience?
Even though you might not be reaching out to the target audience until a few steps later, performing the need-analysis now is crucial since reviewers often wonder how they are supposed to perceive the material. They will want to know what kind of audience they are reading for and what that audience is supposed to take away. This information will help them advise you more effectively.
Step 2: Prepare the drafted work for external review.
Prepare the drafts in the medium in which you are going to share them with the reviewers. Are you going to print out the material and mail/hand it to them? Are you going to place it into a cloud service and email it or message them on a social media platform? However you plan on presenting it to them, prepare it and perform another review (silent-read through). Sometimes seeing it in the new format reveals typos you missed the first time.
Step 3: Send the drafted work for confidant review.
The first draft for an external audience is sent to one or two confidants. Ask them if they would be willing to critique your work but be respectful of their time. When asking for their help, provide them with the amount of reading involved before they commit. Only upon their acceptance of the critique should you provide them with the work (to avoid the risk of coming off as presumptuous).
Step 4: Edit the work then send out for second-draft review.
Ensure you thank your reviewers upon their review. It is important to note that you do not need to implement every (or any) change that they suggest. Often times, reviewers are good at identifying problems but their solutions are less helpful (since they cannot fully understand the intent of your work as well as you). Carefully consider the suggestions and make changes that help meet your project’s needs.
Once you make the changes, send the latest draft to the “second-draft” group. Reach out to the target audience using the methods you identified in Step 1 (if possible). This group of people should consist of 3 – 5 people who are different than the confidants. It’s good to have a larger pool to choose from as this group might not be as regularly committed to the task or as knowledgeable of your cause. Despite this, their critiques are just as valuable and their efforts should be equally appreciated. Again, be respectful of them and their time: ask them if they are willing to critique your work and wait for their affirmation before sending them the material.
If you do not have a group of “second-draft” reviewers at-the-ready, consider joining an online forum or finding a local group in a newspaper or library.
Phase 4: Implementation
By the end of this phase, the product will be implemented and ready for launch.
Step 1: After gathering all feedback, perform any edits to finalize the draft.
After the second round of critiques have been performed and the edits have been made, conduct at least one review (silent read-through). Sometimes edits from various sources can improve sections independent of each other and the voice and style can conflict making for an inconsistent read. To counter this, perform at least one more reading to gauge for voice consistency.
Step 2: Implement the final draft into the presentation medium.
After all the edits have been made, implement the final draft into the presentation medium (e.g. web, pdf, image, etc.). Then perform at least one more review (silent read-through) before you publish the medium.
Phase 5: Launch
By the end of this phase, the final product will have been announced to the target audience.
Step 1: Assess the need-analysis based on the implemented product.
Revisit the need-analysis identified back in Phase 3: Review and compare it to the implemented product. If for some reason the product does not still meet the identified target audience’s need, then assess what market need the product does meet then move forward; otherwise, continue forward.
Step 2: Create marketing materials to present your solution to the target audience.
Once you have a product and a market need that matches, draft the marketing materials.
For example,a social media post might (a.) plant the need and (b.) present the solution. Example: “Craving a sci-fi adventure with the spirit of classic Saturday morning cartoons? Check out ‘Involution: Fletcher’s Squad’.”
Step 3: Launch to market.
If you do not already have one, prepare a checklist of all the ways to get your message to your target audience. Then use the checklist to systematically announce your product and disperse your marketing materials.
Phase 6: Retrospective
By the end of this phase, the project’s life cycle will have been analyzed with a focus on process improvement and action items for implementing those improvements.
Step 1: Review the life of the project.
Revisit your project notes from start to finish. Review the objectives to measure how successful the project resulted. Summarize each session, noting what went wrong and what went especially well. Try to be as objective as possible about the events of the project.
Step 2: Group all notes about what went wrong as a list of issues.
Create a numbered list and record the issues that happened during the project. For now – just create the list – do not try to justify or solve the issues at this point. That will happen in the next step.
Step 3: Analyze why each issue happened.
The analysis for each issue may be as short as a bullet item or as long as several paragraphs. The important thing is that you spend as much time as needed to discover the crux of the issue then identify an improvement that would help mitigate this issue from happening again.
Step 4: Record action items to mitigate the issues from happening again in the future.
Create a numbered list of action items. These may be as big as “Initiate a new project for quality standards” or as small as “Add a second draft review step to the project management guide”. Once you finish this list, your retrospective is complete. Work on any action items before moving on to new projects.
Phase 7: Close
By the end of this phase you will have tied up loose ends including decommissioning any drafts and cleaning up file structures.
Step 1: Identify the loose ends.
Most of your loose ends have been identified in the Retrospective but now is the chance to identify any remaining tasks that are not tied to issues. Specifically, what are the files, posts, notes, and other project documents that need to be moved, archived, deleted, or otherwise manipulated in order to make future projects easier to manage.
Do not feel as though you need to clean up identified loose ends right away. Instead, start a task list and append newly identified loose ends to the list. You will tackle the task list once it feels complete.
For example, if the drafts you prepared for review were uploaded to a cloud-based drive, you should archive those drafts to a different folder so future reviewers won’t get confused with what they are supposed to look at. For now, write down “Archive Review Drafts” on your task list and keep thinking of loose ends.
Step 2: Tie up those loose ends.
With a task list prepared, work at the tasks until they are complete. You should do this before starting the next project.
Afterwards, you should take a moment to reflect on the work you did. Something new exists in the world because of you and hopefully it’s positively affecting people as you read this or will help you in the future. But don’t celebrate for too long – the next project awaits!
Notes About Research
Sometimes you need to conduct research before making decisions in your project. Judging when to pause and insert a research step is crucial to the success of these projects! The research step consists of identifying what answer you are trying to discover, investigating leads to track down the answers, and analyzing those answers to come to your conclusion.
Optional Step: Project Analysis
Sometimes a project is not going as planned or (more likely) it’s going as planned but the plan isn’t working out. If you ever feel like things aren’t working out but you can’t quite place what is wrong then it’s a good idea to stop and take a moment to write down what you are feeling and where the project is at. Assess what is happening, why it’s not working out, and formulate a path forward. If you maintain a failing course just because it was “part of the plan”, then you are doomed to fail. Plans are living things – open to change as you glean new insights. Identify options for moving forward, adjust your course, and move on. You and your project will thrive for doing so!
Also note that sometimes projects fail. That’s okay! Give yourself permission to fail, permission to learn, and permission to move on. This is what growth looks like. Success awaits, don’t delay due to a doomed idea.