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Expert Talk on Project Planning with Danny Vandeweyer

Today we have met on Expert Talk with Danny Vandeweyer:

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Danny is a very experienced manager in the field of Portfolio’s, Programs and Projects. Through numerous projects and consultancy missions, he has built up a broad experience and in-depth knowledge of a lot of business domains such as logistics, materials management, production and planning, shop floor control, sales and distribution, supply chain management, telecom and financial processes.

Through his years of working in the IT sector, he also became a methodology and maturity expert. Successfully he implemented best practices at several customers and helped them on improving their internal processes.

He’s a Prince2 Accredited Trainer, has developed training materials and trained customer teams, consultants and team members and is appreciated for his educational skills.

Reliability, flexibility, hardworking and communicative towards all levels of the organization is key to him. He’s experienced in leading high performance teams, but is also a team player, team leader and valuable coach for consultants and for customer teams.


• Methods: Prince2, MSP, PMBok, P3O, PfM
• Maturity: CMMi, P2MM, P3M3

• Prince2 Trainer
• MSP Practitioner
• CMMi certified

Here you can read the interview:

Q: My first question for you, Danny, is: Why is it so difficult planning a project?

A: Firstly we must understand, and when we talk about planning, and we’re talking about the planning; a plan is more than just creating a Gantt chart and some activities. Plan should contain more focus to products that should be created and the product descriptions. There must are also a Project Plan and all the plans, like we have to create always: a management plan, communication management plan, quality management plan and so on. There should also be the activities to create to products. The estimates needed to create those products, the durations, the people that need to do the capacity plan, so that we can finally come to the schedule, and the schedule is what we often introduce like a Gantt chart. Okay, let’s talk about the planning and why is it so difficult. We need to realize that planning is not an exact science. There are so many internal or external factors that influence the project we’re working on. Something like, you’re working on a project for several months and then you discover, well, something has changed or lost which infested your project, so you need to make some adaptations to it that impacts your schedule you’re planning. We all know about the fact that customers regularly change their minds, they come with change requests, which impacts our planning. Even when your company shares their priorities for your projects and they put higher priority on other projects and you might lose your recourses because of what their decision was, or even it’s possible that your company is taken over by other organization and lose all their priorities – all of this that can influence in your projects. Now furthermore, I don’t’ know if you people ever have read or heard about the Standish report. Standish is an American organization that every two years has a research about the failure and the success of projects, and what they say the main reasons for project failure are: incomplete requirements at the start of the project or that the requirements are changing during the project. All the things are the expectations to what’s planned are unrealistic. Customers say ”Well, I need to have it within two months”. You agree with that, but you realize it’s undoable. Also stakeholders are important. If they are not involved in the project it’s difficult to get requirements and that are important input for your planning. Another thing is that, there is also complexity within projects, which makes it hard to identify every element that we need due to requirements you need for your project. And to ask why is it difficult to have a great planning. Well, people try to plan the whole project at once at the beginning of the project, and that’s not always possible, because at the beginning of the project you do not have enough information and even though you if have sufficient information, during the project things can change. So to me, planning the whole project from the start to the little details is a waste of time. Projects that run over one year – it can happen so much during that time. So, it’s better to divide your projects into small stages, and those stages are better manageable. So, that was a little bit why I think that is so hard to do a planning, little bits of pieces everywhere.

Q: Okay, it’s been very, very interesting. My next question is: What inputs are needed to plan a project?

A: Because I stated that the project or plan is more than just the activities in a Gantt chart, we need to start from the requirements. Requirements – we need them from the stakeholders and the customers, and the requirements would make up the scope of the project. Once we have the scope of the project we can start with identifying products that we need to create. But next to that we also need the other management products, like risk, I mentioned it before, like quality products, communication products, products that we need for our change management, and by this I mean that the organization of change management are not the changes within the project and so on. We need a lot of influence from lots of places within the project to make sure that we can do our project, or in common sense, we first must think before we do, that’s a very important quote in project management. ”First think, then do.” And that’s why we need to have all those things.

Q: Then we have the input. What do you think is the best way for planning our project?

A: Well, when starting planning a project I especially like the planning approach that PRINCE2 has. Within the planning approach they also talk about product based planning technique and I use that technique all the time. So it starts with gathering the requirements: what is the scope of the project, so that we can have an idea which will be the final product and from there on first on a higher level, on a project level. I do several steps and the high level project plan you must consider more as a Gantt milestone plan. We do not have every information at that moment. What we do have Gantts, several building blocks to start from. So, the first thing I do is from the final product – what we have to deliver then come to identify the sub products that need to be created, all the little products starting to develop and make up the final product. For this, like I mentioned before, I use the product base planning technique by first creating the product breakdown structure. It’s like the work breakdown structure, but the work breakdown structure is focused on activities while the product breakdown structure is focused on products. Once we have those products I put them in the product flow diagram, I put them in the sequence, and then I start with thinking about the stages: How am I going to divide my project, at least taking lower time into smaller parts. Next to this when I have this, I identify the activities needed to create this products and dependences. So, I do not start with thinking about the activities, no, I start with thinking about the products and in this step I think about the activities which are needed to create those products. Next step is, of course, when I have the activities I need to know which skills I need for that which call-dependence people need to be able to perform these activities. Then I will estimate the time needed to perform the activities. I say ”I estimate” it’s not completely true. I ask the people, the experts to help with the estimation. I do not know exactly how much time I need for that. And when we have those estimates I can create the product schedule. This is on high level product schedule. The next step is – then I start with planning a stage, I’m approaching my first stage, I take the products I identified as my project plan during the first stage and I start over again, the same what I mentioned before. That product, are there sub products that I need to create? I go deeper into the details of that. Again with using the product breakdown structure. I identify additional activities and dependencies, probably the ambitioning skills, again estimating the time for those activities and then the next step when I know it. Then I start to do negotiate with the team managers for the skills I need. And I want them committed to my project. When I’m done with that, I am going to create the stage schedule and taking into account the resources I have. So, probably I will have to do some resource levering depending on how much time they’re available and so on. For this I start using the precedence diagram so I can determent my critical part, my off during the creation of the products and I can create my Gantt chart. And this I do again for every stage. So, the steps are each time the same but every time more and more in details. At this point of time I have sufficient information as the input on my project budgets or my stage projects.

Q: Okay. It’s good, very, very good explanation of all the processes. Well, the next question is: How do we know that we have finished planning our project?

A: Well, actually the only time you know you are aware or that you know planning is finished and your planning is correct is actually when your project is finished. There are so many factors, as I explained before, you never know when your planning is correct. So, it’s constantly updating the planning, looking at it and making sure that what you’re doing or what people are doing right now and to follow that up, because that’s important. You create a planning, of course you think people will follow it, but you need to make sure you need to follow them up and the moment you see the derivation from your plan, you cannot hesitate, you do anything you need to, take action upon it. You need to know why there is a difference between what is in the planning and how the people are performing, especially you need to follow all the activities, all the products that are on the critical part. But to me, the first time I really know my planning is successful is at the end of the project.

Q: Okay. And this is the last question. How do we know that we did it successfully, the project planning?

A: That’s why I say we never know we never know when is successful, because there’re a lot of changes and influences during the project. You know by the end of the project whether it has been successful, by following it up.

Q: Are There any final tips or advice you would give to our Project Directors?

A: Well, yeah, maybe I can say one thing. When we talking about planning, in my opinion, assuming that the requirements will not change and that also the scope will not change. You also think that activities are just about planning the Gantt chart and mostly they ignore than serve these, even don’t see assumptions as a possible risk, but a good PM should actually be aware that requirements and scope will constantly change within the project and that’s why you need to take action upon that. And the plans that derives from products and not the activities like in the past. A lot of people think: “Oh, we have a project I have to create a planning, I have to plan the activities – no – we have to plan products and afterwards we will attach activates to that. A good PM also knows that the plan is more than just a Gantt chart, it’s a lot of things you need to plant before you can start the schedule. And a good PM should know that planning is an interactive activity, you don’t do it once, you do it constantly and regularly at the end of each stage. That’s something I’d like to give as advice to those Project Directors.