The Importance of Benchmarking During Pre-Planning
Without question, the most successfully executed projects are those that have the best-laid plans. In turn, agreeing upon and understanding exactly “what we are going to build (project deliverables)” before diving into “how we are going to build it (the project plan)” is equally important.
Traditional project planning has focused on building a schedule, specifying the work (durations and sequence) required, rather than trying to align work required with agreed-upon deliverable dates. Scope management and scheduling have been seen as separate endeavors for too long.
The concept of ‘pre-planning’ addresses this by bringing the two together. But in doing so, we need an effective means of not just establishing a top-down deliverable-based plan, but more importantly, a means of validating that this plan is reasonable and achievable. Setting unrealistic expectations in the plan is as bad, if not worse, than missing the mark during execution itself. This is where ‘pre-planning’ and benchmarking come into play.
A Quick Pre-Planning Overview
Think of ‘pre-planning’ as the pre-cursor to building out a CPM schedule. During this early phase, you are defining a hierarchy of deliverables along with expected timelines.
To establish a hierarchy of deliverables, consider the concept of ‘Planning Packages’. ‘Planning Packages’ are used to define scope and identify associated deliverables without the need for the complexity of activities, logic links, and calendars.
To establish timelines or durations for deliverables, you account for the size or quantity of deliverables, e.g., “30km of pipe.” Based on a combination of productivity rates and specified quantities, you can then derive durations. These durations are the timelines that you believe the actual work can be achieved within. This top-down estimate gives you a target to aim for when fleshing out the (bottoms-up) schedule.
Figure 1: Top-Down Planning Using Planning Packages to Define Deliverables & Their Quantities
Once you have established your top-down deliverable-based plan, you can then flesh out the details using traditional CPM scheduling techniques. The main benefit of integrating top-down with bottoms-up planning is the ability to compare the two, tracking whether or not the bottoms-up work plan satisfies the top-down estimates established during the pre-planning phase.
Figure 2: Bottoms-Up Meets Top-Down: A CPM Schedule Aligning (or not!) with your Top-Down Deliverable-Based Plan
This is all very well and is a highly effective technique, as long as your productivity rates are accurate. This is where benchmarks come into play.
When building your top-down plan (establishing deliverables) wouldn’t it be useful to know what reasonable productivity rates are? For example, when defining a planning package for 6 concept drawings, knowing that a reasonable rate is 5 days per drawing would help in establishing a duration of 30 days – not only is it a realistic duration but it is defendable too – it has a sound basis (pun intended).
Imagine you are building a plan and being prompted in real-time as to what realistic durations (and even costs!) should be based on your deliverables. Sound a little too Jetson’s? Well, it’s not actually. With InEight Basis project management software, we have introduced this exact capability.
As you build your top-down plan during the pre-planning phase, InEight Basis provides organizational or industry benchmarks for what your durations and costs ought to be. Not only that, but it also shows you the consensus of these benchmarks, including historical performance data from your previously completed projects.
|Duration Benchmarking||Cost Benchmarking|
Figure 3: Benchmarking Your Project Against Other Projects
Of course, you as the planner still get to make the overarching decision as to whether you adopt the suggestion(s) or opt to go with your own estimate. Adopt your own estimate, and you can even visually see how that compares to the consensus from the benchmarks in your InEight Basis Knowledge Library. This gives you direction as to whether you are planning according to your organization’s standards or not.
|Procurement (Long Leads) 96-day duration is 20 days longer than the average benchmark of 76 days|
Figure 4: Waypoint showing that your organizational benchmark for “Long Leads” is a significantly shorter duration than your planned duration
Tying it All Back to Your CPM Schedule
So you’ve built your top-down plan using planning packages, and established your durations using the Knowledge Library Benchmarks. You’ve then used this deliverable-based plan as a framework against which to flesh out detailed work using activities, logic, and so forth.
So how exactly does marrying the two help? Well think about this: when you execute a project, you track performance by comparing your plan to your actual execution – this tells you how successfully you are executing your project. Well, now you can do the same for planning – by measuring your detailed plan against your benchmarked deliverable plan, for the first time, you can measure HOW REALISTIC AND ACHIEVABLE THE PLAN IS. That’s a huge step forward in the science of project planning. We haven’t changed how to build a CPM schedule. Instead, we are now providing a means of measuring the realism of that CPM plan.
Start with a realistic and achievable plan and you are already on the route to success before you’ve even started execution.