Establish the Planning Horizon


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Execution means going out and implementing what has been planned. This seems obvious, but a lot of programs are continually in a state of firefighting because there is no real plan. Not all the projects in a program have to follow the same execution strategy. The program manager’s responsibility for execution begins with establishing the scheduling plans for projects in the program. This is a conscious decision that has to be made on the basis of the priority of the projects, the resources available, the planning horizon, and the organizational constraints. This is a key aspect of setting up a culture that fosters project success. Even in dynamic environments you must have a plan or a series of short plans tailored to the rapidly changing environment

Our 8 part Guide to Program Execution Processes will guide you through processes to plan and execute a variety of projects so you aren’t constantly putting out fires!

Guide to Program Execution Processes

Part 1 of 8: Establish an Appropriate Planning Horizon
Part 2 of 8: Establish a Scheduling Philosophy
Part 3 of 8: Implement a Stage Gate Process to Ensure Proper Execution of the Planned Schedule
Part 4 of 8: Maintain Integrity with Change Control
Part 5 of 8: Create a Status Process That Allows You To Regulate Execution
Part 6 of 8: Ten Obstacles to Effective Project Status
Part 7 of 8: Project Status Meeting Frequency
Part 8 of 8: Guidelines for an Effective Project Status

Part 1 of 8: Establish an Appropriate Planning Horizon

The planning horizon is the time frame for the amount of work you can reasonably schedule on the basis of project requirements and the availability of resources. If the project requirements are not stable, you cannot produce a stable schedule. When you are establishing a planning horizon, first examine all the current project schedules in the program. Assess the validity of those schedules week by week. Validity means that the work is planned and the resources are assigned. How many weeks into the future you have a valid schedule for is your planning horizon. This dictates how frequently you must re-plan. Thus, if your planning horizon is a week, re-planning must occur weekly as well. If your planning horizon is a month, re-planning must occur monthly. The planning horizon is your stability window.

Next, assess what prevents you from extending the planning horizon. Is it a resource issue, or is it a requirements or stakeholder issue? In general, a longer planning horizon results in a more stable work environment, which in turn increases the satisfaction and effectiveness of all the participants. To accomplish this, the program manager must assess all the items that prevent extension of the planning horizon, decide which obstacles should be fixed, and then put in place strategies and tactics to fix what should be fixed. Whatever your time frame is, you need to know it, because you need to constantly communicate it to your team.

The length of your planning horizon can be dependent on the maturity of your organization or the type of business environment you are in. The program manager needs to constantly look for ways to extend the planning horizon. Organizations that attempt to plan beyond the planning horizon typically have disappointed and discontented program personnel, because those people end up spending a significant amount of time planning things that never happen.

Spiral development cycles and agile project management are used in an attempt to address very short planning horizons. Agile project management is used to create iterative and incremental deliveries while being adaptive as opposed to anticipatory. Spiral development essentially integrates design and prototyping in stages with incremental deliveries.

Agile is simply a form of iterative development. You can have any strategy in between iterative and waterfall. Each organization has to strike a balance on where it wants to be on this spectrum on the basis of its capability, its customers, and the critical nature of the project. It is not always the same answer for every project or organization.

Agile is just the combination of practices assembled into a framework to make it easier for some organizations to embrace and implement the same way a diet plan provides a framework to simply eat less. It can certainly be done without the framework, but the framework can make it easier for some.

Many organizations falsely assume that using something like agile or spiral means that everything else is tossed out the window. Project management is still structured, organized common sense whether you are using agile or spiral philosophies or some other rationale to plan each iteration of a project with goals and deliverables.

Simply stated, it is just common sense not to plan in detail or execute beyond your planning horizon. I am a proponent of thoroughly examining your circumstances and constraints and then aggressively deploying common sense derived from critical thinking. Your circumstances and constraints involve the elements of cost, scope, and schedule.

Once your team has decided on their plan and process, PPM software can help you execute that process. WorkOtter helps you successfully execute your program process strategy for project success. Get a demo of WorkOtter and see how we can make your program management effective.

“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.