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Planning Isn’t Enough: How to Boost Your Next Project with Pre-Planning

Discover how a clear pre-planning phase could give you the momentum you need for success!

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

Everyone knows the first thing you do when starting a new project: you plan, right? Well, I actually regard planning as phase 2. I can see you scratching your head now: what do you mean, pre-planning? What’s there to do before planning? A heck of a lot, if you truly want to succeed!

As you know, a clear process is vital for achieving an optimal outcome. That’s especially true when you’re undertaking a new project. Whether I’m working alone or with a team, I have a clearly defined process of 7 phases:

  1. Pre-planning
  2. Planning
  3. Development
  4. Layout/production
  5. Testing
  6. Launch
  7. Evaluation
Infographic by author

I use these phases for every or nearly every business endeavor: Building an online course, offering an on-site live course, creating a lead generator, or writing a book.

For me, “pre-planning” is indispensable. If I dive directly into planning, I quickly get lost in the weeds. Pre-planning is the phase in which I keep my eye on the big picture and set myself up for success.

Here’s how to master your pre-planning phase using the six question words from Rudyard Kipling’s famous I Keep Six Honest Serving Men poem.

1. Why

Why do I or we want to do this “thing?” Very often, the “thing” we’re undertaking is a project. Keep that in mind as you read this, realizing that the “thing” might be something different, such as a program. (These are very different.)

What is the big-picture, long-term purpose for our customer, or for the business’s stated mission? Or, why is this particular project important to meet this year’s business objective? And if you’re working with your team, they also need to understand the purpose.

Without a clear understanding of the purpose, nothing else matters. That’s why it comes first in pre-planning. We can’t do everything. That means that sometimes, as Steve Jobs warns, we need to “say no to a hundred other things.” If we can’t articulate why we’re doing something, it’s probably one of the things we should say no to.

2. When

When are the dates that could affect the project, either positively or negatively? Check out the many awareness days/months or celebrations throughout the year. For example, May is mental health awareness month, so that might be a good time to roll out your online course on anxiety or depression. Knowing these dates helps you ride on the coattails of the general media hype.

Or if there are religious celebrations, those might be dates to avoid. (I’m careful to avoid scheduling a live event in New York City just prior to Passover, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it if I were teaching in Kansas City that week.)

Then, move a little closer to your own situation. Ask yourself: When can we schedule the next meeting? When do we need to launch the project? When do we have some interruptions, such as a long weekend or a key player who has a vacation just before the proposed launch?

Along with the “when”, you’ll want to create at least a rough outline for the milestones, such as this excellent example for designing a webpage.

3. Where

Where will you do the “thing” or use the “thing?”

It’s easy to say, “Oh, it’s online.” Okay, great, but where, exactly, are you planning to put it? Will it be posted on your existing webpage, or do you need to create a new webpage? Don’t leave the pre-planning phase without an answer!

That being said, there’s no need to get too granular in this pre-planning stage. For example, let’s say I’m planning to offer a live course in Dallas. During the pre-planning phase, I don’t need to identify the exact geographic coordinates for the venue. But I probably need to know that I want to be in north Dallas. If I know that much, I can delegate the “where” details to a teammate.

4. Who

Who will be helping you? If you have a team, determine who on the team should be involved. Are there specific teammates who will be involved in this effort, or will everyone need to be involved? Or do you need everyone on your team, plus a few outsiders, too?

Let’s say you don’t have a team. Don’t presume you can do it alone. Unless it’s a very small project, there’s a high likelihood that someone will be helping you. Do you need a designer? A proofreader? A printer? An electrician? An attorney? Do you know who those people are, or do you need to find them?

Try not to overlook those who are closest to you, and willing to help. In the early days, my proofreader was my sister or my husband! Just make sure that you have given some thought to who you’ll need to help you, and schedule time with that person.

5. What

These are the biggest questions.

What are your existing resources in terms of time, money, and people? More to the point, what additional resources do you need?

Can you easily locate the needed resources, or do you need to create them? For example, do you need special software, or do you need a plug-in for your existing software? Or do you need a print shop that can do die-cutting? Do you need some sort of permit before you can get started? From time to time, I’ve needed all those resources, and many more, and I learned to identify the need well in advance. Otherwise, the project gets behind before it starts.

Doing a very clear and thorough needs analysis of the required resources is a critical step in your pre-planning phase.

6. How/how much

I find that my team often gets lost in the weeds with the “how” and the “how much” question. I try to avoid that. But I do ask these questions:

  • What special skills do I or we need to acquire (or hire)?
  • What decisions do I or we feel ill-equipped to make?
  • How much will it cost? (A reasonable estimate?)
  • How long will it take?
  • Can we establish some milestones?
Infographic by author

In my experience, it’s tough to keep the pre-planning meeting from getting bloated. Set a time for pre-planning, even if the “meeting” is just you sitting down by yourself. It takes me and/or my team about 90 minutes. If it takes more than that, it’s probably because you and/or others got lost in the details of the “how-to” minutiae. Force yourself to answer the generalities. Save the procedures, details, or tasks for the planning phase.

Pre-plan for success

Once you’ve got the pre-planning questions answered, you’re ready to start the more specific planning for your project. At this point, if you spend some time lost in the weeds, you’ll have some guiding principles to keep you on track, and hopefully a timetable so you’ll know if it’s time to move on.

And by the way, after working through the pre-planning, I have occasionally scuttled the entire project. Why so? Because I realized we have too few resources or the timeline is too short or whatever.

Over the years, I’ve embraced a quote from Philip J. Weber, former president of Chicago-based DoALL Co.:

If it doesn’t work on paper, it won’t work at all.

Does that sound like I’ve allowed myself to be defeated before I start? I don’t think so. I admit, it’s not an ideal outcome. But it’s far better than wasting days or weeks on a project that was probably doomed on Day 1. I have plenty of other worthwhile endeavors to keep me busy.

These phases and steps aren’t bullet-proof. But after I started routinely using this entire process, beginning with this pre-planning phase, my team and I had greater clarity, fewer mistakes, a greater likelihood of completing the project on time, and much greater satisfaction at the end.

What part of planning (or pre-planning) can you not live without?

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

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