Throughout our project management careers we are bound to run into the situation of having to manage, or at least report on, multiple project plans. This is most prevalent when managing a project that is part of a greater program or set of projects. Or if you are one of many vendors participating in a large integration project where each individual vendor project plan needs to be considered when developing an over-arching plan. This situation is less than desirable given that one project plan is enough work, let alone several. Here are some tips on how to manage your way through.
As with any project, it’s of primary importance to communicate ownership and stewardship of the documents and artifacts for the project. The project plan is no different. Often times if there is a need for multiple project plans, it means that there are multiple project or program managers who are interested in them. It’s very important to decide who is going to own which document and who is responsible for making which updates. A typical process that I like to follow is that if you own the project plan, then it’s your job to make sure that all updates are included – do not leave it to others (who don’t own your plan) to make the updates. By making clear boundaries of responsibility for each plan, you will ensure that there are no collisions in your project plans.
Decide Where the Detail Lives
Often times if there is a need to have different project plans it also means that there can be different levels of details in each respective plan. Take the case of a vendor being part of a larger program of projects that is overall managed by a program manager. In this situation, the program manager is not going to be interested in a lot of the more detailed tasks in your project plan. They are going to have a much bigger interest in your milestones and delivery dates. While it’s important to be able to justify in any plan what makes up the content, it’s probably a good decision to leave the intricate details to each respective lower-level project plan – with the caveat that it can be easily discerned what the milestones are.
Marry the Milestones
Finally – the golden ticket to managing multiple concurrent project plans. While the structure and content of each plan may differ there is one thing that should remain consistent across all plans – the milestones. Each project and program will have defined milestones that are used to measure project progress and success. Every project plan (detailed or high level) should account for these milestones. When working as a project manager reporting into a program manager, I have found the easiest way to ensure that you are in sync is to report on your milestones and ensure that they fall in line with the program milestones. How you get there (i.e. your details) should be in your control but always making sure that your delivery expectations match up with those of the overall program.
Managing multiple project plans is at best difficult but if a clear division of responsibility and level of detail exists it can be a workable situation. Keeping in sync with your peers is the key to ensuring that your project plans stay in alignment.
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