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Planning a Project, The Basics

Cold Cereal For Breakfast


Tom Kelley / Getty Images

Photo: Tom Kelley / Getty Images

Planning a project is pretty simple. You do it all the time, often without thinking about it. Let's use the simple example of having cold cereal for breakfast as an example to show how to plan any project.

Basic Project Plan

To develop a basic project plan you need a list of the tasks that need to be done , and understanding of the relationships between the tasks, and to know the priority of each task.

In larger projects the list of tasks is organized into a work breakdown structure (WBS). The relationships between the tasks, called dependencies, are established. And the critical path for the project is calculated. For our simple example project we won't worry about these.

Planning Breakfast

Your project is to prepare cold cereal for your breakfast. You know you need a bowl, cereal, milk, and sugar. You usally put the cereal into the bowl and add milk, but would it matter if you put the milk in first? When do you add the sugar - on the dry cereal or after you add the milk?

So your project plan might look like this:

  1. Put bowl on counter
  2. Put cereal in bowl
  3. Add milk
  4. Add sugar

Now let's look at the plan in more detail. This will help us reduce some of the risk of the project being late or over budget. For example, before we can put the bowl on the counter, we need to get/buy a bowl.

  1. Go shopping
    1. Buy a bowl
    2. Buy milk
    3. Buy sugar
  2. Put bowl on counter
  3. Put cereal in bowl
  4. Add milk
  5. Get spoon from drawer
  6. Add sugar

More Details

You can add more precision to the plan by adding dependencies. In the above example, buying milk is a subtask of the shopping trip, but task 4, adding the milk, is dependent on the completion of that task. If you have not yet completed task 1.2, buy milk, you will not be able to complete task 4, add milk. If you can't complete task 4, you can't complete your project.

Bottom Line

The same process that applies to a simple project like making cereal for breakfast applies to all of project management. Larger projects have more tasks and bigger risks, but the fundamental project planning process is the same.

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