Pre-execution planning is of paramount importance to guarantee smooth operations, but one needs to be well aware of the issues that can cut back on the benefits significantly if not considered during planning.
It is said that a plan is as good as the information available to prepare one, however lack of information at the pre-execution stage is a common phenomenon. Even a slight deviation from what you have assumed initially can have a larger than life effect on the execution requirements, effectively rubbishing your plan. To add to that, lack of information has the potential to encourage you or your team to do padding while estimating the durations, which is inadvisable. Now there is not much that can be done to avoid the lack of information, especially at the very initial stage because things usually begin with a concept that is gradually developed by repetitions during the design stage. What can, however, be done is to have similar iterations done for the planning. As and when more information is available, the plan must be reconciled to remain effective.
Another common problem faced during pre-execution planning is a loosely defined scope. Although it sounds similar to the lack of information, it is not. Often there is a generalization in the contract documents when defining the scope. This lack of detail can lead to a false understanding that the other party shall take care of a particular responsibility. This can lead to last-minute additions to the scope, jeopardizing your pre-execution plan. To counter this, irrespective of the magnitude of work or apparent simplicity, always insist on having a detailed and well-defined scope and have those heated discussions, claim and counterclaims during the pre-contract stage to avoid sudden changes or additions of scope later on. With a detailed scope at your disposal, your chances of having an effective pre-execution plan are greatly enhanced.
Another critical aspect that is often overlooked is the lack of participation of key stakeholders in the pre-execution planning stage. This can have far-reaching consequences for the operations. Having a plan that your operations/execution teams do not believe in is a recipe for disaster and should be avoided at all costs as it is equivalent to Planning to fail. The counter measures for this problem are straight forward but bear great returns. All key stakeholders, particularly those who will execute the works, shall be included in the process as early as possible. Not only will they assist in preparing the plan with their valuable input, but they will also start taking ownership of the plan. This will motivate them to execute the works as per the plan and remain committed to it.
As is rightly said by Brian Tracy, “We always have time enough, if we will but use it aright”. No matter how much one wants to avoid it, chances of change, initiated either by the client/end-user or other circumstances, are always there. To counter the effects of potential change, enough flexibility should be considered in the strategy through risk studies so that changes can be easily adapted.
In most cases, the plan is monitored and revised during the execution stage only but very rarely in the pre-execution stage. If the pre-execution phases are stalled, the operations may not start on the initially anticipated date. In such cases, the effects will not be limited to the start date only. What is often overlooked is that with changes in the timeline, the availability of the resources may alter; therefore, the durations estimated earlier may not remain valid. Regular reviews of the plan before execution allows you to evaluate your strategy, re-assess the resource availability to time and study the weak links or critical points which may be more prone to failure and give you a chance to determine your plan’s relevance and reduce risks of loss when the actual work starts.
When working on the plans, there is always a tendency to develop a narrow focus and ignore or undermine the importance of lessons learned. While each job is unique, we must always refer to the previously completed works to come up with better estimates and acquaint ourselves with execution challenges to be considered for a more realistic plan.
Far too often, when working under commercial pressures from the client, we tend to become overly optimistic and develop an execution strategy divorced from reality. Having other team members review and evaluate your estimates and the overall plan is excellent to avoid this problem.
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