When considering planning, I’m minded of a familiar glib phrase: “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. When it comes to TM470, planning is really important. Effective project planning is the backbone which holds up your project. Also, a big bit of learning that can come from TM470 is learning about planning, and how to maintain a project plan during the course of a project.
Importantly, planning is mentioned very clearly within the EMA learning outcomes, for example:
LO9. Plan and organise your project work appropriately, and keep systematic records of plans, progress and outcomes.
To get a distinction for this criterion, you must provide evidence that you have: “clearly planned and accurately managed progress in relation to the original plan” and that you understand “what has gone well and what has not gone to plan.”
In the EMA summary, it is suggested that you should provide evidence of your ability to: “plan and organise your project work appropriately, and keep systematic records of plans, progress and outcomes”.
This leads us to some questions: what kind of records do we need to provide, and how do we go about creating a plan?
To begin with, there’s a lot of practical advice within the ‘planning and organising a project’ module resource, which offers a lot of helpful advice and some helpful background information. A recommendation is to get a printout of this.
Your first TMA emphasises planning. This TMA assessment guide suggests that your first assessment should have three main sections: “preparing for and planning your project; the project work; reviewing and reflecting upon your planning and preparation, and project work”. In other words: what you are doing to do, what you have done, and what points you have to share about what you have done.
This is expanded in one of the tables that can be found within the TMA 1 guidance, which offers the following points which relate to planning:
- Outline of the major tasks and subtasks within the project at an appropriate level of detail to enable your tutor to assess the viability of your project.
- Choice and justification of a lifecycle model for its management. Within the context of the chosen lifecycle model, a schedule for completing the tasks and subtasks.
- An outline of the resources and skills needed and the methods you are considering using, taking into account the risks and how these will be minimised.
What to provide
Your first TMA (as well as your EMA), you need to provide the following:
Choice of lifecycle model: you need to justify what overall project management approach you have chosen. There is a useful resource about this in the module materials. Different projects will necessitate the choice of different models. Choose a model that works for you and your project, and justify your choice. A practical suggestion is to provide a table. Say something about each of the different modules, saying why a particular approach either is or isn’t appropriate for your project.
Table of tasks: Give your tutor a very high level of the things you’re going to do as a part of your project. You could think of these in terms of project phases. Keep it high level. Again, use a table. Give each task a name, a potential start date and end date, and a brief description, providing no more than a sentence. Your choice of project model will help you to form your task table. Your table s will help your tutor (and your examiner) to get a good idea about what you’re going to do to solve your problem.
Table of resources: The resources you use within your project are important. Although the primary resource is yourself, you may need to get other people involved in your project. If you’re doing an interaction design project, you might need some help with the evaluation of your designs. If you can’t get hold of ‘ideal’ users, you can also use proxy users (such as friends or family members); users who are pretending to be your target users. You also might need to use software tools, or maybe even some cloud computing resources. Like with the tasks, do share everything in a table. Try to describe everything as succinctly as possible.
Gantt chart: Gantt charts are really useful tools. When you have created your task table, have a go to great a Gantt chart for your project. Aim to have two Gantt charts. Create one at the very start of your project, make a copy of it and save it somewhere. When you start work on your project, maintain a Gantt chart to reflect progress on your project. Submit a copy of your chart for your first TMA. When you get to your EMA, submit both your first Gantt, and the one that you have maintained throughout your project. By looking at the one that you had at the start, and one that you had at the end, you will be able to see the difference between what you thought would happen, and what actually happened.
On the subject of Gantt charts, you can create them in different ways. If you are working on a company, you might be able to use of products such as Microsoft Project to help you to plan your project and to create a Gantt chart. Another approach is to make use of an number of Gantt chart templates for Microsoft Excel.
What to do
There is some good guidance about planning within the module materials. In terms of creating a Gantt chart, I recommend that you do, and take account of the following:
- Record all your TMA cut off dates as milestones. If you’re studying multiple modules at the same time, do put these in too.
- Do make a note of time that you need to allocate to writing and submitting both your TMAs and your project report (your EMA).
- Make a note of when you’re going to be on holiday and put these dates on your chart.
- Make a note of any other non-working time. For example, if there are any family or work responsibilities that need to be attended to, make sure you make a note of them.
- Begin to record high level tasks, or project phases that match your choice of project model.
- Within those phases, attempt to break them down to one or more subtasks.
- Consider the risks that might apply to your project. (There will a blog post about TM470 and project risks. When you get to your EMA, project planning and project risks should go into the same section).
Some accompanying thoughts are:
- Do expect to change your plan during the course of your project.
- Don’t prioritise your plan over your project. If you find yourself spending loads of time on the plan, you might need a simpler plan, or find another way to plan, or choose a different tool.
Some important tip that I share with all project students are:
- Create a project log. This could be something as simple as a Word document, which has dates for headings. Use this to make notes of what you’ve done. This could only be a few sentences; it doesn’t have to be anything very detailed. You can also use your log to make a note of what you have learnt.
- Email your tutor regularly, ideally every two weeks, just to keep them informed of what you’re doing. You might think about emailing your tutor sections of your log.
- When you compile your EMA, you can put a copy of your project log, or emails, or both into an appendix. Doing so relates to learning outcomes LO5 and LO6, where to get a distinction, you need to provide evidence of having “worked under own supervision, communicating regularly and accurately in respect of progress” and “sought guidance when needed, but offered own ideas when doing so”, and “has clearly recognised new skills and knowledge”.
When you get to the end of your project and you have to write the reflection section (which accounts for 20% of the overall mark) if you have made a good plan, and have your original plan, you will be able to say something about what went well, what didn’t go well, and what you have learnt about running a project. Of course, you should also be saying something about what technical skills you have further developed too. Although project planning isn’t very exciting, it is pretty important, and it is also important to get on top of it early. One of the jobs of your tutor is to offer you some practical advice about how your plan might be further developed or improved.
Many thanks to the TM470 project team who have prepared some very helpful materials on choosing a project model and carrying out a project planning.