A project’s planning phase begins with a charter and ends with an approved plan. The amount of planning that occurs between these points depends on the type and size or complexity of the project and the amount of certainty that exists in the process and definitions that planning is based on.

The process of planning takes the parameters from senior management (charter), the high-level project approach and strategy from project leadership, and the detailed tasks and resource estimates from the team and integrates them all into a comprehensive, balanced, believable plan for project execution. During the planning phase a written scope statement is prepared as a basis for project decisions. It addresses not only the boundaries of the work to be performed but also any work specified as “out of scope.”

The scope is defined further when the major project deliverables are subdivided into smaller, more manageable components.Formalizing the acceptance of the project scope (what will be delivered) with the customer and involving the customer in the review of the product or service features (quality and performance of what will be delivered) serve to verify the scope. As the scope of the project and the resources and time lines for its completion evolve during the planning process, the triple constraint evolves as well, allowing careful project delivery of the final deliverable on time and on budget.

There are variations in how different organizations divide the work of planning. The chosen approach depends on the size and complexity of the project itself and whether there is a standard process the organization chooses to follow in managing its projects. Some organizations “charter” a project as soon as the decision to explore the project is made. In that case a project to determine the project’s feasibility must be completed first. That project’s deliverable, or product, is often called a feasibility study or a cost-benefit analysis, and this product fully defines the deliverables. If the product or deliverable of the project is not clearly defined (product life-cycle stage 1), then it is not possible to plan costs or schedule in detail for its design, implementation, and construction. If the full implementation is chosen as a result of the feasibility study, a separate follow-on project is chartered.

Most organizations begin the high-level planning process with a charter that spells out goals for the project. This precedes planning and development of the project approach. Budget is allocated for the planning process, and a project manager is appointed to carry it out.

Immediately following high-level planning, the charter may be refined to accurately reflect the consensus of the team and its sponsors prior to detailed planning. The refined charter becomes the “management deliverable” for high-level planning and shapes the expectations of key stakeholders, including the project’s customers and any groups that will be developing portions of the final plan.

Boundaries of the Planning Phase

The beginning of project planning occurs when management gives the project manager the authority to spend time and resources on creating a project plan for the project. The decision to execute the plan (or not) marks the end of project planning. One term commonly used for this juncture is the go/no-go decision. Management typically considers the content of the plan together with other business environment factors before deciding to approve project execution.

Some of the issues that emerge during these discussions will need to be addressed if the project is approved. An issues list is created that will allow assignment of responsibility for each issue to some member of the team and the addition and tracking of additional issues that are identified as planning progresses.