How to Plan
Don’t laugh. Many IT project managers, executives, and
professionals don’t know how to plan. Oh sure, they think they do, but the
reality is they don’t. When these folks begin planning, their efforts consist of
searching the Web randomly, leafing through vendor brochures, and chatting with
other professionals about similar problems they’ve encountered and how those
problems were resolved. On the surface, this looks like a great effort. The Web,
vendor brochures, and interviews are all essential elements to IT research. The
trouble, however, is there’s little rhyme or reason, little approach, and, most
important, few results to show for the effort.
The goal of research is to come to a conclusion, a discovery, and
hard-hitting facts, upon which a decision, a plan, or an implementation can be
based. Now here is the key: good research stems from an organized, concentrated
In order for projects to be successful, the project manager and
the key stakeholders must know what it is the project will create. Often,
especially in information technology, the customers of the project don’t know
what exactly your project will create. They may have a general idea of a
scenario they’d like for you to create for them. Through interviews,
quantitative analysis, and in-depth research, you’ll propose solutions to
When creating a solution for a customer, the project manager must
have the same vision the customer has for the final product. While there will,
no doubt, be iterations and revisions as the project progresses, it’s better to
understand upfront what the project deliverables consist of. Root cause analysis
allows the project manager and the customer to work together to find the
solution for the problem, opportunity, or other condition the project is to
When you go about researching anything, from real-time transaction
servers to RJ45 connectors, you must possess a plan of attack, maintain
laser-like focus, and document your efforts. How do you plan? Here is a
sure-fire, six-step method that works:
Define the purpose of the research in
writing. Writing a concise Concept Definition Statement of the project helps
form the research you are undertaking. The Concept Definition Statement will
help you develop the laser focus you’ll need for success. Keep that statement in
plain view as you research. Don’t lose track of your purpose, or you’ll meander
through your research like a lazy walk in the woods.
Determine what resources you will use
during this research. Make a list of avenues of information you’ll utilize.
This is not to rule out any possible source of information, but to list your
sources and then organize them in priority. Sources can include:
Delegate. If you have team members in
mind for this project, use them to help in the research. You’ll need their
expertise and experience to develop the best solution for the project purpose.
Break down your planning into multiple components and then delegate portions of
the research to team members. Many hands may lighten the load, but accurate
workers with knowledge develop the plan.
Get to work. Begin reading,
evaluating, and taking notes on your discoveries. If you use the Internet,
bookmark useful pages you’ve found. Few things are worse than knowing there’s a
great page out there somewhere, but you can’t remember when or where you saw it.
Record the books and magazines you’ve used and associated page numbers. This
supporting evidence will help you later when you formalize your project plan.
Organize and document. Compile all of
the information you and your team have gathered. This is the start of a
feasibility plan. One key management skill is the ability to organize and recall
the needed information at notice. A knowledge management system is ideal for any
Evaluate and do more research. Once
your research has come together, determine if the collected data answers the
research purpose. If it does, move on. If it does not, continue to research
following these same six steps as your guideline.
This method of research is simple and direct, but will produce
results. One key element is time; don’t get bogged down in the research process.
Of course, quality takes time, but set a deadline to reach step 5. As you can
see in Figure 2-1, the steps to
successful research also follow a projected timeline.
Figure 2-1: Time
management is crucial to effective research.
A feasibility plan is a documented expression of what your
research has told you. It helps you determine the validity or scope of a
proposed project or a section of a project.
Feasibility plans are often written with upper management in mind,
so they’re direct, organized, and generally factual rather than opinionated. As
you approach your project, keep in mind that the goal of any IT project is not
technology for technology’s sake, but to add value to the company. The
feasibility plan determines if the proposed project can feasibly be
As you draft the feasibility plan, think like an executive and
write with the business in mind and how the proposed technology will benefit the
company. If you approach any project as if it is a business venture and you are
the proprietor of the business, you’ll be much more successful in your work. As
the “project proprietor,” you assume ownership and responsibility of the project
and its success or failure.
To begin writing the plan, refer to the Concept Definition
Statement you used in the research phase. The Concept Definition Statement
defines why you initiated the planning process and should reflect the proposed
project. As Figure 2-2
demonstrates, the statement is the foundation of the feasibility structure.
Figure 2-2: The Concept
Definition Statement is the foundation of the feasibility plan.
For example, suppose an international company is investigating
implementing a new, to-be-determined application that will need to manage
multiple calendars, resources, and e-mail. The company’s Concept Definition
Statement at the start of the research reads as follows: “To determine the
selection of a calendaring system that can provide resource management, e-mail,
and workgroup collaboration, the application must be proven, able to integrate
with our current network operating system, and address international time
zones.” This purpose statement would introduce the feasibility plan.
The feasibility plan is broken into five sections:
Each section is vital to the study and should be direct, full
of facts, and provide references to the historical information and supporting
evidence you’ve used to create the plan.
At the start of the feasibility plan should be an executive
summary, the purpose of which is twofold: to draw the reader into your findings
and to define the key points of your plan. As its name implies, it provides a
summary of your findings so the entire document doesn’t have to be read. It
should include a summation of each of the remaining sections in your
The product section describes the benefits of the technology
you’ve investigated and are recommending. For example, the international company
seeking the calendaring system may include in this section “ABC Server and the
ABC Calendaring client software work together to provide a calendaring system
that can be shared among all users. This client-server package allows for public
and private calendars, free time lookups, room and resource reservations,
e-mail, and international time zone calculations. In addition, the software
allows application developers to create workflow applications, collaboration,
and Web integration. Our current network operating system can be integrated with
this solution.” For this company, the ABC Server and client software is a
logical solution as it meets every requirement of the Concept Definition
You should write the product section to pinpoint the audiences
impacted by the proposed technology. The product section may also include
Differences between the recommended product and a
Support for the recommended product
How the recommended product may dovetail with the current
Other companies that have successfully implemented the
Any shortcomings or risks involved with the proposed
The feasibility plan should address issues concerning the
users who will be affected by the implementation:
How much downtime will the audience experience because of
What is the learning curve of the new software?
Will training classes be needed for all users?
How will the recommended software transfer or work with your
company’s existing technology?
How long before this software will be upgraded again?
How long before it will be retired, obsolete, or no longer
supported by the company?
Also in this section of the plan, you need to mention how the
technology will be implemented. Consider if a portion of the company switches to
the new technology before other parts of the organization. Will the technology
have an impact on work and communication between the two parts of the company?
How long will the technology implementation take?
This section of the feasibility plan provides an overview of
the cost of the technology rather than a full-blown budget (Chapter 4 will detail budgets).
Consider these factors:
The price of the technology product
The necessary licenses
Training the implementation team
Cost of labor to create or implement the solution
Technical support from the vendor
Outside talent and contractors to install the technology
Monthly fees that may be associated with the technology (for
example, service-related fees such as those for using a Tl line)
Also consider the cost of not implementing the
The financial obligation section can also include return on
investment (ROI) analysis. You should demonstrate how the technology will
increase productivity, be easier to use, increase sales, or other relevant
information. Of course, back your facts with references from your
Within this section of the feasibility plan, you’re ready to
make your pitch for, or against, a technology to solve the problem. You should
present a general overview of how the technology works, how it will be
implemented, and what types of resources are required to make it work in your
environment. You can also make a recommendation to investigate other options or
newer technologies at this time— just be certain to explain why.
The solution and actions you recommend must be in alignment with
the project purpose. A recommended action must address and satisfactorily answer
the purpose of the project. Consider the reasons why the project may be
Now that you know the different parts of the plan, take a
look at the executive summary of a sample feasibility plan in the sidebar, “Executive Summary for Murray
Enterprises.” This company is considering replacing all of the current CAT5
cabling and upgrading its networks to something more current, faster, and
for Murray Enterprises
Written by Justin Case, IT Manager
Executive Summary The purpose of this
feasibility study is to determine the type of cabling and related network
devices required to improve the speed and reliability of our current LAN.
As we’ve all experienced, our current network is dated, sluggish,
and unstable. A change of technology is required to increase the speed and
reliability of our network.
Proposed Technology: Install CAT5E cabling for our entire
Install gigabit switches to segment and control network
Upgrade wiring closet to gigabit equipment.
Install 1000Base-T network cards in all compatible devices
for faster throughput.
Replace 850 PCs with new workstations that have gigabit
The change would affect all users. The new network cabling
would be created and installed, while the existing network remains as is. The
switch of the PCs to CAT5E-compatible NICs will happen by December 15. Users
logon processes and usual workflow will remain constant, only the speed will be
faster and more reliable.
The initial projected cost of the project materials:
Cabling and connectors: $1800
Wall-mounted patch panels: $800
200 network cards: $5800
Network installation kits: $1200
850 PCs will not be included in this budget but will be
coordinated with normal operations.
Upon final approval, a project charter will be drafted and
the team assembled. A plan of action will be created for the implementation.
Upon arrival, the patch panels and switches will be installed and tested.
Cabling will begin at the top of the project. Next our team will
complete the testing of the switches and network cards, and then connectivity
will begin. No PCs in production will be connected to the new infrastructure
until the new technology has been proven reliable and passed a quality audit.
The workstations in production will cut over to the new infrastructure in waves.
Upon successful cutover of all workstations to the new infrastructure, the
original CAT5 cable will be removed.
The entire feasibility plan should detail each component and
why the recommendations are being made. In addition, the financial obligation
section should name the specific parts
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