Well Begun is Half Done
Well Begun is Half Done

Well Begun is Half Done

Do you remember the funny and famous cartoon about making a swing? What a huge gap between what the customer wanted, and what was finally built! This cartoon may be fictional, but even then, it is a very graphic message about the pitfalls of not listening closely to the customer, and this has been used over the years as training material for sales and marketing personnel. However, I was personally impressed and moved by this cartoon in the early years of my career, and I like to use this cartoon to underline the importance of "need identification and specification" which in turn is an important component of project planning.

We know that, in simple terms, a project has three distinct phases in its life-cycle: project planning, project execution and project commercialisation. Strangely, when we mention project management, many a times we mean "project execution", and this is wrong. This happens because, project execution or implementation is the more visible and glamorous part of projects, and the first phase, viz., project planning, is invisible and unsung.

Any project has to start with a robust planning work, if it has to be successfully executed; in other words, the foundations of potential success of a project are actually laid during its planning. The whole exercise of planning for a project has several components like defining, budgeting, financial planning, manpower/resource planning, planning of governance/oversight/reviews, documentation planning and our most familiar schedule planning; But even before all these can be taken up, I feel that a thorough and proper "need assessment" for the project is a must. As the term implies, this involves a close scrutiny of what exactly the user (or the customer or client) needs to have in order to fulfil an unmet need. Only very intense and in-depth interaction with all stakeholders can establish the "need" and will help the project planning team to adequately document the need and specify its details. All other components of planning can proceed subsequently.

Let us take a current live example here. The Mumbai Metro Line 2 was tendered and awarded on PPP basis, for connecting Charkop to Mankhurd, and was planned mostly as an overground track. Before the work started, citizens of Mumbai from places like Bandra, etc., started to oppose the overground line, and insisted on an underground facility. In the mean time, a new Chief Minister was elected in Maharashtra, who also supported the move to take it underground. As we all will know, an underground metro line costs 2.5 times more than an overground line, therefore this move basically ran the project aground! In addition to this problem, it was discovered that the project was disapproved by the Ministry of Environment and Forest due to coastal restrictions. Now, the project has to be re-configured completely and re-estimated and re-bid, while Mumbaikars keep on waiting for a solution to their urban commuting problems. Why did this happen? In the planning phase, proper consultations did not happen with all stakeholders, therefore, the need could not be correctly specified. The result is for everyone to see - a huge delay, cost increase, and multitudes of unhappy citizens (read : customers). This is exactly how project planning should not be done.

The old saying, "Well Begun is Half Done" is more than true in this context, and we can paraphrase this concept to say that a project is already half done, if the Planning is done perfectly. Project planning, with all its various components, is as important as project execution, and just to drive this point home with emphasis, I would even go to the extent of stating that project planning is more critical to the ultimate success of a project.

Let our project not swing on the tree (of uncertainty and confusion) and let there be a connect between what the user needed and what was delivered to him, and let it be delivered in time, within cost. That's project management in a nutshell.

- SUMIT BANERJEE

Caption: Tree swing fr

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