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Planning to Improve Leadership

Planning in a company often takes the form of regular meetings between the different teams. Each team has a certain number of projects and objectives that they must organize and establish priorities for.

Ideally, these planning meetings should be short but regular and systematic. They can be weekly or monthly depending on the type of activity. A planning meeting often runs in three phases:

  1. Minutes of the preceding period, and analysis of the work done compared to the planned work.

  2. Introduction of new projects.

  3. Planning the next period.

The planning function covers several objectives which will be described in this section:

  • planning live projects against the commitments that have been made to clients,

  • determining staffing (HR) requirements in the coming month,

  • setting work for each employee or team for the periods to come,

  • analyzing the work done in the preceding periods,

  • passing the high-level objectives to lower levels in the company's hierarchy.


The Social Role of Planning

Some project managers think that they can manage planning on their own. They are commonly overworked and think that meetings are a waste of time.

Even if staff really can manage their work for themselves, you should recognize that this regular meeting is also aimed at reassurance. Without it you can get into unduly stressful situations from:

  • feelings of overwork because they have lost sight of their priorities,

  • lack of feedback and tracking of the work actually completed,

  • an impression of poor organization if that has not been made explicit.

So the social role of planning should not be neglected. We have often experienced a background of stress in a company stemming from a lack of communication and planning.

Planning by Time or by Tasks?

There are two major approaches to enterprise planning: planning by task and planning by time. You can manage both with OpenERP.

In planning by task, the project manager assigns tasks from the different projects to each employee over a given period. Employees then carry out precisely the work they have been assigned by the project manager.

Planning by time consists of allocating, for each employee, some time on each of the different projects for the period concerned. The tasks for each project are ordered by priority and can be directly assigned to a user or left unassigned. Each employee then chooses the task that he or she will do next, based on the plans and the relative priorities of the tasks.


Monthly planning for work time of each employee

The figure Monthly planning for work time of each employee shows a monthly planning session where plans are being made for each employee to spend a number of days' work on various different projects.

In this time-focused planning approach, clients' priorities do not feature in the planning any more, but are explicit in the task list instead. So this approach helps you separate the planning of human resources on projects from the task prioritization within a project.


Comparing the Two Planning Methods

To illustrate the difference between planning by time and planning by task, take the case of an IT project that is estimated to be around six months of work. This project is managed by iterative cycles of development of around a month, and a presentation is made to the client at the end of each cycle to track the progress of the project. At this meeting, you plan what must be carried out for the following month. At the end of the month, the account manager for the project invoices the client for the work done on the project.

Suppose that the project encounters a delay because it is more complex than expected. There are two ways of resolving the delay if you have no further resources: you can be

  • late in your delivery of the planned functions, or

  • on time, but with fewer functions than planned.

If your planning is based on phases and tasks you will report at the client meeting that it will take several weeks to complete everything that was planned for the current phase. Conversely, if you are planning by time you will keep the meeting with the client to close the present development phase and plan the new one, but only be able to present part of the planned functionality.

If the client is sensitive to delay, the first approach will cause acute unhappiness. You will have to re-plan the project and all of its future phases to take account of that delay. Some problems are also likely to occur later with invoicing, because it will be difficult for you to invoice any work that has been completed late but has not yet been shown to the client.


Comparing the Two Planning Methods

The second approach will require you to report on the functions that have not been completed, and on how they would fit into a future planning phase. That will not involve a break in the working time allocated to the project, however. You would then generate two different lists: a staffing plan for the different projects, and the list of tasks prioritized for the client's project. This approach offers a number of advantages over the first one:

  • The client will have the choice of delaying the end of the project by planning an extra phase, or letting go of some minor functions to be able to deliver a final system more rapidly,

  • The client may re-plan the functions taking the new delay into account.

  • You will be able to make the client gradually aware of the fact that project progress has come under pressure and that work is perhaps more complex than had been estimated at the outset.

  • A delay in the delivery of several of the functions will not necessarily affect either monthly invoicing or project planning.

Being able to separate human resource planning from task prioritization simplifies your management of complex issues, such as adjusting for employee holidays or handling the constantly changing priorities within projects.

Plan your Time

Install the module project_planning to get additional functions that help with both planning and reporting on projects. Start a plan by using the menu Project ‣ Long Term Planning ‣ Plannings.

On each planning line you should enter the user, the analytic account concerned, and the quantity of time allocated. The quantity will be expressed in hours or in days depending on the unit of measure used. For each line you can add a brief note about the work to be done.

Once the plan has been saved, use the other tabs of the planning form to check that the amount of time allocated to the employees or to the projects is right. The time allocated should match the employees' employment contracts, for example 37.5 hours per week. The forecast time for the project should also match the commitments that you have made with client.

You should ideally complete all the planning for the current period. You can also complete some lines in the planning of future months – reserving resources on different project in response to your client commitments, for example. This enables you to manage your available human resources for the months ahead.

Plans can be printed and/or sent to employees by email. Each employee can be given access to a dashboard that graphically shows the time allocated to him or her on a project and the time that has been worked so far. So each employee can decide which projects should be prioritized.

The employee then selects a task in the highest priority project. She ideally chooses either a task that has been directly assigned to her, or one which is high on the priority list that she is capable of completing, but is not yet directly assigned to anybody.

At the end of the period you can compare the duration of effective work on the different projects to that of the initial estimate. Print the plan to obtain a comparison of the planned working time and the real time worked.


Comparison of planned hours, worked hours and the productivity of employees by project

You can also study several of your project's figures from the menus in Project ‣ Reporting.

Planning at all Levels of the Hierarchy

To put planning in place across the whole company you can use a system of planning delegation.

The planning entry form can reflect the hierarchical structure of the company. To enter data into a plan line you can:

  • assign time on a project to an employee,

  • assign time on a project to a department manager for his whole team.

You can now allocate the working time on projects for the whole of a department, without having to detail each employee's tasks. Then when a department manager creates his own plan, he will find what is required of his group by his management at the bottom of the form. At the top of the form there is a place for assigning project work in detail to each member of department.

If you do not have to plan time to work on a final draft you can do it on an analytic account that relies on child accounts. This means that you can create plans to meet top-level objectives of the senior management team and then cascade them down through the different departments to establish a time budget for each employee. Each manager then uses his own plans for managing his level in the hierarchy.