Among the special features of North Wales are the narrow gauge railways that have been restored to carry tourists, although they were originally built to carry slate. In 1990 the Ffestiniog Railway began the most ambitious restoration, rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway to run between Caernarfon and its terminus in Portmadog – a distance of 25 miles through beautiful but difficult terrain. Could the Ffestiniog marshal its skills and experience to plan and deliver the railway in the face of uncertain funding and considerable opposition?
The planning process forces us to think hard about what we are doing. The plan shows how we will reach our goal, accurately defines the time, cost and resources required, enables us to allocate and organise resources and gives us a way to measure progress. But importantly the plan convinces stakeholders we are competent for the job and creates a common understanding of what we are doing.
The project plan also has to be crystal clear about four things: the organisation’s goal, the objective of the project, the output specification andthe scope of the work. The term ‘project scope’ is generally used to embrace both the specification of the output and the scope of work.
The business case is one of three sets of documents (the others being the project plan and the contracts) which define the project at any point. All three need to be kept in harmony as the project proceeds.
The business plan basically justifies why this particular project is the best use of an organisation’s money and resources at a particular time. It should generally cover the underlying reasons for the project, stakeholder interests, options analysis (considering the best way forward and including what the consequences would be of doing nothing), benefits expected, project outline, key challenges and risks, costs and time scale, and investment appraisal. Then the whole case is evaluated and a recommendation put forward. If the business case cannot be made, the project must not be allowed to start. If the business case changes, the project plan and contracts must be reviewed and modified. If the business case ceases to exist, the project must be stopped.
The project plan actually has two parts. The project activity plan describes what work will actually be done, how it will be phased, resourced and organised. The project management plan describes how the work will be administered, covering things like monitoring and reporting, risk management, quality audits and so forth.
The basic planning sequence is to define the specification and scope, identify the required tasks, work out the time and resources needed to do those tasks, and then calculate the cost – and then iterate until an acceptable balance can be struck and the business case is robust. Milestones can be identified to mark progress points between the start of the project and the end, and then the tasks can be identified that are necessary to get from milestone to milestone. The tasks should be arranged in a work breakdown structure. This is a hierarchical structure which arranges tasks into logical families. An organisation breakdown chart can be produced which shows all the people directly involved with the project, the organisation they work for and their role or position. Combining the work breakdown structure and the organisation breakdown structure we then then produce a responsibility chart which show who is responsible for various aspects of each task.
A milestone network can be drawn showing for each milestone, which milestones have to be achieved before it can be achieved, and which later milestones depend on it to be finished. The tasks to get from milestone to milestone can be inserted onto the milestone network from the work breakdown structure, creating a task network. The task network can then be subjected to critical path analysis to work out when the stage is predicted to finish and what the critical path is – which is the longest time path through the network and thus the sequence of tasks which needs particularly close attention.
This analysis assumes infinite resources so a further resourcing exercise has to be done to work out how everyone will be deployed across the tasks, and the network is reshaped a bit so that no-one has to be working full-time on more than one task at any time.
The process produces a time-based analysis of the project, to which cost data can be added. The whole package – specification, scope, time and cost – can be evaluated to judge whether it is acceptable or if a further iteration is required.
Johnson, P. (2018). Rebuilding the Welsh Highland Railway. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Books. Morris, P. (1997). The management of projects. London: Thomas Telford.
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