It can be a huge leap to go from a strategy to a detailed task list. It is tempting to jump in and run the Project Definition Workshop (PDW).
It is tempting to rush the project. Resist the urge to get the project moving. There have been thousands of failed projects throughout history that show the dangers of jumping in too quickly. Moving to planning without proper scoping can lead to stakeholder disagreement, cost uncertainty, timescale uncertainty, and task confusion.
It is better to dip your toes in the water than to jump in. Also, it is better to conduct a scoping workshop before you dive in. A strategy is more qualitative than quantified so it is important to get agreement on how it could be translated into a quantifiable project.
It doesn’t matter if your project is an IT rollout, a new business process or the installation of an electric sub-station. Before you dive into the PDW, it is important to agree to the overall picture and the scope of the project.

Big-picture mapping can be a great way of launching a project. This is a great icebreaker, but it also contains many revelations, some of which may not be what your desired to hear. It will be the first time that key stakeholders will realize the full scope of the potential results.
They might or may not agree. It’s better to act now than later. It is not a good idea to hear about disagreements halfway through a project’s execution. However, you do want to be notified of any problems early on. Big-picture mapping can help you to clarify the air and decide what can and cannot be done.
The process is simple and interactive[i]. End-goals are achieved through high-level activities and their outcomes. First, goals are agreed upon. Then, activities and outcomes are used to determine how to get there.
Sticky notes are attached to large whiteboards and linked with arrows until stakeholders have a clear understanding of the project’s scope. It is common to have a lot of mind-changing as there are many paths, activities, and outcomes that are constantly changed to satisfy objections or consensus.
If the picture is not clear, it may indicate that the project is not as clear as originally thought. It may also indicate that the strategy may not be as effective.
The resulting map will be used as input for your project definition workshop. Before you begin detailed planning, it is better to enter a PDW once the big picture scoping has been completed and agreed upon.
A PDW should not take up too much time trying to clarify goals and objectives. These should be clear and easily understood. A high-level Work Breakdown Structure is the main outcome of a PDW. This document is used to plan detailed tasks.
Figure 1 shows the entire pathway from Strategy to Detailed Plan. The step after Strategy is the most significant difference to the norm.
So, don’t rush into planning. It is important to take time to define the strategy. While there will be pressure to move quickly, a more thoughtful process will ensure a firmer stake in ground.
John Bartlett is an honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management. His extensive experience in project and programme management, as well as many papers and books, are testament to his thought leadership in PM. You can purchase his books, Right First and Every Time, and Managing Risk for Programs and Projects through the Project Manager Today bookstore.
[1] My book, Managing Programmes of Business Change, provides a detailed description.

Don’t Rush Into Planning