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Boost Project Planning with Your Big, Monster Piece of Paper

To enhance project planning, my company established a process called the “Big Monster Piece of Paper” or BMPP for short. The BMPP method is a structured, top-down brainstorming approach to develop a detailed project work plan.

Inputs

The BMPP inputs include all project scope documentation available, such as:

  • Contractual data (statement of work, notes, requirements, etc.);
  • The proposal (all volumes technical-, management- and cost-related);
  • The proposal schedule, negotiation notes, reports and requirements/design documentation; and
  • Other inputs, such as the technical knowledge of the project team, project manager and subject matter experts.

Tools, Ingredients and the Environment

Here are the supplies you need:

  • A large work area;
  • A massive piece of paper such as a 36-inch roll or smaller sheets taped together or a large whiteboard;
  • Sticky-notes in multiple colors and sizes, felt tip markers and tape; and
  • A large, empty wall space — ideally in a location where the project team can meet and work without distractions (such as a planning or “war” room).

The PM Role

The project manager has several functions in this process. He or she will act as a facilitator/coach to get the ball rolling. That person will keep the ball rolling by invoking discussion, looking out for scope creep, and stopping the session when all the juice is squeezed out. The PM should listen actively and refrain from judgements. PMs should also challenge the team by asking probing and leading questions.

The Advantages of BMPP

BMPP is advantageous because it pushes the team to consider the whole picture — especially possible when it’s viewing a large wall covered with sticky notes as opposed to hovering over a computer screen. This approach lets the team change the task order as well as insert or remove activities.

The group builds the work breakdown structure (WBS) together and builds out the resource requirements and identifies resource conflicts up front. Risks are identified and methods for avoiding, managing or mitigating them evolve as the project is detailed.

Even before the project has begun, the team will become a more cohesive unit through integration and communication. Once the process is finished, the PM will already have buy-in because stakeholders, team members and subject experts have actively participated in project development.

The BMPP Process

The BMPP process starts by “marking” your territory — securing the space to be used to build the project). The team identifies the deliverables, lists out recurring tasks and records high-level summary tasks. Tasks are continually built down to the lowest level, identifying relationships between tasks by drawing lines on the paper to connect tasks. Next, the team marks the milestones with a diamond shape. For detail tasks, all pertinent information is listed on the sticky note (start date, duration, amount of work, resource assignments, basis of estimate, assumptions, dependencies).

Once you complete this process, review the outcome with the project team for input and feedback, and do the same with management and other stakeholders. At this point, the BMPP process is complete and the PM is ready to use Microsoft Project for scheduling.

Schedule planning often fails when the team isn’t involved. Teamwork and buy-in is paramount to planning a successful project schedule. Don’t get too wrapped up in technology too soon. Sometimes the manual method is the best method. Whether it’s with the customer or client, leadership, project team or other stakeholders, communication is the most important function of the project manager.

Read more in the Edwards Performance Solutions whitepaper: “BMPP and Microsoft Project to Conquer Planning and Scheduling,” available with registration here: http://edwps.com/learning-center/white-papers/

Do you have your planning approaches? Share your best ideas with the MPUG community in comments below.

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3 Comments
  1. Daryl Deffler

    Nice article.
    Just an FYI comment. There is an industry standardized version of your process known as Product Based Planning. It is part of Prince2. We’ve been using at my company for about 7 years with tremendous success. Product Based Planning is a 4 step approach in which you;
    1) create a product description for the project end product (the final, all encompassing deliverable)
    2) create a Product Breakdown (WBS),
    3) define the scope of each product in the PBS (the intent is to ensure every team member has the same scope understanding of each product),
    4) you then create a Product Flow Diagram which forms the initial basis for your project schedule. At a high level, it identifies deliverable level dependencies.

    Again, just passing this along as an FYI. Here’s a link in case you’re interested.

    https://www.prince2primer.com/prince2-product-based-planning/

    Reply
  2. Related to the WBS and PBS techniques parallelism and similarities with possible connection, PRINCE2 PMM uses the specific product-based planning technique, for which it recommends to
    • write the Project Product Description (PPD) for project plan; then for all levels of a plan to:
    • create the Product Breakdown Structure (PBS), in a convenient diagram format,
    • write the Product Descriptions (PDs) for all project’s products, and
    • create the Product Flow Diagram (PFD).
    Then, the PFD is used to:
    • identify and to define the sequence in which the products inside the scope of the project plan will be developed as well as all dependencies among them,
    • identify the dependencies on all other products outside the scope of the project plan
    • make the connection to the required activities for product development,
    In order to identify/define the required activities and their dependencies, one recommended way in PRINCE2 is that of
    • taking the products from the PBS diagram (e.g. Hierarchy Chart, Mindmap, Indented List), and
    • creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to define the activities required.
    This is the single mentioning of the WBS technique and consequently of its proposed usage inside the “Managing Successful Projects With PRINCE2” Manual (2009 edition), subchapter 7.3.4.1 Activities (page 67).
    If someone thinks in terms of other PMMs, PM BoKs, or PM Standards, e.g. PMI PMBOK – a further hierarchical decomposition of the WBS should be performed for establishing the Control Accounts (CAs), Planning Packages (PPs), and ubsequent Work Packages (WPs).
    Usually, the WP might represent the last leaf containing planned work of the WBS hierarchical decomposition. For the which work accomplishment it is first necessary to identify and to define the required activities and dependencies among them, then to estimate costs, time and resources to be assigned for each activity.
    Also, a PRINCE2 practitioner project manager should make some distinctions between the WP definition from another project management document reference (e.g. PMI PMBOK) and that from PRINCE2 PMM. For example, in some PM BoKs and PM standards, the activities required for a WP development are not pertaining to the WBS. In PMI PMBOK, the WP is defined as the work defined at the lowest level of the WBS for which cost and duration can be estimated and managed.
    In PRINCE2, a WP is defined by a set of information relevant to the creation of one or more products from the PBS. If a product requires more WPs for its development, the product must be decomposed in further (sub)products with related PDs. PRINCE2 does not mention WBS decomposition levels and related techniques and links between WBS and WPs.
    Anyway, we might conclude that, together with PPD and PDs, the PFD, PBS and WBS are complementing tools in order to successfully accomplish the full product-based planning.
    Related to the product-based planning example presented in Appendix B of the PRINCE2 Manual, the PBS diagram is given under the three forms mentioned before (pages 280, 281). A note under figure D.3 mentions which products need to be transferred from the PBS to the PFD, and which of them do not require work (e.g. ‘4. Publicity’).
    In this way, following the PRINCE2 recommendations, one should extract those products from the PBS which really require work then creating the WBS to define for each mentioned product the required activities and dependencies between them (e.g. ‘4. 1 Mail-shot’ and ‘4.2 Press release’). The PBS diagram components are only products components and they can not represent activities. The project management activities and specific products which appear on the first decomposition level of a WBS are not mentioned in a PBS decomposition.

    Reply
  3. We do something similar but we use Visio and publish in O365 so people can see/review it/offer suggestions online.

    Reply

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