When Planning Has to Be Quick

Optimizing project planning with time-saving strategies

Even when we have the time, using time-saving tricks can help us focus on tasks that have no real shortcuts or just need more attention. Planning can be repetitive from project to project, especially when working with the same teams on domain areas because the themes of the type of work, the people, and the resources available will be the same, and over time, knowing how well the people work together can help with estimations. When moving fast, removing repetitive work is the highest-value place to focus our energy. Here are the areas with highly repeatable effort that we can reduce the time spent on:

  • Repeatable high-level estimates

  • Management checklists

  • Project plan templates

  • Buffering

Let’s explore each of these.

Repeatable high-level estimates

In many environments, there are repeatable tasks that continually come up across projects. These often relate to configurations and data modeling. Keep a list of these tasks, their descriptions, and the typical effort estimate. It's good practice to use a range for the estimate to give some room for quick tweaking. If you feel a specific instance of a task is more complicated, just use the upper range; if it is standard or simpler, use the lower range.

When building out a project plan, consult this list to easily knock out the repeatable items and move on to where the attention is needed. As a bonus, this list is also a good place to pull from for software improvements, because repeatable work is the best to automate—it tends to have a high and guaranteed return on investment (ROI).

Management checklists

Just as some tasks are repeatable, there is a lot when it comes to managing a project that is repeated from project to project. Generically speaking, each key management area and process in the project management life cycle has repeated actions: reviewing requirements, building use cases and task lists, analyzing risks, and building a stakeholder communication plan. The list can be very long because there is a lot to project management, and it's fungible to a specific scenario. Certain tasks may be reduced to a static list—our stakeholders, for instance, might be the same in a small company or team and may not change from project to project.

As you work on projects, look at the items that are repeating the most and start creating a list of these items along with standard operating procedures for them. When you're are in a hurry on the next project, run down the checklist.

Project plan templates

Many of the portfolio management tools out there offer the ability to create and deploy templates for various aspects of project management. These templates are great for when a particular aspect of the project is standardized for the company or team. They can also take parts of the management checklist and delegate them to others because the template with needed or pre-populated information is already there.

For a project plan, tasks such as requirements gathering and verification, creating functional specifications, and launch plans are present for every project. In software development, tasks such as code deployment, integration testing, and end-to-end testing are also always present. These may be added at the end, or possibly per feature or milestone depending on how the software landscape operates.


Part of the project plan is adding in task estimates. Aside from the repeatable work we mentioned previously, estimates typically come from subject matter experts, usually developers. As a TPM, we may also be in the position to estimate these items ourselves. This depends on the company and team's needs as well as our own abilities.

In either case, we'll have a set of estimates for each task; however, these are not often added directly into a plan. One of the responsibilities of a PM is to analyze an estimate and project plan and apply buffers. Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, and it is our job to account for that.

A matrix can be useful when determining the right level of buffer. This might take some trial and error to come up with as each person estimates differently, and each company has its own overhead that feeds into standard buffers. The table below is an example of what this might look like.

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