Perfecting Planning for Better Delivery of Services
At CLYMB Consulting, Ben Chan works with Project Managers to help them with their biggest mistake: planning. Ben explains common mistakes project managers make that lead them to need rescue, as well as a strategy that can help anyone optimize planning.
Notes from the Show
Ben Chan is the founder and Principal Consultant at CLYMB Consulting, where he assists project managers in elevating their delivery. Ben found himself often “rescuing” projects, and he wanted to step in and prevent the problems before they started.
Common mistakes often start with the foundation of a big project, communication and properly projecting cost and time estimates. This all comes back to planning. We discuss what Ben calls the ‘Balance Paradox’, an evaluation of action versus planning, and how much of what and when is necessary.
Ben suggests a planning tip and visual exercise anyone can use, Forwards and Backwards Planning. In this exercise, you first consider your project from a forward perspective. What's needed for the goal, deliverable, or destination? Plan accordingly, and let that determine the end date. Then look at the same project from a backward perspective. When is the deadline for this project? Then work back to the schedule all the way to the start date. This method helps align schedules, highlight concerns, and alert the team and client to the reality of a deadline.
Ben offers great insight on planning, even when it comes to personal goals and the “to do list” outside of work. You can find out more about CLYMB Consulting by visiting their website or connecting with Ben Chan on LinkedIn.
What are the biggest mistakes project managers make?
How can planning impact a project?
Planning tips for anyone looking to optimize time and delivery.
What is Forwards and Backwards Planning?
The relationship between action and planning.
Mentioned in this Episode:
Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:35
Hi, everybody, welcome back to stop the noise. Today I'm talking with Ben Chan, who's the principal consultant and coach at his company called climb and that is not spelled like it's C L Y M B is that right, Ben?
Ben Chan 0:53
Susan Tatum 0:35
Welcome back. It's nice to be talking to you again.
Ben Chan 0:53
Absolutely. It's really great to be on here and an honor to be on your show.
Susan Tatum 0:58
So you you work with primarily you work as a project, project leadership coach, is that, is that correct? So you help, if I understand it correctly, you help tactical project managers become more strategic in their work to where they're project leaders?
Ben Chan 1:16
Yeah, I'd be if I summarize, it's that I help either starting aspiring or seasoned project managers to successfully lead their projects through their authentic leadership, right. So bringing up strategic skills, as well as I mean their power skills that will help them elevate how they deliver beyond just project management methodology.
Susan Tatum 1:39
So what's the the obvious benefit that I see to that for the project managers that you work with is that it would increase their value to the organization and help them to move up into just just move their way up in their careers?
Ben Chan 1:54
Yeah, absolutely. Part of that is being able to move up and also being able to go and help them deliver the projects that they're on right now, a little bit better. And really, the stems from myself, I had to spend a lot of different consulting engagements rescuing projects, and it's so much harder to go invest to a project when it's starting from minus 10. And trying to give the 10 instead of starting from zero, right, and really what popped into my head was, how can I help project managers so that, you know, to an extent put myself out of a job, I don't want to be rescuing all of the projects instead, how do I enable these project managers to be able to run their projects in a way that they don't need to be rescued?
Susan Tatum 2:43
Yeah. So what what what were the mistakes that they're they were making when they have to be rescued?
Ben Chan 2:49
Oh, well, there's so many aha. Yeah, exactly. I mean, windows have constraints around around budget, scope, right? Requirements, all those type of things asked and how that reflects into quality. But what usually gets missed is around communication, and how stakeholders are being engaged and how you engage in conflict and issue resolution T. Right. So, so many times that I've seen is that, you know, vendors don't work well together, or the initial requirements are a little bit too vague. And so when a vendor comes in, the project team starts working on it, there's just mass confusion on it. And the project manager is not in charge of putting together the schedule, and the plan, but also making the team can execute. And a lot of the times what I found when I go into these rescue situations is that the project itself hasn't been set up for success. There's a lot of the foundational work of either the planning, or communication and engagement or requirements that are missing. So everyone's trying to go into scramble when you're already supposed to be 10 steps ahead.
Susan Tatum 4:01
So yeah, so let's, um, I hear what you're saying, is that let's apply that to consulting work. And you were, you've got a lot of years of experience in, in doing consulting, right,
Ben Chan 4:14
yeah, actually work as a project management consultant, but also as a management consultant, as well. And where project management has really prepared itself well, with consulting is every engagement as those same type of restrictions of people wanted something done within a certain amount of time with the people that they have, right? And engaging as a consultant, you have to be able to go and deliver on what you've put forward, right? Whether it's posle statement of work, whatever it is, is that, you know, if you say I'm going to do it for $10,000, you buy all machines, your client is expecting you to go and deliver that if you say you're going to be delivering it by a certain date, they're also going to be expecting that and so being able to work with lose critical variables and being able to deliver them along with all the intellectual work put in there, right? You have to be able to go and manage the timeline as well as the content of what you're delivering.
Susan Tatum 5:13
What do you think that consultants are not doing as well? Or what mistakes? Have you seen that we if we design a project, let's say, from the outside, where, is it? Can it go off the rails? If what are the steps that were missing that would make it better?
Ben Chan 5:31
Well, that's a great question. In terms of what could make it better? I think a lot of the times when we people are putting into RFPs proposals out there's or there's asked them by the client, you're working really quick to put together a response. And part of the final part of it is it's a lot of guesswork, because you haven't really gone through all the details of how much time with this analysis, certain meetings, and all those types of agreements will take place. Right. And to an extent, some of it is a shot dark to say this is tentatively what the timeframe is at your bidding according to your cost and schedule, and they're trying to take into account all those items. And so that's already the first step that you want to be able to be sure you're set up properly, right, that you've given us block time that your contingencies and whether it be cost or schedule, are being considered improperly, or is properly reflected over on to the client side. So many times they say, Well, your proposal said it would only cost $10,000. Now you're asking me for extra five, another extra 10. And that's when their their expectations are already going to be shot right in providing a Ozel. And setting up the right conditions of here's what we think the cost will be. But maybe here's additional ranges that are to be considered as part of our proposal for things like cost and timeframe, right. Because who knows what will happen, things can definitely change and you can you can negotiate it afterwards. But it's it's good to be upfront with it. But at the same time, it's also likely to be disadvantage, a disadvantage for your company represented. So it's always a bit of a double edged sword. And having a conversation with a potential client is always critical.
Susan Tatum 7:21
Well, it sounds like that what you were mentioning earlier is the communication is so important and setting the expectations.
Ben Chan 7:27
Absolutely. If you're not communicating, and you're hoping that it's all going to be taken on paper and interpreted correctly, that's probably tedious. Later on, you're gonna find yourself in tough discussions, sitting in the boardroom, the CEO or VP, Director, whatever it might be trying to go and negotiate your changes, or, you know, what kind of concessions
Susan Tatum 7:52
when it when you're in a competitive situation that I I can see how that would be a really tough thing you're like, you know, I, I, when is too much when there's too much emphasis being put on being competitive, and you're going to like you're shooting yourself in the foot for doing that.
Ben Chan 8:08
Absolutely. And, you know, you can go for the lowest cost, but if at the end of the day you've delivered, but it's three times as much as what you're actually edifying. Yeah, people will also remember,
Susan Tatum 8:20
well, I think that's another great reason for trying to stay away from being the lowest costs and looking at the value, talking about the value as opposed to not leaving it where the client is just going to pick you on cost.
Ben Chan 8:33
Susan Tatum 8:37
What do you so for? What do you do for planning in your own business? What What role does it play
Ben Chan 8:41
planning for my own business, I look at what my end objectives are, right? And looking at from an annual perspective and backing it out to the different quarters, right. So we all know, companies always go through that, right? You don't month and quarter and all these type of things. They feel like arbitrary deadlines, to an extent and they kind of are. But what it does help you do is understand if you need to go and adjust your, your trajectory and your path, and also gives you an idea of how am I doing? Right? And that's kind of at a good gauge to do it. I mean, you could do it on a daily basis and maybe too frequent, but you can at least kind of see where the trends things are going. But where that where that helps drive me in terms of looking at my goals is even from a daily perspective, I like to go and map out what are the things that I want to accomplish for today that contribute into either one, my client deliverables to the personal goals that I'm working on with my with my business, right? And I'll say the other ones are actually just overall life goals, right? So even if I say I want to put an exercise or time with my kids, I will put that in as well as a checkbox that I'm trying to reach those goals within my my life because my Days doesn't end from nine to five, there's still hours outside of that, where I am doing things. And I have other goals that I want to reach.
Susan Tatum 10:08
And I think probably all of us, I know I can everybody listening, if it doesn't go on my calendar, it's not going to happen. And all of the all of those things have to go on there or should certainly should go on there. And I know a lot of people that will put the personal stuff on there first, and then put everything else around it, which is not not such a bad way to go. When you and I were talking in one conversation that we've had in the past, and we've had a few of them, you define you had a definition of projects, it was a really simple thing. But it was, it was something about the project is anything with a unique outcome,
Ben Chan 10:47
right and the beginning. And if I look at what project management, project management is the art and sights of getting stuff done.
Susan Tatum 10:56
So what if we go with something that's unique, and it has a beginning and an end, then there's a whole lot of things that we're doing in our businesses and our lives that could benefit from having a plan?
Ben Chan 11:09
Absolutely. And that's where if you take a lead of the hands you want to put together to be able to get things done. You know, it can vary in terms of how difficult and complex the tasks are. But you can see that in almost everything you do every day, right? Whether it be the business process, or trying to meet for your organization, the improvements you're trying to make on it, add new software try to implement or even what are you going to make for breakfast the next day, right? All of these things are different projects. And I think this is where there might be a misconception of all man, it's there's so much work involved, but you can really pick and choose and see how you want to scale and administered the things of what you want to get done within a day or a month within the year. Right? It's very flexible, and being able to have that experience as to when and how you want to be able to do it will really make your life easier, right? Think of it as almost just, if you were making a new breakfast for the first time, you know, it's good to have a recipe to follow, and it shows you how to cook things. But if you don't have that, you might actually spend twice as long trying to cook the same thing because you'd have to do it multiple times.
Susan Tatum 12:22
Right? And then you end up having to just go get carry out because you ruined it and used your ingredients all up.
Ben Chan 12:27
Susan Tatum 12:28
So what is this? You were talking about the that the balances paradox?
Ben Chan 12:33
Yeah. And the thing is entrepreneurs, as consultants, sometimes there's always a propensity to go and move directly into action. Right? Yeah. And I feel like there's always this balance that needs to be struck between both extremes. And the one that always comes to mind for me is how much action should you have before planning, and how much planning should you have to do before action, right, you can spend all your time doing action, because otherwise, you could be completing directions, you can be doing a whole bunch of things, but they don't align to the goal, or are wasted effort, or contribute no real value. And on the other side is doing all the planning, but not doing any action, where you're just doing everything on paper, you're plotting everything out down to the minutes, but no one is doing any work. And so no value is being created, even though you know, on paper, it's the right thing to do. So yeah. This is where it's been interesting from a project management perspective is and as a project manager is how much information and how much planning do I need to be able to enable my team or myself to be able to go and take the right activities, right? And being able to say, you know, how much risk are we allowed to take, like, what if your planning is slightly off, and might be heading down the wrong direction, right, you want to be able to course correct as quickly as possible. There is methodologies around agile waterfall that you can use to be able to adjust around that. But a lot of it is you know, you don't want to be as a consultant scrambling around just having meetings with people and making documents and stuff. And at the end, you know, half of the conversations stumble, the documentation of the vitamin easy put together, they might not even matter to be a goal. So being able to plan out where it is you want to go with a week that your actions are contributing, you want to be able to have that right balance between two.
Susan Tatum 14:27
So you mentioned waterfall and agile and I think that's a that's a good sort of analogy for the way that we can do planning and, and our own businesses. But just for the listeners that are not familiar with that term. Waterfall was the old way of doing software development, that where you plan everything out to the very end, and it would take 18 months or two years to get a piece of software pulled together. Is that right?
Ben Chan 14:54
Um, I wouldn't necessarily look at it in terms of time, but really the way that I used, or tried to understand which methodology to use waterfall usually has a very definitive outcome of what you're trying to go and build. So if you know you're building a bridge, or a house, or even certain types of software, it can work better as the waterfall project, right? Where you have a very definitive outcome, then that's where you're planning everything from beginning to end. Right? The other one is agile, where you're doing more iterative development, or construction, because your end outcome isn't quite know, you're trying to go and engage in feedback, or information from clients, whatever it might be, so that you can continually adjust your path as you go. Yeah, where it tends to go and use that. Because when you're starting to go and get your outcomes a little bit faster, you can go and test them and say, hey, does this work with what we're trying to go and achieve or not? Because our end goal might be a little bit of a shifting goalpost. Whereas for a house, when you're building it, you'd know what you want, you've built the blueprints and things like that, and you're not going to go, you know what, it'd be really nice if we added an extra, you know, 200 square feet by expansion of foundation, even though the cement has already been poured, right? That's not going to work.
Susan Tatum 16:16
Yeah, there are some unchangeable out there. But you know, but my experience with not building House Remodeling is if there's still decisions that have to be made, like he thought that the outlet was going to go here. But that's really not the place that you need it. You needed to have it over here someplace else, and they were in so there's always a little tweaks that are
Ben Chan 16:34
Yeah. And that's where it kind of hybrid cups, where it's a combination of both right? Where Yeah, there is still flexibility. But you might say, hey, we need to make the decisions of where the plugs are gonna go by this time, because we are we're we can change the plans after he was appointed, and it gets locked. And you just kind of keep moving. All right, yeah, there's different elements of both that can also be incorporated into different projects.
Susan Tatum 16:58
So how do you decide I mean, I know that some people don't like, like, you were saying, some people really take to planning and they'll plan, plan, plan, plan, plan, and then not no action gets taken. And then other people, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs tend to fall into this category is it's like, let's, we're just going to do something and see what happens. And there's a happy medium, but you there, you talk about planning without action and actions without planning, but there's weeks at which it doesn't make any sense to sit down and plan, you just do it.
Ben Chan 17:32
Right. And sorry, go ahead.
Susan Tatum 17:34
I was just gonna say how do you how do you decide when Okay, Susan, sit down and make a plan?
Ben Chan 17:42
Again, I think it really depends on complexity. And by how much do you already know about it? Right? How much known information, the more complex something is, the more likely you're going to do want it and you're not really going to know what what is the next best action to go and take. And that's where helping break it down a little bit further. And understanding Okay, here are all the tasks I think are areas that contribute into my end goal. And you break it down until you get to the smallest task that says, Okay, this is what I can do right now, to be able to move towards that goal. Right? Yeah, everyone's like, I need to go a big breakfast. Right? Yeah, I really have to think about it. But you know, what needs to go take it, you know, when you need it for sustenance, to be able to go on and on. And so you can easily take that action, because you know, it aligns with the goals very easily, right. So for example, if be able to go and do marketing, and outreach and sales and whatnot, some of the easiest things, maybe I like to go on LinkedIn profiles, or check the network search for people, right? Those don't necessarily need a ton of planning to be able to go and do. But when you give more thought around it, there is probably some subsets that you can take a look at, say, Well, you know, I could just search for anyone on LinkedIn. But is that what I want to go and do? Yeah, do I need to go break it down and find out what demographic, what region, all of these types of variables that come into it, and even then that starts to chip away and break down a little bit further of what goes into your plan to move forward?
Susan Tatum 19:19
So when does a plan become a process? Because I'm when you're talking about that I was just thinking of, I know that clients that I work with, when they're not when they're when they're new to LinkedIn, and I'm gonna use I'm gonna continue with that example. It's very, it feels very complex. It's like, Oh, my God, I don't know where to start. There's too many things. I can't do this. And it winds up in paralysis. But if you have a process where every day, I'm going to spend 30 minutes, I'm going to do this, this, this and this, then that's kind of the same as a plan that you use over and over again, isn't it?
Ben Chan 19:53
It is resistance. And this is where it's, it depends a little bit on your point of perspective. If that makes any sense. So for you, it's already a process. And the outcomes are generally will say consistent, right? Yeah, in terms of the outcome. For me, if I've never done this before, and I've never implemented it into my organization or for my company, myself, then it's a project because I'm going to be getting unique outcomes that I haven't created before. So I'm implementing a process, the act of implementing the process, or myself is my project. Once it becomes implemented, and it becomes operational. Right, the videos become consistent and you're not getting, we'll say, quote, unquote, unique outcomes, then that's when it's an operation more of an operation process than it is a project.
Susan Tatum 20:41
Okay, that makes that's fair enough. That makes sense. That makes sense. Um, let's talk about forward planning and backward planning. That was something that, that I thought was interesting that you brought up, that can help us all in planning in our businesses and with our clients.
Ben Chan 20:58
Yeah, a lot of the times in my consulting engagements, I like to do this exercise. So that's what I like to call forwards and backwards planning, right, forwards from the perspective of taking a look at well, what do I need to do to get to the goal that deliver the destination, whatever it might be, right? So you go into the process of thinking, how long does it take at whatever the outcome is, is whatever it is, it's fine, right? It's whatever you put into your planning. And so you already have, whether it's consulting your team or whatnot, have say, you know, what, we need to do requirements gathering. And that takes, I don't know, two weeks, I think it will take two weeks, and you say, then I need to do analysis on the requirements afterwards for another week, right? And you just keep going on forwards from that perspective, and save, that will create one set of your schedule, and say, All right, here's on a foreign space perspective, if I had all the people that I need, and all the information that I have, here's our locking color, date to do it. So let's say for example, it's it ends up being four months, right? It worked forwards all the way to the end. Now, the interesting thing is, a lot of the consulting engagements are not necessarily letting you choose the end date, they have a I want it done. I know you might attack the notes for months, I didn't want this done in three months. Okay, so now you work backwards to say, well, if I started from three months from now, and work backwards from there on the same activities, but now saying instead, when do I need to have it done by in order to and this is like, where you're crunching it. And we're using everything you can out of it, right? You've taken the orange juice, you taking the orange, you're squeezing it out, now you got to really rank the peel and everything to get as much out of it. This is the process you're going through is then going through it from the mindset of when do I have to have this done by in order to meet the schedule? Yeah. So if you were back over three months, you might say, well, I need to go and have this document approved in one week before the end date, because that requires the review and delivery, all these type of things. And then you keep going back until you hit your your start date, right? Now, what happens is that you actually find a difference between you're moving forward, and you're working backwards perspectives, what you'll then see is also what are the different timeframes? And how do they line, right, because if you look at all the little paths and how they kind of move out going forwards, they might be in a little bit of a different arrangement, where some of them might be moved a lot further, some might be moved back, some of them are a lot shorter. And other ones. And that's where when you do the comparison of both, you can then go to the analysis of understanding Well, where do I need to go and shore up resources? Where do I need to put more pressure? What are the things that I may need to then think about? I need to put in parallel? What creative thinking and problem solving can I do so that we can best meet the the work backwards state, right? Because I have a client wants them perspective. So when you start to go through that process, you then say, you know, something that the requirements may be again, you said, Okay, I'll take me, it'll take me three weeks to do. But now I got to crunch it down to two weeks, will that work? Or is the minimum amount of time I could possibly do it? Maybe two and a half weeks, and we need to trim off? We need to somehow make up the time somewhere else. Right? So all of those different comparisons you can make aren't going forwards versus going backwards, will hopefully drive you and your team to make better decisions so that you're not stuck in the room afterwards going, Yeah, we're gonna be late and it's three days before the deadline and you're trying to explain it right versus having a conversation in front of you know, I know we said it was three months but maybe we do need to short timeframe are we going to build a buffer so that it works for four months? Because we haven't found a way to do it? Or maybe it's we just need to eat across months instead? Because we're able to go and optimizer schedule in many different ways, right, depending on how.
Susan Tatum 25:15
So I can see how even if you if the client gave you a deadline, from the get go, it would still be valuable to do that. Is that the forward one where you start with today, and you're and you're not looking at the deadline? You're just saying, if this was going to take this long, that's gonna take this long?
Ben Chan 25:32
Well, this is why it's helpful to do both.
Susan Tatum 25:34
Ben Chan 25:35
as if you're doing it forwards. You're, you're basically just trying to say why my way is, right. Right? And why why you're not able to meet the deadline, instead of a more useful conversation of, here's what we can try and do to be able to make the schedule here are the areas of concern that we need to go with, and work through and justify why is a stronger justification as to why you may shift and schedule in the ways that you need to,
Susan Tatum 26:02
yeah, I wasn't meaning. Use it as justification. I, it seems to me like, if you do that forward planning, even though you know, you've got a deadline, but you do it without paying attention to the deadline, first, it would it may bring to light some it'll show you where the problems were you, it'll show you where it maybe you can cut some time out. But then it will also show you when you do the backwards one and compare them if you took if you took time out in the wrong places, I am not saying this well but in my head, I have this great idea.
Ben Chan 26:39
Yeah. And interestingly enough, it's more more visual exercise and you pay, like if you put things into a Gantt chart, and this is more, assuming that it's a little bit that's a waterfall perspective, right, is that once you see it visually, and understand, you know, this block of time is what is required to be short to this amount of time, you can tackle some of these problems and issues, as well as highlight risks inside of your your schedule of engagements a lot more easily. It's, it's Yeah, to kind of talk through it. But once you kind of see it on paper, and you're seeing how different or even how much the same they are. It really that helps you understand your confidence level and being able to deliver to the expectations that have been set out for you.
Susan Tatum 27:26
That makes sense. I would do that even I think of course for is fairly simple project that I was doing that might not involve anybody but me to think about, okay, this is what this is the amount of time I think it's going to take, but could I make it happen faster? And could I eliminate some things that don't really need to be done to kind of tighten it up?
Ben Chan 27:45
Right? Absolutely it's it's a process to go and figure out if there's optimization areas that are needed, rather than and learning about the problems hitting head on and then going crap, what do I do now? Like?
Susan Tatum 27:57
Well, I have lots of things that I could still ask you, but we have used up all of our time here. So for when people that want to follow up with you, how can they do that, Ben
Ben Chan 28:07
they can go on to my website at WWW dot climb CLYB consulting.ca. Or what I love doing is connecting with people on LinkedIn, you can find me and hook me up Benjamin Chan, I love being able to go and share my content with people as well as having conversations with them. And also just understanding with the needs and feedback needs of the community from a budget execution perspective.
Susan Tatum 28:36
Fantastic. Thank you. Thank you very much, Ben, thanks for all the information that you've shared with us and we'll put all that we'll put those links in the show notes for anybody that that didn't jot that down or couldn't jot that down. So thanks for being here.
Ben Chan 28:49
Thank you so much for having me, Susan.