VIE WPOIN TS
INSIDE LATIN AMERICA
GOING IN PREPARED
Devoting sufficient time to planning could save your project from future mishaps.
BY ROBERTO TOLEDO, MBA, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Project management is all about planning. It’s as imple as that. Without a well-thought, prop- erly developed plan, no project will ever succeed in meeting the desired scope, time and cost
objectives. This is one of the most powerful concepts that
today’s project management best practices can teach us.
Understanding the importance of planning is something anybody can learn, either through formal training or real-life project experience. Dealing with unique
events that have high degrees of uncertainty—as projects
inevitably do—without a proper plan is an instructional
(and potentially harsh) way of appreciating the value of
Many people believe that planning is related to a person’s culture and background. Studies and research have
been conducted over the years about cultural differences
in management and work, chiefly by Geert Hofstede
and by Robert J. House, PhD, et al, in the GLOBE
study. Their works are recognized as the most respectable sources of information on this subject. Nevertheless, specific studies on project planning and culture are
scarce. Papers from Amy Chin Mei Yen (2007) and Ofer
Zwikael, PhD, PMP, (2007) are among the very few that
have explored the topic.
It’s a common belief that planning culture is related to
the geographical climate where it developed. Cultures that
developed in regions of the world with tough climates, particularly harsh winters such as Europe and North America,
tend to put more importance in thinking about the future
and, therefore, planning. Cultures that developed in more
benign climates, with all-year access to food and supplies,
such as Latin America and South Asia, tend to focus on the
enjoyment of the present and a shorter-term vision.
The truth is that climate is just one among many
environmental factors, including history, religion, level
of education and development, that shape the way different cultures plan. In the end, all cultures plan—they
just focus on different aspects of the planning process,
putting more importance on one or another component
of the project plan.
I have been teaching project management for more
than 15 years in Latin America, and I’ve come up with
certain key ideas concerning planning that will work for
you, no matter how planning-oriented your culture is:
n A planning environment needs to be set first.
Project managers and their teams have the responsibil-
ity for planning, but senior management also needs to
understand the vital importance of a plan. They must
set up the appropriate framework that will allow project
managers to develop a good plan.
n Project planning is always a team effort. I never
get tired of explaining to project managers that they are
ultimately responsible when it comes to project plan
development. But they should never work on it alone
and risk not having everyone know all the details of the
project ahead. The entire team needs to be sufficiently
committed to the objectives established.
n Fight for enough planning time if necessary. I am
regularly asked, “How much time do we need to devote
to planning?” And just saying, “Enough” doesn’t work. I
have come up with a general rule: Devote 10 percent of
the project duration to planning.
n Planning will always be cheaper than correcting
mistakes. When resources are scarce, our room for error
becomes narrower. Therefore, planning becomes one of
the most valuable methods to reduce the cost of a project.
n Developing a simple Gantt chart does not equal
planning. A project plan is an integrated collection of
documents that includes, at the very least, a scope plan,
time plan and cost plan. These, among other important
elements, together help to assure success in every aspect
of the project.
All too often, project managers are overconfident
that their previous experience is an excuse to not properly plan a project. Always stress the importance and
value of planning, strategizing your moves and using
the plan as a way to communicate and align all the
project team members. This is especially key if you are
working with a multicultural team, where people will
have different ideas about what a plan should be and
how important it is to have a detailed road map of the
work ahead. PM
Roberto Toledo, MBA, PMP, is managing director of Alpha Consultoría, and a
trainer and consultant who works across
Latin America. He can be reached at