Book review: Project Planning and Project Success, The 25% Solution

9781482205527Last week CRC Press sent me one of their latest PM books, Project Planning and Project Success, The 25% Solution from Pedro Serrador. This book belongs to their Best practices and advances in program management series.

Pedro Serrador: “Planning ahead is clearly and demonstrably important for project success. And being flexible (or agile) during execution will also lift the success of your project.”

He reviewed more than 270 sources and did new research by analysing data from more than 1300 global projects to affirm the positive impact of project planning on project success and used this for his PhD thesis.

The book is divided in 22 chapters, checklists (artifacts to be produced during the planning phase and a planning phase questionnaire) and appendices giving details of the original research, the statistical analysis, details of the survey and the final model sensitivity analysis. It ends with the overview of all sources.

In the first chapter you get some insights in spectacular project failures, e.g. The Mars climate orbit. Having a good or even competent planning phase with the associated project analysis could have made all the difference. A next chapter goes in the history of planning, starting with the work of Gantt (1910) and gives some definitions:

  • Planning phase: The activities that come before execution phase in a project.
  • Planning effort: The amount of effort in money or work hours expended in planning.
  • Quality of planning: The quality or completeness of components of the planning phase overall.

A following chapter investigates reasons not to plan. Think about planning fallacy where people consistently underestimate the time required completing their own tasks while often overestimating the time required for others to complete their tasks. Senior managers who pressure project managers to ‘get started with work’ or ‘make progress’.

if you fail to plan you are planning to fail (B. Franklin)The next chapters define success and planning variation by industry. Many agrees that the Sydney Opera House, being the symbol of Sydney is a success but that project was delivered 10 years late and ran over budget by more than 14 times. The author defines project success as meeting wider business and enterprise goals and project efficiency as meeting cost, time and scope goals. For me this efficiency is the success from a project manager’s perspective and I always use here the abbreviation OTOBOS (On Time, On Budget, On Scope).

A following chapter goes into two areas where development projects often get into trouble: Estimating and tracking. The author gives some tips to avoid problems:

Estimate right the first time:

  • Detailed design
  • Design review meetings
  • Bottom-up is good
  • Top-down is bad
  • Previous experience
  • Formal analysis

Tracking changes:

  • Have some contingency
  • Don’t rush it
  • See a problem, take action
  • Track weekly
  • Stop the drift

In a next chapter the author shows that planning is clearly an important factor in project success and has a clear predictive relationship with success. But how much effort must we put in planning? Too much planning can be negative to project success or that a planning phase that lasts too long (analysis paralysis?) can be an indicator of a problem project. If a project spends too much effort in the planning phase, too much of the overall budget will be spent and the project will start later that it would otherwise. The project would end up being less successful overall. Conversely, a project that spends too little up-front planning will also be less successful.

So the author shows that there must be an optimum planning phase time. And that brings us back to the sub-title. The author shows that the optimum plan effort to maximize success is approximately 25% of total effort. Projects are planning substantially less than this on average.

Now agile methods have become more and more common what does that mean for planning? The author explains five levels of planning for agile projects: product visioning (level 1), product road map (level 2), release planning (level 3), iteration planning (level 4) and daily plan (level 5). And be aware that evolution of systems is not always the best strategy. Good up-front planning and analysis can also be critical. Planning is required in iterative or agile methodologies, both up-front planning and during execution. Using agile in the right way will definitely help to be more successful. However recent studies from The Standish Group shows (not taken into account in this book), that for the bigger projects this is not always the case and in those cases more traditional methods could even be more successful.

The last chapters go into the relation between planning and manager success but the author can’t find a clear relationship. Even if you use the seven habits of Covey where the second habit ‘Begin with the end in mind’ and the third ‘Put first things first’ are definitely related to planning and ‘Think win/win, seek first to understand and then to understood, and synergize are related to analysis. The author ends with his own conclusion “Projects, like many things in life, require careful up-front planning. But good planning isn’t the end of the story. Flexibility during execution is also important”.


A thorough study of available articles and books about planning and combining this with the analysis of data of more than 1300 global projects to underpin the author’s hypotheses. To read/follow the analysis, an understanding of statistical methods is a pre.

To order the book: Project Planning and Project Success, The 25% Solution

One response to “Book review: Project Planning and Project Success, The 25% Solution

  1. Pingback: Book reviews in 2015 | Henny Portman's Blog

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