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Building a Sales Enablement Project Plan

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A project management plan is much like a map—it provides all stakeholders with a defined path to follow to reach the destination. Whereas the first phase of project management focuses on identifying and verifying what needs to be done, this phase focuses on charting out just how that will happen.

Similar to how the sales enablement charter serves as your source of truth for how the sales enablement function operates, a project plan serves as that source of truth for how to execute on specific sales enablement projects. Beyond providing an actionable outline of what needs to be accomplished, a project plan also provides a formal process by which to align with stakeholders on methods, outcomes, budget, and resources.

From setting priorities and scheduling work for the team to creating plans for communicating with stakeholders and managing the budget, building a rock-solid plan is critical to a project’s success. Learn how to tackle each of these four sections to build an effective project plan.

Setting Priorities

Defining priorities upfront will ensure everyone involved in the project is on the same page and help reduce friction that could stem from competing objectives.

“If you haven’t defined [priorities] well, you could just be shooting at anything,” said Jennifer Lopopolo, director of global sales enablement at Poly. “It’s not as clear what those deliverables should be, or what they should look like. So, [establishing priorities] is really critical.”

The first step here is to assemble the project team and delegate roles and responsibilities. This should flow from the work breakdown structure (WBS) you created in the first phase. (For more information on the WBS, read our article on the first phase of project management here.)

For large-scale projects, the team will often consist of people across departments that might not regularly work together in their day-to-day. Therefore, it’s especially important for sales enablement to help them learn to work together by creating a positive team environment. Consider setting ground rules to define team values and describe work patterns. In order for the group to develop a team identity, ensure everyone agrees on and is committed to the shared goals for the project.

Next, create the schedule with inputs from your team members, who will best know what deliverables need to be completed by when to meet the overall project deadline. When creating the schedule, consider using an organizational tool such as:

  • Critical Path Method (CPM): Identify the longest stretch of activities that are dependent on one another and calculate the time needed to complete the tasks in the path from start to finish.
  • Performance Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT): A variation of the CPM, this method uses a formula to account for any bias in estimations of how long a task will take. With a PERT, estimate the shortest amount of time a task will take, the time it will likely take, and the longest amount of time it will take and plug it into the following formula: (shortest time + 4x likely time + longest time) / 6
  • Gantt Chart: This approach maps out all activities in chronological order, including duration. As with the other methods, an activity cannot be started until the previous task is completed.

The method you use may depend on the type of project and the time distribution of key activities. For example, CPM and PERT show the relationships and flows between tasks, whereas Gantt Charts are more for quickly seeing what tasks exist. Regardless of the method you select, organizing key tasks and considering the time and effort required to complete each is important to effectively prioritize actions.

Scheduling Work and Managing Calendars

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of project management—scheduling work and managing calendars—requires excellent communication, respect for the teams’ other commitments, and a fair bit of patience when things inevitably don’t happen exactly according to plan. Flexibility is key in this area—within reason.

To schedule work efficiently, consider using the following techniques:

  • Assign tasks as deliverables for each team member. Taken one step further, send key work items as calendar requests
  • Create a calendar with due dates for deliverables that is visible to the entire team. Hold the team accountable to updating the calendar with their activities and status of deliverables
  • Establish a communications process for updating and revising the schedule

While you have to schedule deadlines for tasks to keep everyone else’s work on track, you also have to manage your own time. One useful method for ensuring you allot enough time to complete all of your key deliverables is time blocking.

Time blocking is a technique wherein you list everything you want to accomplish in a given timeframe, including project goals and the related tasks required to reach the goals. Then, estimate the time needed to complete each task and block time on your calendar to make sure you dedicate enough time for it. This is also an effective way to help your team members meet their deliverables, so be sure to plan a time blocking exercise early in your planning phase.

Creating a Communications Plan

If the project plan is the map, the communications plan is the compass in your project management journey. The communications plan is the written strategy to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Generally, the audience for this plan is made up of the stakeholders identified in phase one. Communicating to them effectively is essential for managing expectations as a project progresses and ensuring everyone involved in the project is on the same page at all times.

“Communication is important because of stakeholder management,” said Lena Chudasama, sales enablement lead at Taboola. “You’re always talking to different people and different teams and presenting to often large groups of people…we want to make sure we come across that way and that feels congruent.”

To begin building your communications plan, consider who needs information as well as what exactly it is that they need to know.

Who needs information?

  • Sponsor: The person sponsoring the project and who has a vested interest in its outcome
  • Functional management: These stakeholders hold two responsibilities: 1) Providing resources 2) Representing policy that will dictate the information they need
  • Customers: If the project will impact a customer’s day-to-day dealings with your company, it’s critical to bring a few “pilot customers” into the project
  • Project team: The core team, as well as vendors, subcontractors, and staff in other departments
  • Project manager: Source of information but can be on the receiving end as well

What should be communicated?

There are many aspects of a communications plan, from providing status reports on a regular cadence to creating one-off updates about different aspects of the project, to timeline updates and roadblocks, early victories and completed milestones. Some examples include:

  • Authorizations: Project plans, scope of work, budgets, product steps that must be authorized, and any agreements that need an approval
  • Status changes: Reports with cost and schedule progress, as well as problem logs
  • Coordination: Tasks and responsibilities for alignment efforts

It can be tempting to put in every little detail into status reports, but doing so can be distracting and derail attention from the tasks needed to keep the project moving forward. Keep status reports short and include regular meetings as part of your communications plan to ensure information is communicated in a timely manner.

Develop the Budget

The final component of the project management plan is the budget, which consists of personnel, travel, training, supplies, space, research, capital expenditures, overhead, and any other costs that will be accumulated as a direct result of or to support the project.

What goes in the budget?

Every project will have unique budgetary requirements, but at a minimum:

  • Internal labor costs: This figure comes from estimating the individual tasks and assigning them as a pro-rated amount based on the internal staff required to complete them
    • Your finance department can help you determine a burdened labor rate, or the average cost of an employee to the firm that includes wages, benefits, and overhead
  • Rental/purchase equipment cost: The costs to purchase or rent equipment that is not routinely available
  • Equipment that will be used up: The costs to replenish equipment that will be depleted due to the project
  • Equipment on multiple projects: If you’ll be sharing equipment with other projects, you can spread the cost over all the impacted projects
  • External labor and equipment costs: The costs of external labor and their equipment, which stems from the contract negotiated with the external contractor or vendor
  • Material costs: The costs of raw materials or subcomponents; oftentimes these costs represent half or more of your project

When you’ve completed all the calculations above, it’s best to create a cash flow schedule so all stakeholders (especially finance) know when money will be spent, in what increments.

Publishing the Project Plan

There are two schools of thought when it comes to publishing and socializing your project plan. In one school, it’s believed that publishing components as you have them completed is the best approach, allowing for micro-adjusting and fine-tuning along the way. In the other school, you wait until all components of your plan are created (project plan, communications plan, budget) and publish them in concert.

Whatever you decide, it is important to publish these plans in a single location accessible to all stakeholders. That way, you can refer back to your plan throughout the project to keep activities on course, and all team members and stakeholders can keep in alignment as the project progresses.

Taking the time to carefully craft a project plan with consideration of what needs to be done, how to do it, who needs to be involved, and when each component needs to be completed is essential to keep your project on track from start to finish. With a thoughtful project plan built, putting that plan into action through the implementation stage becomes easier to manage, and ultimately the outcome of the project becomes easier to control.