When and how do I "freeze" the project plan?

When and how do I "freeze" the project plan?
By freeze, do you mean that you want to set the plan in concrete and drive the project according to what has been defined and agreed upon? Project planning is never really finished. Though a heavy amount of planning occurs in the early phases of the project, you should expect to do some re-planning throughout the life cycle of the project as you learn more. Periodic reexamination of the plan should be a scheduled activity in the project plan itself—for example, at major reviews that gate the project phases. At that time, the current state of the emerging product or system design should be examined along with new information about the project goals. Variances between the plan snapshot or baseline and the current situation should be reconciled in a modified plan.

There are three planning milestones in the first phases of the project that help you to ensure that the plan is as complete as possible with what you currently know:

  • Cross-functional agreement among all stakeholders and team members on the business case and the basic viability of the project.
  • Cross-functional agreement among all stakeholders and team members on the product vision after high-level design solutions have been reviewed and trade-offs have been made between features, time, and cost.
  • Cross-functional agreement among all stakeholders and team members that you have a viable plan to achieve the product vision within the boundaries of the business case.

The third milestone, often formally recognized during a gating review at the end of the project's initiation and planning phase, signals a commitment by your organization to increase investment in the project and move into an execution phase. But it does not mean you are done with planning—it means that you've done the best planning you can with what you know today. You can claim a "soft" freeze for the plan now, but as progress is made and more is known about the development of deliverables and the technical and project risks there may be reason to "thaw" that plan to make refinements.

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