According to recent research conducted by the Construction Industry Institute based on 609 projects totaling $37 billion, improving decision making in the project planning (or Fuzzy Front End) phase results in:

  • Project cost reduced by 10%
  • Delivery time shortened by 7%
  • Number of changes decreased by 5%
  • Overall meeting of goals was significantly improved

Project Planning has a disproportionately large impact on the end results and therefore must clearly define all stakeholders as the drivers critical for project success.  Project planning represents a forecast of the development of a project. This requires a precise definition of project goals, performance measures, constraints, technological/operational alternatives, adaptability to unanticipated developments, and also organizational and environmental considerations. The objectives related to the costs, time, and desired results must be formulated in a realistic, clear, understandable and verifiable way.

The “Fuzzy Front End” of the Project Planning phase emerges from locating the knowledge gaps commonly spotted at the start of the project life cycle.  Projects, especially complex ones, have a myriad of ways to start, so they are not terribly ‘visible’ in the early stage of project initiation and planning – that’s the challenge of the fuzzy-front-end. Organizational factors such as a lack of formality in making critical planning decisions or project management capability maturity can produce prominent gaps in the governance structures and execution prowess for many organizations. It is during the fuzzy-front-end that the level of uncertainty and ambiguity is at its highest, but if you can define these knowledge deficit points early, you can avoid or mitigate these junctures of risk and go forward with the project.

It’s important to be mindful that the foundations for project failure are generally rooted in the very beginning or “Fuzzy Front End”.  The front end is where major commitments are made involving resources (time and money) thus setting the course for the project and final end product that is determined by how well an organization manages the Fuzzy Front End.   This is not an easy task mindful that the Fuzzy Front End is an intersection of lofty aspiration, data analysis and predictive modeling, organizational pressures, uncertainty, ad-hoc decision making and more – all of which must be processed, balanced, and synthesized into a single cohesive and coordinated actionable plan.  

The plan that you define by the end of the project’s initiation phase is needed to manage expectations within the project and organization. It should define the deliverables, key milestones, the technology deployment plan (including specifications and requirements), significant potential risk points and how well you plan to mitigate them that embody a change control management strategy, along with the estimated costs.

Project managers in the Fuzzy Front End need to find a way to deal with the level and measure of uncertainty in their project. In general it can be stated: the higher the amount of planning in the beginning of the project, the higher the success. Planning refers not only to the time-scheduling, but also to the detailed definition of the scope of work and the assignment of resources to the project. In this case planning also refers to the reduction of uncertainties or assessment of them as risks. Therefore the planning work of the project manager in the Fuzzy Front End determines the later success for the organization.

On Wednesday, April 24, 2019 join an open discussion and webinar on effectively managing the Fuzzy Front End through the applications of Portfolio, Program, and Project Management practices.  Click here to learn more.