Collaboration, visibility key to successful project automation plan

Automation project roadmaps: Successful automation projects use a project management plan to keep on the right track. Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”


Automation project management roadmapLike any complex process, automating a manufacturing system begins with a plan. A comprehensive project management plan is the essential roadmap, the one document that everyone involved should keep at the ready. Identify some of the key components of a successful automation project plan.

Collaborative process                  

Successful project management plans are not created in a vacuum. Planning is a collaborative process that involves key representatives of both the internal team and the client. Either by title or by function, one person or a small team needs to be identified and authorized to take the lead as the project manager. 

Prior to meeting with the team to create the plan, the project manager should collect and review all the supporting documents to help guide the dialog. Project plans consolidate the high level description of all other planning processes for a project, such as scope management plan, time management plan, communications plan, configuration management plan, etc.

Key elements

In addition to the supporting plans, a project management plan needs to identify and document the following elements.

  • Motivation. Identify and document what is driving the client to take on the project. Is it to save money? Increase production? Reduce waste? If you understand the client’s motivation, the project will be more likely to meet the client’s overall goals.
  • Goals. Document the high-level scope that needs to be delivered for the project to be successful. Make sure everyone agrees on the scope of work statement. If this cannot be agreed to, the scope of the project is likely to grow during the course of the project, without additional remuneration.
  • Stakeholders. Define and list the key stakeholders who need to be included in the collaborative development of the plan.
  • Deliverables and milestones. Make a list of project deliverables and milestone dates. This gives the team targets to hit along the way and not just the end date of the project
  • Risks and risk mitigation plans. Risks can make or break a project. Thinking through potential risks early in the project and planning how the team will respond if these risks start showing themselves helps to ensure the team minimizes their impact to the project.
  • Approval process. The team needs to review the project plan with the client and get written approval from them to proceed. The approval becomes the marching orders of the team and releases them to begin producing the deliverables of the project. 

Project management plans are active, living documents. The project manager needs to review the plan often during the execution of the project. Changes are bound to occur, and the planning documents need to be updated to reflect that. Clients need to review and approve any major updates.

Visibility of documents, team members

Visibility and access to the plan throughout project execution is also important. A project management information system (PMIS) that allows for easy access by all team members, whether they’re in the office or not, greatly simplifies the process and assures access to up-to-the-minute documents. The plan should have a section to list all the supporting documents and their locations, so the team can easily find them.

The team should meet regularly to review the plan as the project progresses to ensure that milestone dates for deliverables are met. This meeting may be as simple as a weekly phone check-in or an online screen share. Teams function better when members know they will have an opportunity to interact with one another regularly and when they know they are expected to provide feedback on the plan.

Templates can help

Where do you begin? Project managers and management teams often rely on a template to guide them in the development of a project management plan. The template may be one developed over time or adopted from tried-and-true templates, such as those the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) offers members. Either way, a template adds efficiency and consistency to the planning process. 

Jeff Miller, PMP, is director of project management at Interstates Control Systems Inc., and chair of the CSIA Best Practices Committee.- Jeff Miller, PMP, is director of project management at Interstates Control Systems Inc., and chair of the CSIA Best Practices Committee. For more information about CSIA, visit Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering,

Online Links

See related article on CSIA Best Practices offer project management planning guidance below.

Interstates Control Systems won a Control Engineering 2010 System Integrator of the Year award. 

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