5 Tips for Developing a Project Plan 

Project planning is a critical phase in the project management lifecycle, as it lays the groundwork for the successful execution and delivery of projects. These 5 tips for developing a project plan from our CEO John Dean lift the lid on essential components required for success.

John provides an overview on how to implement these strategies in Microsoft Project, a popular project management software used by professionals worldwide, including those at Change Specialists.

1. Define Project Scope and Objectives Clearly

Tip: Begin by establishing a clear understanding of the project’s scope and objectives. This involves detailing the project’s goals, deliverables, constraints, and the criteria for success.

Implementation in Microsoft Project:

• Start by creating a new project. Set up the project information by going to the “Project” tab and clicking on “Project Information.”

• The “Task” section is utilised to break down the project into smaller, manageable tasks.

• Deliverables need to be defined for each task or phase. Use the “Notes” section of each task to ensure clarity on the expected outcomes.

2. Develop a Detailed Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Tip: A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is essential for decomposing the project into smaller, more manageable components. It helps in organising and defining the total scope of the project.

Implementation in Microsoft Project:

• Utilise the “Task Name” field to create a hierarchy of tasks and subtasks, effectively outlining your WBS.

• Indent and outdent tasks to create a structured, hierarchical view of the project tasks, facilitating easier management and tracking.

3. Assign Resources and Estimate Durations

Tip: Assign the right resources to each task, including team members, equipment, and materials, and estimate the duration of each task accurately to ensure realistic planning.

Implementation in Microsoft Project:

• “Resource Sheet” view can be used to add and define all the resources available for the project, including human resources, equipment, and materials.

• Add these resources to specific tasks using the “Resource Name” field in the task list, adjusting for any resource constraints or availability issues.

• Estimate task durations by entering values in the “Duration” field for each task, considering the resources assigned and their availability.

4. Establish Milestones and Critical Path

Tip: Identify major milestones in your project, such as key deliverables or project phases. Determine the project’s critical path, which is the longest sequence of tasks that dictates the minimum project duration.

Implementation in Microsoft Project:

• Define milestones by setting the duration of key tasks to “0” days, which will automatically designate them as milestones.

• Enter tasks, dependencies, and durations. Select “Gantt Chart” in the “View” tab to select the click on “Critical Path”. This will highlight the tasks that directly impact the project timeline.

5. Regularly Review and Update the Project Plan

Tip: View project plans as living documents. Regular reviews support the capture of changes and progression alongside any issues arising.

Implementation in Microsoft Project:

• Regularly update task statuses, completion percentages, and actual start and finish dates to reflect real-time progress.

• Use the “Tracking Gantt” view to compare planned versus actual progress. This allows you to make informed decisions and adjustments to the project plan as needed.

Change Specialists work with clients from SME’s through to global leaders. We support them to achieve successful outcomes for business change and digital transformation programmes.

Contact us to discuss your pending or current programmes of work.

The Importance of Skill Alignment Over Availability in Project Teams

In the world of project and change management, the composition of your team can make or break a programme. The Importance of skill alignment over availability in Project Teams shouldn’t be underestimated.

Traditionally, there’s been a tendency to default to resource availability when selecting team members.

While this is a pragmatic approach, it is often not the most effective one for achieving project success. Our CEO John Dean delves into why it’s crucial to align the right skills and experience with your project needs, even if it means acquiring new talent or contracting specialists.

The Pitfalls of Availability-Centric Team Formation

Resource Misalignment

When we pick team members based on availability, there’s a high likelihood of skill and experience misalignment. You might have a highly capable team, but if their expertise doesn’t match the project’s unique requirements, then the entire project may falter.

Reduced Efficiency

An improperly skilled team can lead to increased time and resource wastage. Tasks that should be straightforward become overly complicated, requiring more time and effort to complete, thus compromising efficiency.

Diminished Quality

Quality is often the first casualty when a team is not adequately skilled to meet the project’s needs. The end product or solution might fall short of client expectations or may not meet the intended objectives.

Why Skill and Experience Alignment is Vital

Expertise Equals Efficiency

With the right skills in place, team members can execute their tasks more efficiently. They know the best practices, tools, and methodologies to apply, reducing the learning curve and expediting project completion.

Fosters Innovation

A team of experts who align with the project’s needs is more likely to offer innovative solutions. They can identify opportunities for improvements and propose creative solutions, thanks to their specialised knowledge.

Mitigates Risk

Having a team with the necessary skills and experience helps mitigate project risks. They can foresee potential issues and provide solutions before problems escalate, thus ensuring smoother project progression.

Achieving the Right Skill and Experience Alignment

Skill Gap Analysis

Before project kick-off, conduct a thorough skill gap analysis to identify the specific skills and experiences needed for your project. This can serve as your guide in acquiring the right talent.

Leverage Contractors and Specialists

If you don’t have in-house talents who fit the project requirements, don’t hesitate to contract specialists or hire new staff even if it’s just for the project duration. The cost of acquiring skilled personnel is often justified by the high quality and timely delivery of the project.

Gain Stakeholder Buy-In

Securing the necessary budget and resources often requires stakeholder buy-in. Make a compelling business case for why investing in the right talent is crucial for the project’s success.


While resource availability will always be a factor to consider, it shouldn’t be the driving force behind your team selection process.

Prioritising skills and experience over availability can be the differentiator that sets your project up for success. Investing in the right talent might be costly in the short term, but the long-term benefits, including project success, stakeholder satisfaction, and a strengthened brand reputation, are well worth it.

Contact us to discuss the composition of your project team.

Basic Foundations for Successful Digital Transformation

In our fast-paced tech world, it’s easy to get swept up in the whirlwind of constant change. It’s important to keep in mind that learning is key to staying ahead of the curve.

Our Practice Director Julian Brown explores the fundamental building blocks for digital transformation, from inclusivity to strategic planning.

Technology is at the forefront of our ever-changing modern world; however, it can be hard to keep track of the changes. We go from one upgrade to another within the blink of an eye, this is daunting, particularly in the midst of the use and growth of AI.

It is essential to remember that everyone has to learn from somewhere or somebody, the success of any transformation is down to the willingness to learn.

Here are some basic factors to consider in order for digital transformation on any platform to succeed

As we move from one new technological advance to another, it’s crucial to be inclusive. People of all ages, countries and wealth status need to be able to understand what those changes are, what they mean to them and how it will benefit their lives.

Some people can feel like an outsiders, left behind while the rest of the world moves on. Those with the knowledge to teach others who feel this way are essential to meet the increasing demands of technological change.

For businesses, understanding the value of certain changes on their part needs to be established; what are the strengths and weaknesses? Who will be benefiting from the change? Why is it so crucial to the core values of the organisation?

People are just as vital as technology.

Long Term Strategy

An agreed long-term strategy is essential, one that embraces upgrades and maintains an up-to-date idea of trends in technology. This is typical of any business or organisation looking to implement change of any kind, whether that’s moving on from one project to another, or accepting that some software and hardware systems may need an update. Collaboration is key to successful change.

By engaging with those with the skills to carry out updates we share our vision. Combining initiative with the capabilities and skills within a team supports progress.

Once these building blocks are in place a strong and prosperous plan for digital transformation is in place. Businesses evolve with the rest of the world. Globalisation shrinks the distance between accessibility and collaboration with others, speeding up year by year, upgrade by upgrade.

Broadening horizons and learning from shared experience means there is no reason to be threatened by inevitable change.

Interested in exchanging a few ideas? Our team of change and technology professionals would love the hear from you. Contact Us – Change Specialists Ltd

The 5 Pillars You Need To Create Lasting Change

John Dean, CEO shares his view of the 5 pillars you need to create lasting change.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, sustainable organisational change is not just a necessity but a key differentiator for success. As the CEO of a change management consultancy, understanding and implementing the five pillars of sustainable organisational change can significantly impact your client’s transformation journeys. These pillars serve as a framework for creating lasting change in an organisation.

Leadership Commitment

The first pillar is leadership commitment. Sustainable change begins at the top. Leaders must not only endorse change initiatives but also actively participate in them. This includes setting a vision, communicating it effectively, and leading by example. When leaders are visibly committed, it encourages a culture of trust and openness, essential for successful change.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is the second pillar. Change is often met with resistance, making it crucial to involve employees at all stages. This means not just informing them about what is changing, but also why and how it affects them. Encouraging feedback, addressing concerns, and involving employees in decision-making can foster a sense of ownership and acceptance of the change.

Effective Communication

The third pillar, effective communication, is the lifeblood of any change initiative. Clear, consistent, and transparent communication helps in aligning the organisation’s goals with the change objectives. It’s not just about disseminating information, but also about creating a two-way dialogue where feedback is sought and acted upon.

Integrated Change Management Strategy

An integrated change management strategy is the fourth pillar. This involves aligning the change management process with the organisation’s overall strategy and objectives. It requires a holistic approach, considering all aspects of the organisation – from processes and technology to culture and people. Tailoring strategies to fit the unique needs of each department or team can also lead to more effective implementation.

Continuous Improvement and Adaptability

Finally, the fifth pillar is continuous improvement and adaptability. Sustainable change is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. Organisations need to be agile, constantly learning from experiences and adapting their strategies accordingly. This includes regular reviews of the change process, learning from successes and failures, and making necessary adjustments.

In conclusion, the five pillars of sustainable organisational change provide a robust framework for managing and implementing change in a manner that is lasting and effective. For change management consultancies, these pillars offer a strategic approach to guiding their clients through transformational changes, ensuring that the changes are not only implemented successfully but also sustained in the long run. By adhering to these principles, organisations can navigate the complexities of change and emerge stronger and more adaptable.

Fancy a chat about change? Interested in exchanging a few ideas? Please Contact Us – Change Specialists Ltd

How To Manage Backlog In Agile

Change Specialists Practice Director, Julian Brown, shares his 5 best practice steps to manage backlog in an Agile environment.

I’ve witnessed a number of Agile transformations within organisations of all shapes and sizes. It’s fair to say that Agile has revolutionised the way that software development is approached, fostering both adaptability and collaboration.

However, in my experience, one of the core challenges often encounter is managing the backlog effectively.  It could become that enormous pile of dirty clothes that need washing and a daunting task in front of us. 

I’d therefore like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from being on the front line of Agile project management.

The Backlog Is a Living Entity

One of the fundamental principles of Agile is to be adaptable, and this applies to the backlog as well. It’s not a static list of tasks but rather a dynamic entity that evolves over time. It’s crucial to remember that priorities can change, new user stories may emerge, and some items may become less relevant. 

Encourage your teams to regularly review and refine the backlog to ensure it reflects the current state of the project and aligns with strategic objectives.

Collaboration Is Key

Effective backlog management isn’t the sole responsibility of a Product Owner.  Encourage cross-functional collaboration by involving the entire team, including developers, testers, and designers, in backlog refinement sessions. 

Incorporating different perspectives can uncover hidden complexities, identify dependencies, and lead to more accurate estimations. 

Promoting transparency and open communication within your Agile teams will help maintain a well-organised and manageable backlog.

Use Business Value To Prioritise the Workload

In Agile development, delivering value to the business is so important. It’s essential to prioritise backlog items based on their impact on the overall project goals and the value they bring to your company. 

Encouraging your teams to consider factors like customer and colleague feedback, market trends, and business objectives when determining the order they tackle backlog items.

This ensures that the team is consistently focused on delivering the most valuable features and improvements.

Embrace INVEST

To maintain a backlog that’s both actionable and well-defined, consider the INVEST criteria for user stories: Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small, and Testable. These criteria provide a clear framework for creating user stories that are easy to understand, estimate, and prioritise. 

 By looking at items through an INVEST lens, your teams will be able to streamline their backlog items and the delivery should become more efficient.

Take A Regular Look Back Through the Rear View Mirror

Regularly review your backlog management processes. Conduct retrospectives to identify areas which can be improved or enhanced.  Encourage your teams to reflect on what’s working well and what isn’t, then adjust their practices accordingly. 

I personally like to use a Win, Learn & Change approach so you can identify successes as well.

Agile is not just a methodology; it’s a mindset. Continuously learn, adapt, and improve your backlog management practices to ensure your organisation remains agile and responsive to change.

Fancy a chat about change? Interested in exchanging a few ideas? Please contact me julian.brown@changespecialists.co.uk / Contact Us – Change Specialists Ltd

Turning Resistance Into Advocacy

Why Turning Resistance Into Advocacy Is Crucial To Success

Every individual has the potential to be an agent of change. Turning resistance into advocacy supports success. But what steps can you follow when facing resistance, and what are the benefits?

Today Julian Brown, our Practice Director, shares his approach to transforming resistance to change into a group of advocates who can champion transformation within organisations! 

It often starts with empathy and active listening.  Taking the time to truly understand the concerns and fears of individuals who are resistant to change.  By walking in their shoes, we can gain valuable insights that pave the way for an effective approach. 

Identify potential change champions, colleagues who have successfully navigated through similar transformations.  These champions become the catalysts who connect on a personal level with those who are resisting the change, sharing their own stories of success.  Their experiences and stories promote and inspire positive change. 

Open and transparent communication is the cornerstone of my approach.  Creating safe spaces where individuals can freely express their concerns without judgement.  Through these conversations understanding and trust are built, which are essential elements of the transformation process.

Tailor change initiatives to accommodate the unique needs and values of a business and its people.  This adaptability ensures that the transformation resonates with everyone, making the journey smoother and more gratifying. 

Empower change advocates, offering workshops and coaching sessions.  These sessions equip the champions with the tools they need to navigate obstacles, gather support, and sustain the momentum of change throughout the organisation. 

Create and communicate a compelling vision for the future, one that sparks excitement and creates enthusiasm among all stakeholders.  Paint a vivid picture of the positive impact that awaits, motivating even the most resistant individuals to embrace the transformation journey.

A network of Change Advocates

Like magic, the resistance begins to wane, and the transformation takes place.  Former sceptics become advocates who start championing the benefits of change.  Their enthusiasm and energy inspires others to join the movement, creating a ripple effect of positive transformation amongst colleagues, turning resistance into advocacy .

Have you encountered any magical transformation stories during your career?  Let’s celebrate those that keep the magic that is change alive!

Get in touch to find out how Change Specialists can support your current or pending change programme.

UK Labour Market Update in 50 seconds – May 2023

Our popular UK Labour Market update is now available to watch in 50 seconds – click below for an instant update!

Signs are emerging that the UK job market is cooling. However, growth in employee average total pay is up 5.8% January to March 2023.

If you would like to discuss the latest UK labour market trends, or receive a copy of future Labour Market reports direct to your inbox, contact us or follow our LinkedIn page.

Change Specialists – The Change People

UK Labour Market Update

Change Management Question & Answer with the National Housing Federation

Change Specialists CEO John Dean was thrilled to be invited to join the recent National Housing Federation Eastern Region HR Forum Change Management Question & Answer session.

John enjoyed the lively event, meeting some amazing HR professionals, and of course discussing all things Change Management. The workshop wrapped up with a lively Q & A session, a thoroughly enjoyable event.

Maybe you are looking for some input from a Change Management expert for your next inhouse training session? Or a Change Management Question & Answer session. Get in touch!

For further information about our services and an insight into how Change Specialists can help with your current or pending business change or digital transformation programme contact us  

Our Senior Leadership Team love the opportunity to share their extensive experience operating in the change space.

Change Management Question & Answer

UK Labour Market Update – January 2023

Hot off the press! UK Labour Market Update, our snapshot of how the UK Labour market is performing, and associated data.

A recent slowdown in hiring reflects greater economic uncertainty, rising costs and ongoing candidate shortages.

Our findings highlight the challenges facing organisations in attracting and retaining the skills and capabilities they need across all disciplines, including driving Change and IT and digital programmes. 

If you would like to discuss the latest labour market trends, or receive a copy of future Labour Market reports direct to your inbox, contact us or follow our LinkedIn page.

Change Specialists – The Change People

UK Labour Market Update

Labour Market Update January 2023

FCA Consumer Duty – Is Your Project Team Ready?

FCA Consumer Duty implementation is top of mind for many organisations, and with good reason!

The rules apply to regulated firms providing retail financial services to consumers, such as personal banking, insurance and investments. 

With the October 2022 deadline for organisations who are in scope to agree their implementation plans now passed, many are facing the reality of the key challenges that they face in order to conform with the regulations.

These might include:

✔️ Accurate mapping of customer journeys – to demonstrate acting in good faith right through the customer journey, and throughout the lifecycle of their products and services

⏳ Effective product governance – embedding the required products and services outcome rules in order to deliver good outcomes for their customers

💡 Evidencing their plans and actions to effectively implement the regulations within their organisation

It’s going to prove challenging to deliver on the required Consumer Duty commitments by July 2023.

Does your Project Team have all the required skill sets?

Change Specialists Flex Service (CS Flex) supports your programme of work by enabling you to buy in professional change capability when and where its needed, to support the delivery of successful outcomes.

More targeted, flexible, dynamic and cost-effective than traditional approaches to change management and delivery. All backed by our Change Specialists Service Assurance model.

What difference would CS Flex make to the success of your Consumer Duty Implementation Project?

Contact the Change Specialists today to discuss your resourcing challenges.

info@changespecialists.co.uk / 01379 871144

Consumer Duty Implementation Timeline