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Project Planning: How to Make a Project Plan
This guide is brought to you by projectmanager, the project planning software trusted by 35,000+ users worldwide. make a project plan in minutes.
What Is a Project Plan?
How to create a project plan, project planning phase, what is project planning software, benefits of online project planning software, must-have project planning software features, project planning terms, project planning steps, how to create a project plan with projectmanager, what is the purpose of a project management plan, the elements of a project plan, how long does the project planning phase take, techniques for the project planning process, how to manage your project plan.
A project plan is a series of formal documents that define the execution and control stages of a project. The plan includes considerations for risk management, resource management and communications, while also addressing scope, cost and schedule baselines. Project planning software is used by project managers to ensure that their plans are thorough and robust.
ProjectManager allows you to make detailed project plans with online Gantt charts that schedule task dependencies, resource hours, labor costs, milestones and more. Plus, your team can execute the plan in any of our five project views, while you track progress along the way with dashboards. Start today for free.
The project plan, also called project management plan, answers the who, what, where, why, how and when of the project—it’s more than a Gantt chart with tasks and due dates. The purpose of a project plan is to guide the execution and control project phases.
As mentioned above, a project plan consists of the following documents:
- Project Charter : Provides a general overview of the project. It describes the project’s reasons, goals, objectives, constraints, stakeholders, among other aspects.
- Statement of Work : A statement of work (SOW) defines the project’s scope, schedule, deliverables, milestones, and tasks.
- Work Breakdown Structure : Breaks down the project scope into the project phases, subprojects, deliverables, and work packages that lead to your final deliverable.
- Project Plan : The project plan document is divided in sections to cover the following: scope management, quality management, risk assessment, resource management, stakeholder management, schedule management and the change management plan.
This guide aims to give you all the information and resources you need to create a project plan and get it approved by your customers and stakeholders. Let’s start with the basics of writing a project plan.
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Project Plan Template
Use this free Project Plan Template for Word to manage your projects better.
Your project plan is essential to the success of any project. Without one, your project may be susceptible to common project management issues such as missed deadlines, scope creep and cost overrun. While writing a project plan is somewhat labor intensive up front, the effort will pay dividends throughout the project life cycle.
The basic outline of any project plan can be summarized in these five steps:
- Define your project’s stakeholders, scope, quality baseline, deliverables, milestones, success criteria and requirements. Create a project charter, work breakdown structure (WBS) and a statement of work (SOW) .
- Identify risks and assign deliverables to your team members, who will perform the tasks required and monitor the risks associated with them.
- Organize your project team (customers, stakeholders, teams, ad hoc members, and so on), and define their roles and responsibilities.
- List the necessary project resources , such as personnel, equipment, salaries, and materials, then estimate their cost.
- Develop change management procedures and forms.
- Create a communication plan , schedule, budget and other guiding documents for the project.
Each of the steps to write a project plan explained above correspond to the 5 project phases, which we will outline in the next section.
What Are the 5 Phases of the Project Life Cycle?
Any project , whether big or small, has the potential to be very complex. It’s much easier to break down all the necessary inclusions for a project plan by viewing your project in terms of phases. The Project Management Institute , within the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), have identified the following 5 phases of a project:
- Initiation: The start of a project, in which goals and objectives are defined through a business case and the practicality of the project is determined by a feasibility study.
- Planning: During the project planning phase, the scope of the project is defined by a work breakdown structure (WBS) and the project methodology to manage the project is decided on. Costs, quality and resources are estimated, and a project schedule with milestones and task dependencies is identified. The main deliverable of this phase is your project plan.
- Execution: The project deliverables are completed during this phase. Usually, this phase begins with a kick-off meeting and is followed by regular team meetings and status reports while the project is being worked on.
- Monitoring & Controlling: This phase is performed in tandem with the project execution phase. Progress and performance metrics are measured to keep progress on the project aligned with the project plan.
- Closure: The project is completed when the stakeholder receives the final deliverable. Resources are released, contracts are signed off on and, ideally, there will be an evaluation of the successes and failures.
Free Project Plan Template
Address all aspects of your project plan with this free project plan template for Word . This in-depth template will guide you through every phase of the project, as well as all the elements you need to outline for a proper document. Download your template today.
Now that we’ve learned how to make a project plan, and identified the stages of the project management life cycle, we need to emphasize on the importance of the project planning phase.
The project planning process is critical for any kind of project because this is where you create all the documents that will guide how you’ll execute your project plan and how you’ll control risks and any issues that might occur. These documents, which are part of the project management plan, cover all the details of your project without exception.
There are project plan templates out there that can help you organize your tasks and begin the project planning process—but we here at ProjectManager recommend the use of project planning software. The feature set is far more robust and integrated with every project phase compared to an Excel project plan template, and is a great way to ensure your actual progress stays aligned with your planned progress.
Once you write a project plan, it’s time for implementation . Watch the video below to see how project planning software helps organize a project’s tasks, resources and costs.
Project planning tools has become an invaluable tool for project managers in recent years, as it provides them the ability to maintain and automate the components we outlined above. Project planning software is a great tool to facilitate project management processes such as schedule development, team management, cost estimation, resource allocation and risk monitoring.
Beyond that, planning software also allows managers to monitor and track their plan as it moves through the execution phase of the project. These features include dashboards, for a high-level view of the project’s progress and performance, and in-depth reports that can be used to communicate with stakeholders.
Project planning software comes in all different sizes and shapes. There are some that focus on a single aspect, and others that offer a suite of planning features that can be used in each one of the project planning steps. What’s right for your project depends on your specific needs, but in general terms, project planning software is a much more powerful tool than project planning templates .
Related: 20 Must-Have Project Management Excel Templates
Online project planning software is highly flexible and adaptable to your team’s style of work. It has features that are designed to assist you throughout your project planning process.
Before the rise of planning software, project managers would typically have to keep up with a disjointed collection of documents, excel spreadsheets and so on. Savvy managers, however, make use of the project management tools available to them to automate what they can, and streamline what they can’t.
Some of the time-saving benefits of project planning software include the following.
- Organize, prioritize and assign tasks
- Plan and schedule milestones and task dependencies
- Monitor progress, costs and resources
- Collaborate with team
- Share project plans with team and stakeholders
- Generate reports on plans
Gantt Charts for Superior Planning
A Gantt chart is the most essential tool for the project planning process. Organize tasks, add their duration and they automatically populate a project timeline . Set milestones to break the larger project into manageable phases, and link task dependencies to avoid bottlenecks later in the project.
Get More Than a To-Do List
When planning a project, you need more than a to-do list. Seek out a planning software with a task list feature that lets you set priority levels, filters and collaborate. It’s a big plus if you can also make personal task lists that are private to manage your own work.
Use Kanban for Workflows
Workflows ensure proper execution of your plan, and no feature does this better than kanban boards. Customize boards to match your workflow and drag and drop cards as teams get their work done. See what work needs to be done and keep the focus on productivity with this feature.
Be Able to Track Progress
A dashboard can keep your project plan on track. Try and find a dashboard that’s synced with your planning tools, so everything updates automatically. It will make reporting easier too.
Get Transparency Into Teams
For a plan to go smoothly, you have to know what your team is working on. Find a way to balance your team’s availability with the project schedule. Workload features that map out resource allocation and holidays can be a big help here.
Be Able to Manage Multiple Projects
Rarely do you need to only focus on one project at a time. Give yourself the flexibility to manage multiple projects at once in the same tool. A roadmap feature that maps all of your projects on one timeline can be a lifesaver.
Before we dive into how to create a project plan, it helps to be familiar with some of the terms that you’ll run across. Here is a list of general terms you’ll encounter in this guide.
- Deliverable: The results of a project, such as a product, service, report, etc.
- Stakeholder: Anyone with a vested interest in the project—project manager, project sponsor, team members, customers, etc.
- Tasks: Small jobs that lead to the final deliverable.
- Milestone: The end of one project phase, and the beginning of the next.
- Resources: Anything you need to complete the project, such as personnel, supplies, materials, tools, people and more.
- Budget: Estimate of total cost related to completing a project.
- Tracking & Monitoring: Collecting project data, and making sure it reflects the results you planned for.
The project planning process is critical for the success of your project, and as a project manager, you have to think about all the elements that make up your project management plan such as work, time, resources and risks.
Now, we’re going to take you through the main project planning steps :
- Outline the business case
- Meet with key stakeholders
- Define project scope
- Assemble a project team
- Determine a project budget
- Set project goals & objectives
- Outline project deliverables
- Create a project schedule
- Assign tasks to your team members
- Do a risk analysis
- Create your project plan
- Report your progress
By following these project planning steps, you’ll clarify what you need to achieve, work out the processes you need to get there and develop an action plan for how you are going to take this project plan outline forward.
1. Outline the Business Case
If you have a project, there’s a reason for it—that’s your business case . The business case outlines reasons why the project is being initiated, its benefits and the return on investment. If there’s a problem that is being solved, then that problem is outlined here. The business case will be presented to those who make decisions at your organization, explaining what has to be done, and how, along with a feasibility study to assess the practicality of the project. If approved, you have a project.
2. Meet with Key Stakeholders
Every project has stakeholders , those who have a vested interest in the project. From the ones who profit from it, to the project team members who are responsible for its success. Therefore, any project manager must identify who these key stakeholders are during the project planning process, from customers to regulators. Meeting with them is crucial to get a better picture of what the project management plan should include and what is expected from the final deliverable.
3. Define Project Scope
It refers to the work required to accomplish the project objectives and generate the required deliverables. The project scope should be defined and organized by a work breakdown structure (WBS). Therefore, the project scope includes what you must do in the project (deliverables, sub deliverables, work packages, action items ), but also what is nonessential. The latter is important for the project plan, because knowing what isn’t high priority helps to avoid scope creep ; that is, using valuable resources for something that isn’t key to your project’s success.
4. Assemble a Project Team
You’ll need a capable project team to help you create your project plan and execute it successfully. It’s advisable to gather a diverse group of experienced professionals to build a multi-disciplinary team that sees your project management plan from different perspectives.
5. Determine a Project Budget
Once you define your project scope, you’ll have a task list that must be completed to deliver your project successfully. To do so, you’ll need resources such as equipment, materials, human capital, and of course, money. Your project budget will pay for all this. The first step to create a project budget is to estimate the costs associated with each task. Once you have those estimated costs, you can establish a cost baseline , which is the base for your project budget.
6. Set Project Goals & Objectives
Goals and objectives are different things when it comes to planning a project. Goals are the results you want to achieve, and are usually broad. Objectives , on the other hand, are more specific; measurable actions that must be taken to reach your goal. When creating a project plan, the goals and objectives naturally spring from the business case, but in this stage, you go into further detail. In a sense, you’re fine-tuning the goals set forth in the business case and creating tasks that are clearly defined. These goals and objectives are collected in a project charter , which you’ll use throughout the project life cycle.
7. Outline Project Deliverables
A project can have numerous deliverables. A deliverable can be a good, service or result that is needed to complete a task, process, phase, subproject or project. For example, the final deliverable is the reason for the project, and once this deliverable is produced, the project is completed. As defined in the project scope, a project consists of subprojects, phases, work packages, activities and tasks, and each of these components can have a deliverable. The first thing to do is determine what the final deliverable is, and how you will know that the quality meets your stakeholder’s expectations. As for the other deliverables in the project, they must also be identified and someone on the team must be accountable for their successful completion.
8. Create a Project Schedule
The project schedule is what everything hangs on. From your tasks to your budget , it’s all defined by time. Schedules are made up by collecting all the tasks needed to reach your final deliverable, and setting them on a project timeline that ends at your deadline. This can make for an unruly job ahead, which is why schedules are broken into phases, indicated by milestones , which mark the end of one project phase and the beginning of the next.
9. Assign Tasks to Your Team Members
The plan is set, but it still exists in the abstract until you take the tasks on your schedule and begin assigning them out to your team members. Their roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined, so they know what to do. Then, when you assign them tasks from your plan, they should be clear, with directions and any related documentation they will need to execute the tasks.
10. Do a Risk Analysis
Every project has some level of risk . There are several types of risk such as scope risk, technical risks and schedule risk, among others. Even if your project plan is thorough, internal and external factors can impact your project’s time, cost and scope (triple constraint). Therefore, you need to regard your planning as flexible. There are many ways to prepare for risk, such as developing a change management plan, but for now, the most important thing to do is to track your progress throughout the execution phase by using project status reports and/or project planning software to monitor risk.
11. Create your Project Plan
As discussed above, a project management plan is a document that’s made of several elements. Before we get into a detailed explanation of each of them, it’s important to understand that you should include them all to have a solid project plan. The components that you’ll need might vary depending on your project, but in general terms, you’ll need these main documents to create your project management plan:
- Project charter
- Project schedule
- Project budget
- Project scope statement
- Risk management plan
- Change management plan
- Cost management plan
- Resource management plan
- Stakeholder management plan
12. Report Your Progress
Your ultimate goal is to ensure a successful project for your stakeholders. They’re invested, and will not be satisfied twiddling their thumbs without looking at project status reports to track progress. By constructing a work breakdown structure (WBS) during the project planning phase you can break down the project for them so that they understand how your project plan will be executed. Keeping stakeholders informed is important to manage their expectations and ensure that they’re satisfied. Having regular planning meetings where you present progress reports are a great way to show them that everything is moving forward as planned and to field any questions or concerns they might have. Your stakeholder management plan will specify how you’ll engage stakeholders in the project.
Project planning software is a tool that helps to plan, organize and manage the schedule and resources needed to complete a project. ProjectManager is an award-winning project management software that organizes projects from planning to completion. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and follow along to build a thorough project plan that covers every detail.
1. List Your Tasks for the Plan
Tasks are the building blocks of any project and the start of any plan is identifying all the tasks that lead to your final deliverable.
Open the tool to add your tasks on the Gantt chart or one of the other multiple project views. You can import a task list from any spreadsheet or use one of our templates to get started.
2. Add Duration and Costs to Tasks
Every task has an estimated duration, which is the time it will take to complete it. They will also require a certain amount of funding, which needs to be collected to formulate your plan.
Add the start and end dates for each task in the Gantt and they populate a project timeline, so you can see the whole project laid out in one place. There’s also a column for task costs.
3. Link Dependent Tasks
Tasks are not always separate from one another. Often one cannot start or stop until another has started or stopped. That’s called a task dependency and needs to be noted in your plan.
Link dependent tasks by dragging one to the other. A dotted line indicates that they’re linked, so you stay aware of the fact and can avoid bottlenecks later in the project.
4. Set Milestones & Baseline
A milestone indicates the end of one phase and the beginning of another, which helps with tracking and morale. The baseline sets your plan so you can compare it to actual progress.
There is a filter on the Gantt that automatically sets the baseline, so you can use it to track your actual progress against the plan. The baseline can also be locked with a click.
5. Onboard Team & Assign
Getting the team and the tool together is how a project plan becomes actualized. The easier and seamless this transition, the faster you’ll get to work on the project.
Invite your team from the software and it generates an email with a link. Once they follow that link, they’re in and have access to the tools they need to manage their tasks.
6. Monitor Progress & Report to Stakeholders
Keeping track of your progress and then updating stakeholders is both how you stay on track and manage your stakeholders’ expectations.
See progress as it happens on our real-time dashboard, which calculates data and displays it over six project metrics. Reports can be filtered and shared for a deep dive into those numbers.
7. Adjust Plan As Needed
No plan remains the same throughout a project. Things happen and changes are demanded. Therefore, being able to edit your plan easily is key to the project planning process.
Edit your plan on the Gantt by a simple drag and drop. Move the old date to the new date and not only is that task fixed, but any impacted tasks are also updated automatically.
ProjectManager is an award-winning software that helps managers plan and helps teams get organized. Gantt charts control all aspects of your project plan from scheduling to assigning tasks and even monitoring progress. Multiple project views provide transparency into workflow and give everyone the tools they need to be at their best.
Ready to make your plan? Try ProjectManager today with this free 30-day trial.
The project manager is responsible for producing the project plan, and while you can’t make up all the content yourself, you’ll be the one banging the keys to type it all out. Use templates where you can to save time. Download our free project plan template and write your plan in double-quick time!
The purpose of a project management plan is to serve as a guide for the execution and control phases. The project plan provides all the information necessary for the execution phase such as the project’s goals, objectives, scope of work, milestones, risks and resources. Then, this information helps project managers monitor and control the progress of the project.
We plan at the beginning to save time later. A good project plan means that you don’t have to worry about whether the project participants are going to be available on the right dates—because you’ve planned for them to be. You don’t have to worry about how to pay those invoices—you’ve planned your financial process. You don’t have to worry about whether everyone agrees on what a quality outcome looks like—you’ve already planned what quality measures you are going to use.
A good project plan sets out the processes that everyone is expected to follow, so it avoids a lot of headaches later. For example, if you specify that estimates are going to be worked out by subject matter experts based on their judgement, and that’s approved, later no one can complain that they wanted you to use a different estimating technique. They’ve known the deal since the start.
Project plans are also really helpful for monitoring progress. You can go back to them and check what you said you were going to do and how, comparing it to what you are actually doing. This gives you a good reality check and enables you to change course if you need to, bringing the project back on track.
Tools like dashboards can help you make sure that your project is proceeding according to plan. ProjectManager has a real-time dashboard that updates automatically whenever tasks are updated.
The project planning process already discussed only scratches the surface of what is a deep well of practices created to control your project. They start with dialogue — speaking to stakeholders, teams, et al.
The deliverable for your planning phase is a document called the project plan. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Fifth Edition says that the project plan is made up of lots of subsidiary plans. These include:
- A project scope statement to define all the tasks and deliverables that are needed to complete the project
- A risk management plan for dealing with project risk including the processes for logging and tracking risks
- A change management plan to manage any changes that will be made to the project plan
- A cost management plan for managing costs and the budgeting elements of the project including any procurements or supplier engagements you might have
- A resource management plan for managing the material resources such as equipment and the human resources on the team both in terms of availability and skills
- A stakeholder management plan setting out who is going to receive messages about the project, when and in what format
- A quality plan that specifies the quality targets for the project
That’s a lot of documentation.
In reality, it’s rare that you’ll produce these as individual documents. What you need is a project plan that talks about the important elements of each of these. There’s no point creating a big document that sets out exactly how your business works anyway. If you already have a structured risk management process , then don’t waste time writing it all down again in your project plan.
Your project management plan needs to include enough information to make sure that you know exactly what processes and procedures need to be followed and who needs to be involved. Get your project plan approved by your stakeholders, your project sponsor and your team so there are no surprises later. As explained above, project planning charts and techniques such as Gantt charts, CPM, WBS or PERT can help you create your project plan.
This is hard to answer. It’s going to take longer to plan the moon landing than a new dating app.
The best way to estimate how long your project planning phase will take is to look at similar projects that have happened before, and see how long it took them to plan. Talk to the project manager as well, if you can, because they’ll have a view on whether that length of time was enough or not!
It’s easy to see how long other projects took if you have a project management tool that archives your old project schedules and makes the data available to everyone who needs it. You can then search for similar projects and study their schedules in detail.
A project plan is all about working out what to do and how to do it, so you need to get a lot of people involved. There are several good tools and project planning techniques for getting information from other people including:
- One-to-one meetings or interviews
- Surveys or customer focus groups to gather and validate requirements.
You should also arm yourself with a task management tool , like a list or a kanban board. They are incredibly useful for noting down important things that should be in your project plan. Kanban board software can help structure your plan by writing down the key headings and then moving them around as required until you have a flow that looks right.
Finally, you’ll need an online project management system to store your project management plan in. Make sure that everyone in the team can access the latest version of the project plan.
Your project plan is not a document written in stone. You should be referring back to it and making changes to it as often as you need to. Parts of it, like your project schedule, will change almost daily. Other parts, like your procurement plans and cost management processes, won’t change at all during the life of your project.
The important thing to remember is that if your project management plan isn’t working for you, think about what you can do to change it. It’s there to guide your project management, not restrict you from doing the right thing. If you need to review how you manage work and project resources, then go back and review it. Make the changes you need, get the plan approved again and share it with the team.
How To Make a Project Plan When You Don’t Have All the Answers
Yes, this happens–most of the time! It’s rare to have all the information at the beginning of a project. Most managers want you to dive in and get started, but you might not have the luxury of knowing all the details.
That’s OK; we have techniques to help deal with uncertainty.
First is the project assumption. You use these to put caveats on your plan and to document the things that you assume to be true at this point in time. For example:
- We assume that the resources will be available.
- We assume that the required funding is available.
- We assume that the colors requested will be in line with the company brand and that Marketing sign off is not required.
You get the picture. Then, if the design team comes back and says that they want the product to be a totally new palette of colors and that Marketing has to approve that, you are justified in saying that you’ll have to change the timescales on the schedule to make that possible.
You planned based on an assumption (that everyone agreed to, because you got the document approved) and that assumption turned out not to be true.
Next Steps for Project Planning
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t rush the project planning process. Done properly, project planning takes time. And it’s worth doing it properly because if you don’t, we guarantee that you will hit problems later on as people won’t understand what they are supposed to do and why.
Great planning sets you up for success. It gives you the confidence of knowing that you’ve got all your processes, tools and systems in place to deliver the perfect result.
Now that you’ve learned all about project planning, it’s time to take action. Sign up for a free 30-day trial of ProjectManager and start planning your project today!
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Project Planning Resources
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- 3 Best Project Management Charts for Project Planning
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- How to Create a Project Roadmap (Example Included)
- What Is Aggregate Planning? Strategies & Tips
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- How to Create a Project Execution Plan (PEP) – Free Template Included
- Sample Project Plan For Your Next Project
- Operational Planning: How to Make an Operations Plan
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- What is project planning? (Plus, 7 ste ...
What is project planning? (Plus, 7 steps to write a successful project plan)
Organize your projects with project plans to keep things on track—before you even start. A project plan houses all the necessary details of your project, such as goals, tasks, scope, deadlines, and deliverables. This shows stakeholders a clear roadmap of your project, ensures you have the resources for it, and holds everyone accountable from the start. In this article, we teach you the seven steps to create your own project plan.
Project plans are essential to keeping your project organized and on track. A great project plan will help you kick off your work with all the necessary pieces—from goals and budgets to milestones and communication plans—in one place. Save yourself time (and a few headaches) by creating a work plan that will make your project a success.
What is a project planning?
Project planning is the second stage in the project management process, following project initiation and preceding project execution. During the project planning stage, the project manager creates a project plan, which maps out project requirements. The project planning phase typically includes setting project goals, designating project resources, and mapping out the project schedule.
What is a project plan?
If you're still unsure about what a project plan is, here's how it differs from other project elements:
Project plan vs. work plan: A project plan and a work plan are the same thing. Different teams or departments might prefer one term or another—but they both ultimately describe the same thing: a list of big-picture action steps you need to take to hit your project objectives .
Project plan vs. project charter: A project charter is an outline of your project. Mostly, you use project charters to get signoff from key stakeholders before you start. Which means your project charter comes before your project plan. A project charter is an outline of a simple project plan—it should only include your project objectives, scope, and responsibilities. Then, once your charter has been approved, you can create a project plan to provide a more in-depth blueprint of the key elements of your project.
Project plan vs. project scope: Your project scope defines the size and boundaries of your project. As part of your project plan, you should outline and share the scope of your project with all project stakeholders. If you’re ever worried about scope creep , you can refer back to your pre-defined scope within your project plan to get back on track.
Project plan vs. agile project: Agile project management is a framework to help teams break work into iterative, collaborative components . Agile frameworks are often run in conjunction with scrum and sprint methodologies. Like any project, an Agile project team can benefit from having a project plan in place before getting started with their work.
Project plan vs. work breakdown structure: Similar to a project plan, your work breakdown structure (WBS) helps you with project execution. While the project plan focuses on every aspect of your project, the WBS is focused on deliverables—breaking them down into sub-deliverables and project tasks. This helps you visualize the whole project in simple steps. Because it’s a visual format, your WBS is best viewed as a Gantt chart (or timeline), Kanban board , or calendar—especially if you’re using project management software .
Why are project plans important?
Project plans set the stage for the entire project. Without one, you’re missing a critical step in the overall project management process . When you launch into a project without defined goals or objectives, it can lead to disorganized work, frustration, and even scope creep. A clear, written project management plan provides a baseline direction to all stakeholders, while also keeping everyone accountable. It confirms that you have the resources you need for the project before it actually begins.
A project plan also allows you, as the person in charge of leading execution, to forecast any potential challenges you could run into while the project is still in the planning stages. That way, you can ensure the project will be achievable—or course-correct if necessary. According to a study conducted by the Project Management Institute , there is a strong correlation between project planning and project success—the better your plan, the better your outcome. So, conquering the planning phase also makes for better project efficiency and results.
7 steps to write a project plan to keep you on track
To create a clear project management plan, you need a way to track all of your moving parts . No matter what type of project you’re planning, every work plan should have:
Goals and project objectives
Stakeholders and roles
Scope and budget
Milestones , deliverables , and project dependencies
Timeline and schedule
Not sure what each of these mean or should look like? Let’s dive into the details:
Step 1: Define your goals and objectives
You’re working on this project plan for a reason—likely to get you, your team, or your company to an end goal. But how will you know if you’ve reached that goal if you have no way of measuring success?
Every successful project plan should have a clear, desired outcome. Identifying your goals provides a rationale for your project plan. It also keeps everyone on the same page and focused on the results they want to achieve. Moreover, research shows that employees who know how their work is contributing to company objectives are 2X as motivated . Yet only 26% of employees have that clarity. That’s because most goal-setting happens separate from the actual work. By defining your goals within your work plan, you can connect the work your team is doing directly to the project objectives in real-time.
What's the difference between project goals and project objectives?
In general, your project goals should be higher-level than your project objectives. Your project goals should be SMART goals that help you measure project success and show how your project aligns with business objectives . The purpose of drafting project objectives, on the other hand, is to focus on the actual, specific deliverables you're going to achieve at the end of your project. Your project plan provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, so you can create a workflow that hits project objectives.
Your project plan provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, by way of your project objectives. By incorporating your goals directly into your planning documentation, you can keep your project’s North Star on hand. When you’re defining your project scope, or outlining your project schedule, check back on your goals to make sure that work is in favor of your main objectives.
Step 2: Set success metrics
Once you’ve defined your goals, make sure they’re measurable by setting key success metrics. While your goal serves as the intended result, you need success metrics to let you know whether or not you’re performing on track to achieve that result. The best way to do that is to set SMART goals . With SMART goals, you can make sure your success metrics are clear and measurable, so you can look back at the end of your project and easily tell if you hit them or not.
For example, a goal for an event might be to host an annual 3-day conference for SEO professionals on June 22nd. A success metric for that goal might be having at least 1,000 people attend your conference. It’s both clear and measurable.
Step 3: Clarify stakeholders and roles
Running a project usually means getting collaborators involved in the execution of it. In your project management plan, outline which team members will be a part of the project and what each person’s role will be. This will help you decide who is responsible for each task (something we’ll get to shortly) and let stakeholders know how you expect them to be involved.
During this process, make sure to define the various roles and responsibilities your stakeholders might have. For example, who is directly responsible for the project’s success? How is your project team structured (i.e. do you have a project manager, a project sponsor , etc.)? Are there any approvers that should be involved before anything is finalized? What cross-functional stakeholders should be included in the project plan? Are there any risk management factors you need to include?
Consider using a system, such as a RACI chart , to help determine who is driving the project forward, who will approve decisions, who will contribute to the project, and who needs to remain informed as the project progresses.
Then, once you’ve outlined all of your roles and stakeholders, make sure to include that documentation in your project plan. Once you finalize your plan, your work plan will become your cross-functional source of truth.
Step 4: Set your budget
Running a project usually costs money. Whether it’s hiring freelancers for content writing or a catering company for an event, you’ll probably be spending some cash.
Since you’ve already defined your goals and stakeholders as part of your project plan, use that information to establish your budget. For example, if this is a cross-functional project involving multiple departments, will the departments be splitting the project cost? If you have a specific goal metric like event attendees or new users, does your proposed budget support that endeavor?
By establishing your project budget during the project planning phase (and before the spending begins), you can get approval, more easily track progress, and make smart, economical decisions during the implementation phase of your project. Knowing your budget beforehand helps you with resource management , ensuring that you stay within the initial financial scope of the project. Planning helps you determine what parts of your project will cost what—leaving no room for surprises later on.
Step 5: Align on milestones, deliverables, and project dependencies
An important part of planning your project is setting milestones, or specific objectives that represent an achievement. Milestones don’t require a start and end date, but hitting one marks a significant accomplishment during your project. They are used to measure progress. For example, let’s say you’re working to develop a new product for your company . Setting a milestone on your project timeline for when the prototype is finalized will help you measure the progress you’ve made so far.
A project deliverable , on the other hand, is what is actually produced once you meet a milestone. In our product development example, we hit a milestone when we produced the deliverable, which was the prototype. You can also use project dependencies —tasks that you can’t start until others are finished. Dependencies ensure that work only starts once it’s ready. Continuing the example, you can create a project dependency to require approval from the project lead before prototype testing begins.
If you’re using our free project plan template , you can easily organize your project around deliverables, dependencies, and milestones. That way, everyone on the team has clear visibility into the work within your project scope, and the milestones your team will be working towards.
Step 6: Outline your timeline and schedule
In order to achieve your project goals, you and your stakeholders need clarity on your overall project timeline and schedule. Aligning on the time frame you have can help you better prioritize during strategic planning sessions.
Not all projects will have clear-cut timelines. If you're working on a large project with a few unknown dates, consider creating a project roadmap instead of a full-blown project timeline. That way, you can clarify the order of operations of various tasks without necessarily establishing exact dates.
Once you’ve covered the high-level responsibilities, it’s time to focus some energy on the details. In your work plan template , start by breaking your project into tasks, ensuring no part of the process is skipped. Bigger tasks can even be broken down into smaller subtasks, making them more manageable.
Then, take each task and subtask, and assign it a start date and end date. You’ll begin to visually see everything come together in a cohesive project timeline . Be sure to add stakeholders, mapping out who is doing what by when.
Step 7: Share your communication plan
We’ve established that most projects include multiple stakeholders. That means communication styles will vary among them. You have an opportunity to set your expectations up front for this particular project in your project plan. Having a communication plan is essential for making sure everyone understands what’s happening, how the project is progressing, and what’s going on next. And in case a roadblock comes up, you’ll already have a clear communication system in place.
As you’re developing your communication plan, consider the following questions:
How many project-related meetings do you need to have? What are their goals?
How will you manage project status updates ? Where will you share them?
What tool will you use to manage the project and communicate progress and updates?
Like the other elements of your project plan, make sure your communication plan is easily accessible within your project plan. Stakeholders and cross-functional collaborators should be able to easily find these guidelines during the planning and execution phases of your project. Using project planning tools or task management software that integrates with apps like Slack and Gmail can ensure all your communication happens in one easily accessible place.
Example project plan
Next, to help you understand what your project management plan should look like, here are two example plans for marketing and design projects that will guide you during your own project planning.
Project plan example: annual content calendar
Let’s say you’re the Content Lead for your company, and it’s your responsibility to create and deliver on a content marketing calendar for all the content that will be published next year. You know your first step is to build your work plan. Here’s what it might look like:
Goals and success metrics
You establish that your goal for creating and executing against your content calendar is to increase engagement by 10%. Your success metrics are the open rate and click through rate on emails, your company’s social media followers, and how your pieces of content rank on search engines.
Stakeholders and each person’s role
There will be five people involved in this project.
You, Content Lead: Develop and maintain the calendar
Brandon and Jamie, Writers: Provide outlines and copy for each piece of content
Nate, Editor: Edit and give feedback on content
Paula, Producer: Publish the content once it’s written and edited
Your budget for the project plan and a year’s worth of content is $50,000.
Milestones and deliverables
Your first milestone is to finish the content calendar, which shows all topics for the year. The deliverable is a sharable version of the calendar. Both the milestone and the deliverables should be clearly marked on your project schedule.
You’ve determined that your schedule for your content calendar project plan will go as follows:
October 15 - November 1: The research phase to find ideas for topics for content
November 2 - November 30: Establish the topics you’ll write about
December 1 - January 1: Build the calendar
January 1 - December 31: Content will be written by Brandon and Jamie, and edited by Nate, throughout the year
January 16 - December 31: Paula will begin publishing and continue to do so on a rolling basis throughout the year.
You’ll have a kick-off meeting and then monthly update meetings as part of your communication plan. Weekly status updates will be sent on Friday afternoons. All project-related communication will occur within a project management tool .
How ClassPass manages project plans from start to finish
Kerry Hoffman, Senior Project Manager of Marketing Operations at ClassPass , oversees all marketing projects undertaken by the creative, growth, and content teams. Here are her top three strategies for managing project plans:
Identify stakeholders up front: No matter the size of the project, it’s critical to know who the stakeholders are and their role in the project so you ensure you involve the right people at each stage. This will also make the review and approval process clear before the team gets to work.
Agree on how you want to communicate about your project: Establish where and when communication should take place for your project to ensure that key information is captured in the right place so everyone stays aligned.
Be adaptable and learn other people’s working styles: Projects don’t always go according to plan, but by implementing proper integration management you can keep projects running smoothly. Also, find out how project members like to work so you take that into account as you create your plan. It will help things run smoother once you begin executing.
Write your next project plan like a pro
Congratulations—you’re officially a work planning pro. With a few steps, a little bit of time, and a whole lot of organization, you’ve successfully written a project plan.
Keep yourself and your team on track, and address challenges early by using project planning software like Asana . Work through each of the steps of your project plan with confidence, and streamline your communications with the team.
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7 Steps to Successful Project Planning
6 min. read
Updated October 24, 2023
Lately, I have been part of several project teams. Some of these experiences have caused me to sit back and analyze the project planning process to understand how project management planning and implementation could be improved.
Why do projects managed by talented people end up being delayed or not completed? Why do project teams sometimes feel that they are shooting at a moving target? I find that the lack of proper planning or failure to create a systematic approach can be fatal to projects.
- What is project planning?
Project planning is the process of defining your objectives and scope, your goals and milestones (deliverables), and assigning tasks and budgetary resources for each step. A good plan is easily shareable with everyone involved, and it’s most useful when it’s revisited regularly. Simply outlining a plan and never discussing it with your team again is a good recipe for wasted time and effort.
You can do your project planning in a simple Google doc, or you can use project management software. The benefit of using project management software is that you’re usually able to store all of your documents and deliverables in one place, and you can avoid losing important discussions and decisions to the email or Slack void. With a tool like Basecamp, for example, it’s easy to track progress and keep track of conversations and items that require collaboration with a few different people.
If you’re thinking about project management as an entrepreneur or within a fast-paced startup, it might seem like it all takes too much time at the outset. But, you’ll actually save a lot of time and resources if you document your project plan right from the start and use it as a roadmap to keep you and your team on track.
Here are seven keys to successful project planning to help you get started.
- 1. Think of your plan as a roadmap for stakeholders
Every project needs a roadmap with clearly defined goals that should not change after the first phase of the project has been completed. All stakeholders benefiting from the outcome or involved in executing the project should be named and their needs stated during the initial project planning process.
These stakeholders might include:
- The project manager or the person ultimately responsible for completion
- The “customer” who receives the deliverables—this can be someone on your team (internal) or an actual paying customer.
- The team, or the people responsible for any tactic that’s part of the plan.
Don’t assume that you automatically understand each stakeholder’s needs and goals. Before you get too far into documenting your project plan, talk to them to make sure you really understand the project and abilities and resources of everyone on the team.
- 2. Break the project into a list of deliverables
Develop a list of all deliverables. This list should break down the larger project into smaller tasks that can be assigned to specific team members, and you should include estimated deadlines associated with each deliverable or task.
What’s your biggest business challenge right now?
Make sure that you understand and document the approval process for each deliverable. If your project is for an external customer, make sure you are clear on their internal approval process, so that you’re not surprised by delays or slowed down with wading through competing opinions.
- 3. Talk to your team
Identify by name all individuals and/or organizations involved in each deliverable or task, and describe their responsibilities in detail. Otherwise, miscommunication can lead to delays and situations where team members may have to redo their work.
Hold a kickoff meeting to talk to your team about your intended plan of attack. Ask them to help you think about the best way to get the work done. Not only will this help you be more efficient, it will help you get their buy-in because they’ll feel more ownership over the process. Using a project management tool like Basecamp can be helpful keeping everyone on track and storing documents and conversations all in one place.
If you use email to communicate about projects, consider using a team inbox email solution that will allow you to assign emails that need project-related attention to team members as appropriate, rather than endlessly forwarding huge conversation threads back and forth.
- 4. Identify risks
Determine the risks involved in your project. Think through what you’ll do if something takes much longer than expected, or if costs end up being much more than you initially anticipated.
You don’t have to have a specific course of action identified for every possible negative outcome, but you should spend some time with your team, thinking through what could go wrong. Then, you can do as much as you can to mitigate those risks from the outset, rather than being caught off guard later. Risk factors can also have some influence on how you budget.
- 5. Create a budget
Attached to your list of milestones and deliverables should be information about the project cost and estimated budget. Resist the urge to assign large dollar amounts to big projects without identifying exactly how the money is intended to be spent. This will help your team understand the resources they have to work with to get the job done. When you’re setting your initial budget, these numbers might be ranges rather than absolutes.
For certain items, you might need to get quotes from a few different vendors. It can be helpful to document the agreed upon project scope briefly in your budget documentation, in case you end up needing to make changes to the larger project based on budgetary constraints, or if your vendor doesn’t deliver exactly what you expected.
- 6. Add milestones
Use your list of deliverables as a framework for adding milestones and tasks that will need to be completed to accomplish the larger goal. Establish reasonable deadlines, taking into account project team members’ productivity, availability, and efficiency.
Think about your milestones within the SMART framework. Your goals should be:
- Specific: Clear, concise, and written in language anyone could understand.
- Measurable: Use numbers or quantitative language when appropriate. Avoid vague descriptions that leave success up to personal, subjective interpretation.
- Acceptable: Get buy-in from stakeholders on your goals, milestones, and deliverables.
- Realistic: Stretch goals are one thing, but don’t set goals that are impossible to achieve. It’s frustrating for your team and for your stakeholders, and might ultimately delay your project because accomplishing the impossible usually costs more and takes longer.
- Time-based: Set concrete deadlines. If you have to alter deadlines associated with your milestones, document when and why you made the change. Avoid stealth changes—or editing deadlines without notifying your team and relevant stakeholders.
- 7. Set progress reporting guidelines
These can be monthly, weekly, or daily reports. Ideally, a collaborative workspace should be set up for your project online or offline where all parties can monitor the progress. Make sure you have a communication plan—document how often you’ll update stakeholders on progress and how you’ll share information—like at a weekly meeting or daily email.
Use the framework you set up when you identified your milestones to guide your reports. Try not to recreate any wheels or waste time with generating new reports each time you need to communicate progress. Keep in mind that using a project management software like Basecamp can keep stakeholders in the loop without cluttering up your inbox, or losing conversations in long Slack chats.
The secret to effective project planning and management is staying organized and communicating well with your team and stakeholders. Whether you decide to use project management software or not, think about where and how you store all the materials and resources that relate to your project—keep everything in one place if you can. Good luck!
Make confident decisions by following a 4-step growth planning process
Varju Luceno is the owner of Global Office Partners - a marketing firm that focuses on the needs of professional service businesses. Varju is also a global marketer, blogger and writer on small business and technology related topics. She earned her MBA in marketing from the University of Montana in Missoula.
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What is a project plan?
A project plan defines project goals and objectives, specifies tasks and how goals will be achieved, identifies what resources will be needed and associated budgets and timelines for completion. A project plan defines all work in a project and identifies who will do it. A typical project plan consists of: A statement of work, a resource list, work breakdown structure, a project schedule and a risk plan.
Having a well-developed project plan is one of the critical success factors for projects. A project plan is the Project Manager’s communications and control tool for use throughout the lifecycle of the project. Project plans are living documents, which provide project direction. Project plans contain all of the planning documents that are part of the entire process. Components of the project plan include baselines, baseline management plans, risk management, quality, procurement, resourcing and communications.
The project plan identifies the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders. The project manager gets clarity and agreement on what will be done, by whom, as well as which decisions each stakeholder will make. The scope of work statement is one of the most important documents in the project plan. The scope includes the business need and business problem, the project objectives, deliverables, and key milestones.
Project baselines are established in the project plan. These baselines include scope, schedule and cost baselines. The scope baseline will include all of the deliverables produced on the project. The deliverables can be developed into a work breakdown structure. Schedule and cost baselines will include estimates of the time to complete each task and the cost of each task. Task dependency is identified in order to develop the critical path.
The project plan will also include a scope change plan, a process for issue escalation, a risk management plan and most importantly a communications plan. Project managers spend a lot of time developing clear project plans. A well thought out project plan leads to smooth execution and successful completion.
Area of Application Project Management
Related Terms Critical Path Gantt Chart Pert Chart Project Manager Scope Change Request
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What is a project plan and how to write a killer plan in 6 steps
A project plan is an essential document for keeping your project on track. It states the purpose of your project and identifies the scope, structure, resources, goals, deliverables, and timelines.
Without a solid plan, projects typically get delayed and run over budget.
In this high-level guide, we’ll show you how to write a project plan in six steps and share five monday.com templates to get you up and running quickly. But first, let’s define a project plan and its various components.
What is a project plan?
A project plan is a formal document that outlines an entire project’s goals and objectives, specific tasks, and what success looks like.
In addition to setting the purpose of your project, it should include other materials and deliverables relevant to the project, such as:
- Timelines and Gantt charts for key milestones — like start and end dates, getting your 200th customer, or launching an event or app.
- Communication plans — to keep everyone informed of progress, achievements, and potential roadblocks.
- Work breakdown structure — especially if you have multiple team members working on different or simultaneous tasks, in which case, you may also need a Project Planner .
- Resources needed to complete the project — like project management tools, cash, freelancers, and more.
In short, your project plan serves as a central hub to define, organize, prioritize, and assign activities and resources throughout your project’s life cycle.
What is project planning?
Project planning is the second phase in the project management lifecycle :
- PHASE 1: Project Initiation — where you identify a business need or problem and a potential solution.
- PHASE 2: Project Planning — where you define specific tasks, assign responsibilities, and create the project schedule.
- PHASE 3: Project Execution — where you touch base with resources, monitor the timeline and budget, and report back to stakeholders.
- PHASE 4: Project Close-out — where you review the success of the project.
During the project planning phase, you extend the project charter document from the initiation phase to create your detailed project plan. Typical tasks within the project planning phase include:
- Setting a budget.
- Defining a project schedule or timeline.
- Creating work breakdown structures.
- Identifying resources and ensuring availability.
- Assessing any potential roadblocks and planning for those scenarios .
- Defining project objectives , roles, deadlines, responsibilities, and project milestones .
Project plan elements
Here’s how a project plan differs from other project planning elements.
Project plan vs. work plan
Although similar, work plans are not as comprehensive as project plans. A work plan focuses on helping project teams achieve smaller objectives, whereas a project plan provides a high-level overview of an entire project’s goals and objectives.
Project plan vs. project charter
A project charter provides an overview of a project. It’s a formal short document that states a project’s existence and authorizes project managers to commence work. The charter describes a project’s goals, objectives, and resource requirements. You create it in the project initiation phase before your project plan and present it to key stakeholders to get the project signed off.
Project plan vs. project scope
Part of your project plan includes the project scope , which clearly defines the size and boundaries of your project. You document the project scope in three places: a scope statement, work breakdown structure (WBS), and WBS dictionary. It serves as a reference point to monitor project progress, compare actual versus planned results, and avoid scope creep.
Project plan vs. work breakdown structure
A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a hierarchical outline of the tasks required to complete your project. It breaks down large or complicated goals into more manageable tasks so you can execute the project plan. The WBS breaks down the project scope into phases, subprojects, deliverables, and work packages that lead to your final deliverable.
Project plan vs. agile project
An agile project is the opposite of a traditional project plan. Agile projects use an incremental, iterative approach to deliver a project, whereas traditional projects — also known as a waterfall approach — use a cascading, step-by-step planning process. Agile projects are synonymous with software development teams, but you can use them in any field.
Why are project plans important?
Over a third of all projects experience something called scope creep . This is where the team ends up doing more work than originally planned. Much of this can be avoided by accounting for unexpected hold-ups or changes in circumstances within your project plan. A project plan also makes it easy to pinpoint when problems arose, so you can be better prepared for future projects.
If you look at the numbers related to project management, it’s easy to understand where a project management plan could have a positive impact— 45% of projects aren’t completed on time, and 38% of projects are over budget.
A project plan can help to curtail wily overspending and late turnaround by identifying these issues early. This leaves no room for confusion and delays in the workflow and progress of your projects.
How to create a project plan in 6 steps
There are no hard-and-fast rules for a project plan. However, we recommend you use the following six steps as a springboard for creating one.
1. Start with an executive summary
The executive summary goes at the beginning of your project plan and should summarize the key points of the project plan . It should restate the purpose of the project plan, highlight the major points of the plan, and describe any results, conclusions, or recommendations from the project.
Even though it is at the beginning of your project plan , it’s something you will write last , as you’ll be pulling out the main points from the rest of your plan.
It should be no longer than a page, offering a brief overview of:
- The project objectives and goals
- Your chosen project methodology/framework
- The final deliverables and acceptance criteria
- Key scope risks and countermeasures
- Summary of milestones
- An overview of the project timeline and schedule-based risks
- Resource and spending estimates
This snapshot of your project makes it easy for key stakeholders who aren’t actively involved in the mechanics of the project to understand it. For project managers, the executive summary serves as a quick reminder of the key project goal, scope, expectations, and limitations. Since almost a third of projects don’t meet their original goals, it’s important that project managers review the project plan regularly to stay on track.
2. Define the project scope
There are few things worse than starting on a project only for it to balloon. By defining a project’s scope , you set the boundaries for a project’s start and end dates as well as expectations about deliverables and who approves requests—and what merits approval— throughout a project.
It also involves outlining the potential risks associated with meeting these expectations and providing countermeasures to mitigate these risks. Identifying exactly who’s accountable for tracking these risks is essential.
This step will help you prevent scope creep, or how a project’s requirements tend to increase over a project lifecycle. Organizations complain that 34% of all their projects experience scope creep, yet only 52% of organizations go to the effort of mostly or always creating a scoping document every time.
3. Structure your project
There are several frameworks you could use to guide your project and this will affect your workflow’s organizations and how deliverables are produced and assigned.
For example, if you’re using the waterfall framework , you’ll be planning everything in advance, working through each stage of development sequentially, and specialized task owners executing their work at a defined time.
Remember that creating too many dependencies within your project structure can negatively impact success, so try to work out ways that teams can work autonomously to achieve deliverables in a timely manner. It’s also good to consider how many approvers are needed to maintain order but also to prevent bottlenecks.
Above all else, it’s important to incorporate set times for team knowledge-sharing, so your projects can be more successful. Make a note of the communication structures you’ll use to encourage collaboration .
4. Check what project resources you have available
Define the resources you have available for this project:
- Physical resources
You need to be precise when you’re assessing what you’ll need, otherwise you’re baking a cake with all the wrong ingredients. A resource manager or project manager can lead this.
As an example, when teams have the right highly skilled people, projects are 30% more likely to succeed. Yet, a third of people don’t believe their teams have all the right skills for the project—a recipe for failure.
The quantity of team members is also important—if the ratio of work to available people is off, efficiency and quality will suffer. If you want to effectively allocate your resources to meet expectations, you’ll need to be realistic about resource limitations.
This may, for example, mean adjusting timescales if you’re short on staff or increasing your budget if you need more specialist equipment.
5. Map out your project timeline
Organizations that implement time frames into project plans are more likely to succeed. Despite this, 52% of projects don’t always set baseline schedules. That’s probably why 45% of organizations say they rarely or never complete successful projects on time.
In this sense, it’s wise to add a project schedule section to your project plan. This part of your plan should set expectations on when you’ll deliver and how you’ll stick to your project timeline.
Your project schedule will look a little different depending on which framework you choose.
The tasks that you have a ‘Work in Progress’ (WIP) will depend on your team’s capacity. In this section, you should set your maximum number of WIPs you can have in each column at each time.
6. Manage your project changes
Organizations put change control in their top three project challenges. If you don’t solidify a change management plan , your team will be clueless about what to do when unplanned change hits. A dynamic change management plan will outline the steps to follow and the person to turn to when unforeseen changes occur.
A key part of this is having a change management tool in place. And monday work management is flexible enough to help you manage all parts of the project life cycle — from planning and monitoring to reporting and resource management. Let’s take a look at a few of our templates that can help you get started.
5 project planning templates to help you write a good project plan
monday.com templates can be lifesavers when it comes to visualizing each section of your project plan, and they make it easy to get started. Try these 5 project plan templates to kickstart your project planning process.
1. Project Plan Template
Looking for a general project plan template? Try one of our project plan templates .
Using this highly visual template by monday.com, you can structure your subprojects by set time periods and allocate accountable personnel to each phase.
Prioritize each project and add a timeline to show when deliverables are expected.
2. Resource Utilization Template
Resource management allows teams to focus on executing tasks, projects, and processes efficiently and achieve shared goals at scale.
You can allocate resources to individuals and tack on timescales so your staff knows what resources they’re responsible for in which phase. Adding a location makes it easy for teams to know where to hand over resources as they transition from one phase to the next—and they can check this on our mobile app.
Use the Workload view to manage your team’s time proactively and get an overview of the workload and capacity of each person on the team.
3. Project Cost Management Template
It’s far easier to plan a budget when you can see all your costs in one place.
That’s why this Project Cost Management Template from monday.com is so incredibly handy.
Add each subproject and plan out projected costs, allocating totals to each department. You can use the document to estimate the budget you’ll need and to record your approved project budget. You can then use our dashboards or reports to see the information in a different, more colorful way.
4. Project Timeline Template
Plan out your schedules with this Project Timeline Template .
While this dashboard isn’t really suitable if you’re working with the Kanban framework, it’s ideal for those operating under Waterfall or Scrum frameworks.
For Waterfall projects, add in your milestones, attach a timeline, and allocate a set number of workdays to complete the tasks for each milestone.
Tag the team leader for each phase so project managers know which milestones they’re responsible for.
During project execution, teams can use the status bar to track progress. They can also add updates to each milestone by clicking on each item, which encourages inter-team collaboration.
For Scrum projects, you can organize the dashboard by Sprints, adding in the specific tasks as they’re decided.
5. Program Risk Register Template
Visualize all your project scope and schedule risks in this Program Risk Register Template .
Use color-coded status bars to illustrate risk status, risk probability, and risk impact for your project scope and schedule.
You can even categorize risks, add a risk owner, and suggest mitigation strategies. That way other project team members know what to do if these risks start to blossom into real glitches.
Optimize your project management plan with the right tool
Project plans are an essential part of your team’s success.
While they are detail-oriented and complex, creating one and managing it shouldn’t be a struggle. Use monday.com’s pre-built planning templates to help you break down each section of the plan as you go and monitor everything in real-time.
Try monday work management, and see for yourself how much smoother your next project will run when you can consolidate all your project planning materials in one place.
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What Is Project Planning? Benefits, Tools, and More
Project planning is an essential part of project management. Discover more in this guide to what it is and how to create a plan.
What is project planning?
Project planning refers to the phase in project management in which you determine the actual steps to complete a project. This includes laying out timelines, establishing the budget, setting milestones, assessing risks, and solidifying tasks and assigning them to team members.
Project planning is the second stage of the project management lifecycle . The full cycle includes initiation, planning, execution, and closing.
Read more: How to Make a Project Plan in 4 Steps
Components of a project plan
During the planning phase of the project management lifecycle, you'll determine the steps to achieve your project goals. This is the "how" of completing the project.
The components of project planning are: tasks, milestones, people, documentation, and time. This step involves outlining your project scope, objectives, and timeline to make sure all stakeholders are on the same page.
Tasks: Tasks are activities that need to be accomplished within a set period of time. These are assigned to different members of the team according to their role and skill set.
Milestones: To go along with tasks, milestones are important points within the schedule that indicate progress. They tend to signify the completion of a deliverable or phase of the project.
People: A project plan also includes the people working on your team and their roles. It's important that each team member understands their role and the tasks they're responsible for completing. Ensuring that everyone is clear on their assigned tasks frees you up to focus on managing the project, ultimately creating a sense of personal responsibility for team members.
Documentation: During the project planning phase, it is a good idea to draft a project plan that links to relevant documentation. Besides your project plan, you can include documents like a RACI chart (Responsibility Assignment Matrix), which defines roles and responsibilities for individuals on your team. Another document is your charter which defines the project and outlines the details needed to reach your goals. You can include a budget and risk management plan, if relevant.
Time: Project plans should include the estimated duration of the project. How much time will be spent on each part? The schedule will be the anchor of your project plan. It includes dates for starting and completing tasks, and dates (deadlines) for reaching specific milestones. Indicating the project's start and end dates will help situate this project among competing priorities, and helps determine resources (including people) needed and when you'll need them.
Check out this video that outlines the components of a project plan:
Benefits of project planning
Project planning is important because it helps form the steps needed to complete a project successfully. Planning helps teams avoid potential problems and roadblocks to ensure the project stays on track. These are some benefits of a good project plan:
Helps ensure projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the required standard
Facilitates effective communication between all members of a project team
Helps identify potential risks and issues at an early stage
Helps you communicate your vision and objectives to your team
Keeps everyone focused on the goal
Tools used in project planning
Project planning tools can be manual using tangible items like pen and paper. They can also be software tools that produce visual elements that can connect teams across departments and time zones. A Gantt chart and a risk register can be conceived manually or on software.
Gantt chart: A horizontal bar chart in which members can see what tasks must be completed in what order, and how long each is expected to take
Risk register: A chart that lists risks associated with the project, along with their probability, potential impact, risk level, and mitigation plans
Project management software for planning
Project planning software helps you track and manage your project from start to finish. It can help you plan your project, assign tasks, track progress, and more. Project software has become more sophisticated and using cloud technology enables anyone to access the project data anywhere.
Here are some planning tasks you can perform with project management software:
Prioritize, organize, and allocate responsibilities using charts and graphs.
Create a timeline with milestones and task dependencies.
Keep track of your progress, costs, and resources.
Adjust timelines and maintain flexible scheduling as obstacles arise.
Share project plans with relevant parties.
Prepare data-driven reports and updates for stakeholders.
7 popular project planning software
Each project planning software has its own unique features and benefits. Here are some of the most popular options:
This is a great option for small businesses, because it offers features like task management , time tracking, and file sharing. You can create projects and assign tasks to team members. It even has a built-in calendar so you can plan your upcoming workload.
ClickUp is a cloud-based software for managing projects, teams, and tasks. You can create projects, organize tasks, assign tasks to team members, track progress, and much more. ClickUp also offers integrations with other popular apps, including Trello, Jira, Google Docs, and Slack.
Freedcamp is a web-based project management tool designed specifically for people who need help managing multiple projects at once. It features task lists, calendars, file sharing, and other features needed by teams who want to collaborate on a project simultaneously.
This is a very simple and easy-to-use project management tool that's great for teams of any size. It offers time tracking, progress reporting, and task management features. You can also integrate Hive with other tools like Slack, Google Drive, and Jira.
This is another popular project management tool with many great features like Gantt charts , resource planning, and issue tracking. You can also add comments on tasks, assign tasks to specific users or teams, and collaborate with them through chat.
Trello is a popular free project management app for managing projects and collaborating with teams. With Trello, you can manage projects across teams or solo efforts using cards representing tasks or ideas for future projects. The tool offers flexible sharing options so team members can collaborate on specific cards from anywhere.
Wrike is a project management and collaboration tool that allows you to manage projects from start to finish. It has a clean, easy-to-use interface and features like time-tracking and resource management. Like other tools, Wrike can integrate with other tools like Slack and Gmail.
Learn project management with Google
Whether or not you want to become a project manager, learning how to make a project plan and keep team members on track is important to many jobs. Google offers the popular Project Management Professional Certificate that covers the basics of project management, from traditional and agile methodologies. Over 75% of Google Career Certificate Graduates in the US report an improvement in their career trajectory (e.g. new job or career, promotion or raise) within 6 months of certificate completion.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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How to create a project plan — with templates
If you have a new project on the horizon but are worrying about how it will go, your concerns are understandable. Thankfully, project managers can prepare for better outcomes by putting in the time and energy required to craft a strong, clear project plan.
To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide explaining exactly what a project plan is and the steps needed to create one. This post will cover:
- What a project plan is
- Why project plans are important
How to create a project plan in six steps
Project plan template, what is a project plan.
A project plan — also called a project management plan — is a specific document designed to outline the expectations, stages, schedules, deliverables, and metrics for a given project. These plans mitigate the risk of failure or the inability to deliver expected outcomes while making it easier to allocate resources, track progress, and create accountability across teams.
Project plans serve as guides for the entire initiative and a reference point if things should seem to be moving off course. The project manager creates the project plan by listing requirements from the outset and organizing the deliverables and goals into action items to be addressed in a specific order. The project manager uses the project plan to assign team members appropriate roles and tasks.
A project plan should include the following components.
- Scope. This defines the goals, inclusions, tasks, and deliverables that make up the project.
- Budget. This determines how much can be monetarily spent in the course of the project.
- Timeline. This delineates how quickly teams must work and when the project should be completed.
Why are project plans important?
Without the guidance of a project plan, you’re likely to go off course when it comes to scope, budget, and timeline, producing an end result that fails to meet stakeholder expectations. From scope creep to unforeseen issues, any number of distractions and delays can take hold and create havoc on a project lacking a clear plan and objective.
Crafting a strong project plan removes any doubt about the goals and deliverables required to make a project successful and keeps your initiative on track.
Project plans help:
- Create a shared vision
- Define goals and objectives
- Establish schedules and milestones
- Assign team accountability
- Improve worker morale
- Reduce overhead costs
- Facilitate communication
While project management plans are driven by the project requirements, stakeholder expectations, and available resources, most plans follow a similar structure to provide clarity and vision to everyone involved. Follow these six steps to create your project plan.
1. Define your project scope
Project scope is the all-encompassing outline defining what the project should include in order to be completed successfully. This entails listing all of the features, requirements, metrics, and deliverables expected by stakeholders as well as the project’s timeframe and budget.
By default, the project scope indicates what a project should exclude. Knowing what the project doesn’t involve can be essential for preventing the problem of scope creep, where the requirements of a project shift and grow over time, making it harder to define or achieve success in a given timeframe.
Defining project scope gives you the opportunity to establish clear goals and objectives. Goals are singular, broad, and long-term outcomes, whereas your objectives are smaller, more easily broken-down tasks required to achieve each goal. Project managers can use the SMART method to ensure the goals they set are:
- Specific. Define what you need to accomplish.
- Measurable. Create a metric to define success.
- Attainable. Choose realistic goals given your available time and resources.
- Relevant. Align your goals with your business priorities and stakeholders’ preferences.
- Timebound. Indicate when the project must be completed.
Finally, define your key performance indicators (KPIs) to keep your project scope in line with the company’s bigger picture. Decide also what metrics you will use to measure your success . These can include resource capacity, budget variance, return on investment, and cycle time, to name a few.
2. Identify and meet with stakeholders
Stakeholders are anyone with a vested interest in your project. To identify your stakeholders, start with the people requesting or funding your project. Stakeholders can also include anyone who shares a part in making and delivering your product or service — company leadership, product owners, employees, and even customers.
Typical stakeholder roles for a project include:
- Project manager
- Project team members
- Project sponsor
- Project steering committee
- Business analyst
One resource that can help project managers to identify stakeholder roles and responsibilities is a RACI chart , which stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. These adjectives can help define each stakeholder role and clarify expectations for tasks. For example, some team members might be in charge of creating content or developing a project, while the business analyst could be tasked with reviewing requirements and output.
To keep everyone on the same page, teams need to agree upon a communication method that promotes collaboration and transparency. Have a plan ready for retrospectives, feedback, and any necessary clarification throughout the course of the work. Make it clear from the beginning where stakeholders will or will not be permitted to provide input in order to keep processes efficient and on schedule.
3. Structure your project — deliverables, milestones, and dependencies
The next step is to create a blueprint of all the work involved to accomplish the project scope. This outline is critical for demonstrating to the entire team what will be expected moving forward.
When outlining the approach to the project, it can help to choose a project management methodology .There are two popular approaches to choose from — Agile and waterfall . While Agile supports a flexible approach to projects where teams work iteratively and simultaneously, waterfall encourages a linear system where phases and steps are required in order to continue moving forward. The best fit will depend on the scope of the project and the construction of the team in question.
Product roadmaps are also helpful when structuring and outlining a project plan. These are visual representations of how project managers foresee task management with opportunities to demonstrate long-term initiatives and how smaller tasks roll up into them. Roadmaps can promote transparent communication for teams by clearly depicting priorities and the steps to achieve them.
When making you structuring your project, be sure to do the following.
- Define deliverables . Make the expected outcomes of the project clear with all requirements based on the agreed-upon scope.
- Set milestones. Establish the project schedule including dates or phases when specific tasks, iterations, or final deliverables should be completed.
- Plan for dependencies. Consider how tasks are related and the order they need to be approached to allocate resources and remain on schedule.
Before finalizing your roadmap, conduct a risk management assessment . While unforeseen circumstances can arise during a project, taking time to anticipate pitfalls can help mitigate the impact of these interruptions. This includes considering potential risks and creating a risk response plan to address threats. Examples of project management risks include reduced resources, operational changes, scope creep, and cost problems.
4. Set your project budget
A project is often only as strong as its available resources, and your budget defines these. All the work to be done, including human capital and tangible assets, will rely on the funds in your budget. So it’s crucial to establish your budget during the planning phase. Here are the basics of setting a project budget:
- Break down all your goals into tasks. Review your scope of work and break down your goals into specific tasks and milestones. Start with your biggest tasks and break those into smaller subtasks until each task is easy to achieve. If you followed the previous step, you’ve already done a large part of this work.
- Estimate each task and allocate your resources. Research what each task will cost. Then add up the estimates for all the project tasks. Review your available funds and resources and allocate them accordingly. This includes resource management and the proper allocation of tangible assets, like equipment, alongside team members and capacity.
- Get stakeholder buy-in. Preparing a budget can also ensure stakeholder buy-in and executive approval. In some instances, the initial spending proposal may come from the project manager, requiring extensive review and approval from stakeholders before getting started. Cost management review can also help leaders understand the difference between fixed costs (i.e., one-off fees) and indirect costs (i.e., salaries) for a fuller picture of the project’s total expense.
The best budgets are as itemized as possible, demonstrating resource allocation, accurate spending expectations, and areas for leeway in the event a task does not go quite as planned.
5. Outline your schedule and timeline
Use your project’s outline to formalize a timeline and schedule. Note these are two completely different entities, and both are essential for a project to thrive.
A project timeline is a graphic, chronological representation of all tasks indicating due dates along with dependencies, assignees, and scope for each task. A schedule is the list of forecasted dates of when specific tasks and project milestones should be completed.
Here are some tips for figuring out both your timeline and schedule:
- Start from the deadline and work your way back. You can often work backward from the final delivery date to ensure everything is completed according to the deadline.
- Create a work breakdown structure (WBS) . This can help show the number of different tasks required to complete the project and also show you each part of your project one at a time so you’re not overwhelmed. You should place your tasks in order, paying attention to any dependencies along the way. As you place these in sequence, you can also consider the anticipated time it will take to complete each one, filling in dates as they go along.
- Use Gantt charts and Kanban boards. It can help to visualize these timelines and schedules through the use of project management workflows. A Gantt chart uses horizontal lines to represent sequential and concurrent tasks while demonstrating the resources needed during planned periods of time. Kanban boards depict tasks as cards moved across a series of columns representing different project stages.
6. Present the project plan to stakeholders
With the project details in place, the last piece is the executive summary. While it appears first in a project plan, you’ll write it last as a high-level overview of the detailed plan you’ve created. The executive summary gives stakeholders a high-level review of all the essentials for a project plan that necessarily goes into minute detail. Stakeholder understanding and approval are critical for clear communication of expectations for what will be completed as well as when and how the work will be done.
Your executive summary should include the following sections.
- Introduction. Give a statement of purpose for the project and your role in it.
- Problem. Clearly state the problem you are trying to solve.
- Solution. Broadly show how you plan to solve the problem.
- Proof of value. Show why your solution is worthwhile.
- Timeline and budget. Give the condensed timeline and overall budget amount.
- Conclusion. Re-emphasize the importance of the project.
It can also be helpful to create a communications plan to keep stakeholders current throughout the project. Look for ways to make these updates easy to follow and quick to review. Regular stakeholder meetings or email summaries can help ensure essential feedback makes it back to the individual contributors working to fulfill the project requirements.
Once you present your project plan to executives and get their approval, the project can finally kick off with a higher expectation of success.
Project managers looking to get started on a project plan of their own should not feel intimidated. You can rest assured all plans are unique to the project, industry, and business they represent. However, there are project plan templates you can use to get started.
Here are the elements to include as you write your own plan. Feel free to customize the sections or elaborate as needed to make sure all of your individual needs are covered.
- Executive summary. Provide an overarching description of the plan’s inclusions, direction, and deliverables.
- Scope. Define everything the project should include to achieve success — features, goals, and high-level tasks — while also considering constraints.
- Budget. Align expectations with the set spending cap or by itemizing expenses to determine a total cost. Note that this should include pass-through costs for tangible resources as well as indirect costs for human capital tied to the project.
- Schedule and timeline. Establish the project delivery date along with the dates for milestones and individual task assignments. This can be done as a schedule of deadlines as well as a visual timeline demonstrating resource allocation and overlapping responsibilities.
- Requirements. Dig deeper by defining the requirements needed to achieve the project objective. Make sure these align with stakeholder expectations for the project output.
- Quality criteria. Set the standards by which successful iterations or project work will be completed. Include steps for review, revision, and cross-checking quality by team members and stakeholders.
- Project resources. Determine the resources needed to complete the project to meet expectations. People representing the desired skillsets should be included along with the tools or assets they will need to perform their work to the highest standard and efficiency.
- List of stakeholders. State all of the responsible and accountable parties including roles for review, administration, approvals, and project work. Remember stakeholders can encompass everyone from project managers to executives and individual team contributors.
- Communication plan. Outline exactly how, and how frequently, stakeholders will be updated regarding project progress. Choose an interval and format to encourage feedback and make it easy for everyone to share input while feeling heard and appreciated.
- Procurement strategy. Plan ahead for any assets or tools that will need to be acquired in order for teams to work effectively. Research different vendors to ensure the best price available also fits the budget.
- Risk management. Identify any threats that could disrupt project progress and create a contingency plan to mitigate the impact. This can include accommodations for employee leave, timetable delays, or setbacks due to quality testing.
You’re now ready to get going with your project plan. You can also keep yourself on the right track with online templates designed to simplify the process. Learn how to create templates in Adobe Workfront .
Creating your first project plan with the right tool
Project plans are designed to improve productivity and ensure efforts remain on task to deliver expected outcomes. Ultimately, project plans create a greater opportunity for success across the businesses and teams using them.
When you’re ready to begin a new project plan, jotting down your goals and projected outcomes can be a great starting point. Consider what is being asked of you and what you will need in terms of resources in order to accomplish the goal. From there, you can start to outline your requirements, define a budget, create timelines, and prepare a comprehensive project plan that will keep everyone, and everything, on track.
There are also tools you can use to make this process easier to manage, audit, and share. Adobe Workfront is designed to drive collaboration and help leaders tie metrics to outcomes, so you can be sure your project is delivering on all points. Manage the entire project lifecycle from a single system that users can access from anywhere, empowering teamwork and centralizing projects to create greater efficiencies.
Learn how Workfront can help you create effective project plans and get more details by taking a free product tour or by watching the overview video .
Run and collaborate on creative projects more smoothly.
Plan, manage, and track product launches and campaigns.
Stay organized and communicate critical details to teams.
Streamline and scale manufacturing operations.
See how TeamGantt helps teams like yours meet deadlines, streamline communication.
Successful marketing project starts with a plan.
Track event details and to-dos.
Scope out roadmaps and manage backlogs.
Manage design, copy, and video work.
Learn all about gantt charts and how to use them to manage projects more easily.
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How to Create a Realistic Project Plan with Templates & Examples
As a project manager, a huge part of your role is to write project plans that help you keep projects on track. But that’s not all a project plan should do.
A project plan is arguably the most important document you’ll create for a project. At its core, a plan should communicate your project approach and the process your team will use to manage the project according to scope.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can develop a rock-solid planning process that guides your team and projects to success.
What is a project plan?
Project plan example: what to include, why you should always write a project plan, 5 steps to an effective project planning process, how to create a project plan in teamgantt, free project plan templates.
A project plan is a document that maps out the tasks, effort, timing, and resources needed to meet project goals within a predefined scope. It’s often presented in the form of a gantt chart because it’s easy to visualize the project timeline and ensure work stays on track.
Any solid project management plan should answer the following questions:
- What are the major deliverables?
- How will we get to those deliverables and the deadline?
- Who’s on the project team, and what role will they play in those deliverables?
- Which stakeholders need to provide feedback on deliverables, and when?
- When will the team meet milestones?
A project plan communicates this information in a simple, straightforward way so everyone clearly understands the objectives and how they contribute to project success. It may also be accompanied by other planning documents, such as a project charter , risk assessment , or communication plan .
While no two project plans are alike, they all share the same common building blocks. Be sure to include the following components in any project plan you create:
- Project tasks : A detailed list of work to be done organized by project phase, process step, or work group
- Project schedule : A visual timeline of task start dates, durations, and deadlines, with clear progress indicators
- Key milestones : Major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables used for tracking forward progress
- Dependencies : A line connecting tasks that need to happen in a certain order
- Resources : Assignments that indicate the person or team responsible for completing a task
Here’s a simple example of what a project plan looks like with these basic elements highlighted:
Some people don’t understand the power of a good project plan. If you feel pressured to skip the plan and jump right into the work, remind your team and stakeholders that having a plan benefits everyone by making it easier to:
- Build consensus before work begins : A detailed project plan ensures everyone has a clear understanding of—and agrees on—the overall process, scope, staffing, and even communications from the outset. That goes a long way in keeping project confusion and pop-up requests from gumming up the works.
- Avoid scheduling conflicts : Project plans enable you to organize tasks so it’s clear who's responsible for what and when. If your team is juggling multiple projects, you can cross-reference other plans to see who’s available to take on new work before committing to a timeline.
- Monitor project goals and scope : When new tasks creep in, it’s easy to lose sight of the original objectives. Spelling out the work you need to complete in a time-based plan keeps project goals front and center so you can ensure project scope stays intact.
- Hold your team and stakeholders accountable : A good project plan sets expectations around the process and pacing you'll follow each step of the way. When plans are shared with teams and stakeholders, it keeps folks honest about what is—or isn’t—happening and forces you to resolve issues in a timely way.
Poor planning can lead to some pretty ugly consequences—from missed deadlines and budget overages to team burnout and client frustration. That’s why it’s important to establish a solid process you can use to plan any project.
Planning a project doesn’t have to be difficult. These basic project planning steps can help you write a plan that’s both realistic and on target.
- Start with project discovery & definition
- Draft a rough outline of your plan
- Formalize your project management plan
- Present & confirm your plan
- Execute your plan & adjust as needed
Step 1: Start with project discovery and definition
A project plan is more than a dry document with dates. It’s the story of your project, and you don’t want it to be a tall tale! So make sure you know all the facts before you start creating a project plan.
Understand the project scope and value
Understanding the ins and outs of the project will help you determine the best process and identify any snags that might get in the way of success. Conduct your own research to dig deeper on:
- Project goals and outcomes
- Partnerships and outlying dependencies
- Potential issues and risks
Review the scope of work , and dive into any documents or communications relevant to the project (maybe an RFP or notes from sales calls or client meetings). Be thorough in your research to uncover critical project details, and ask thoughtful questions before you commit to anything.
Interview key stakeholders
If you want to dazzle stakeholders with a stellar project delivery, you’ve got to know how they work and what they expect. Schedule time with your main project contact, and ask them some tough questions about process, organizational politics, and general risks before creating a project plan.
This will give project stakeholders confidence that your team has the experience to handle any difficult personality or situation. It also shows you care about the success of the project from the start.
Be sure to discuss these things with your stakeholders:
- Product ownership and the decision-making process
- Stakeholder interest/involvement levels
- Key outages, meetings, deadlines, and driving factors
- Related or similar projects, goals, and outcomes
- The best way to communicate with partners and stakeholders
See a list of sample interview questions to ask stakeholders so you can develop better project plans.
Get to know your team
The last step in the research phase is to take time to learn more about the people who’ll be responsible for the work. Sit down with your team and get to know their:
- Collaboration and communication styles
- Availability and workload
Understanding these basics about your team will help you craft a thoughtful plan that takes their work styles and bandwidth into consideration. After all, a happy team delivers better projects.
Step 2: Draft a rough outline of your plan
Now that you’ve gathered the basic project details, the next step is to knock out a rough draft of your plan. Take some time to think about the discussions you had in the pre-planning phase and the approach your team might take to meet the project goals.
Sketch out the main components of your project plan
Sit down with a pen and paper (or a whiteboard), and outline how the project should work at a high level. Be sure you have a calendar close by to check dates.
If you’re at a loss for where to begin, start with the who, what, when, and how of the project. A first outline can be very rough and might look something like a work breakdown structure . Make sure your project outline includes the following components:
- Deliverables and the tasks required to create them
- Your client’s approval process
- Timeframes associated with tasks/deliverables
- Ideas on resources needed for tasks/deliverables
- A list of the assumptions you’re making in the plan
- A list of absolutes as they relate to the project budget and/or deadlines
Considering these elements will help you avoid surprises—or at least minimize them. And remember, you’re doing this as a draft so you can use it as a conversation-starter for your team. It’s not final yet!
Get input from your team on process, effort, and timing
You don’t want to put yourself or your team in an awkward position by not coming to a consensus on the approach before presenting it to your client. That's why a project manager can’t be the only one writing a project plan.
Once you’ve created a basic project outline, take those rough ideas and considerations to your team. This enables you to invite discussion about what might work rather than simply dictating a process. After all, every project must begin with clear communication of the project goals and the effort required to meet them.
Be sure to get input from your team on how they can complete the tasks at hand without killing the budget and the team’s morale. As a project manager, you can decide on Agile vs. Waterfall approaches , but when it comes down to it, you need to know that the team can realistically execute the plan.
You can also use this review time to question your own thinking and push the team to take a new approach to the work. For example, if you’re working on a digital product, could designers start creating visual concepts while the wireframes are being developed? Or can you have two resources working on the same task at once?
Running ideas by the team and having an open dialogue about the approach not only helps you build a more accurate project plan. It gets everyone thinking about the project in the same terms. This type of buy-in and communication builds trust and gets people excited about working together to solve a goal. It can work wonders for the greater good of your team and project.
Step 3: Formalize your project management plan
You should feel comfortable enough at this point to put together a rock-solid project schedule using whatever tool works for you.
Build out a detailed project schedule that’s easy to read
Any good online project planning tool will help you formalize your thoughts and lay them out in a consistent, visual format that’s easy to follow and track. (Ahem, TeamGantt works nicely for a lot of happy customers. )
Make sure tasks have clear start and end dates so there’s no question when work needs to happen to hit project deadlines. Organize work into phases, and use labels and/or color-coding to improve scannability. The easier your project plan is to understand at a glance, the better!
See how to create a project plan in TeamGantt
Consider how your team likes to work
Be as flexible as possible when it comes to how your project plan is presented. There's no absolute when it comes to how to format your plan as long as you and your team understand what goes into one.
Remember, people absorb information differently. While you might be partial to a gantt chart, others might prefer to view tasks in a list, calendar, or even a kanban board. You can make all of those variations work if you’ve taken the steps to create a solid plan.
For example, here’s an Agile project plan we built that lists each sprint as its own task group with milestones for sprint planning and deployment.
And here’s what that same project plan looks like if you turn it into a kanban board in TeamGantt. Simply click the Board tab and set up your columns so your team can manage their daily workflows more easily.
If your team currently prefers spreadsheets and isn’t quite ready to use TeamGantt yet, try our free Excel gantt chart template .
Step 4: Present and confirm your plan
You’re almost finished! Now it’s time to do your due diligence. It’s easy to throw stuff in a plan, but you have to make sure you get it right.
Run your final plan by your internal team
Your team needs to know the reality of your plan as it stands after you’ve built it out in TeamGantt. And you want to be sure they’re comfortable committing to the details. If they don’t, things will quickly fall apart!
Always review your final plan with your team before delivering it to stakeholders. Why? Because things like dates and tasks—and even assignments—will shift as you formalize the rough sketch of your plan.
Here are a few things you’ll want to discuss with your team as you review the final plan together:
- Review times
- Team work times
- Time off, meetings, and milestones
- The final deadline
- Any assumptions you’ve made
- Major changes since your last talk
There’s nothing more embarrassing than delivering a plan with an error or a promise you can’t keep. Taking a few minutes to get buy-in from your team will give everyone peace of mind about your plan.
Review your project plan with stakeholders
Once you’ve confirmed the plan with your team and have their full sign-off, you’re ready to share your project plan with stakeholders .
When delivering your project plan, make sure you provide an executive summary. This might come in the form of a project brief . A short recap of the overall methodology, resources, assumptions, deadlines, and related review times will help you convey what the plan means to the project and everyone involved.
Project plans can be daunting, so schedule time to present your project plan to stakeholders at a high level. Here are some things you’ll want to point out about your plan during this review:
- Overall process and pacing
- Major deliverables and timing
- The time they’ll have to review deliverables
- Overall timing for task groups or phases
- How far off you are from the deadline
- Wiggle room on the final deadline
If a stakeholder is interested in the day-to-day details, feel free to walk them through the plan line by line. Otherwise, start by explaining overall sections or phases, and be sure to come back to your plan at intervals throughout the project to remind them of tasks, next steps, and overall progress.
Step 5: Execute your plan and adjust as needed
Some projects are smooth and easy to manage, and others are a complete nightmare that wake you up at 3 a.m. every other night. Thankfully, having a solid project plan is your best defense against project chaos once work gets underway.
Keep in mind that project plans are living documents. Projects change constantly, and someone has to stay on top of—and document—that change. Remember to:
- Update your plan regularly as work progresses and things change
- Communicate changes to your team, partners, and stakeholders
- Monitor and communicate risks as your project evolves
Ready to plan your project in TeamGantt? Follow these easy steps to build a plan that’s structured well and includes the elements you need for project success.
1. Enter your basic project details.
To create a new project plan in TeamGantt, click the New Project button in the upper right corner of the My Projects screen. Then enter your project name and start date, and select the days of the week you want to include in your plan. Click Create New Project to move on to the next step.
2. List out your project tasks and milestones.
Now the real planning fun begins! Enter all the different tasks it will take to get the job done. If there are any key meetings, deliverable deadlines, or approvals, add those as milestones in your project plan.
3. Organize tasks into subgroups.
Scrolling through one long list of tasks can be mind-numbing, even to the best of us. Break tasks down into phases or sections to ensure your project plan is easy to read and understand.
4. Add task durations and milestone dates to the project timeline.
A visual project plan makes it easy to see exactly what needs to get done by when. Make sure every task has a start and end date so nothing falls through the cracks. TeamGantt’s drag and drop feature makes this planning step quick and easy.
5. Connect related tasks with dependencies.
Adding dependencies between tasks ensures work gets done in the right order and also helps you plan for delay risks. If your plan shifts and you need to move tasks around, dependencies speed up the process.
6. Assign responsible team members to tasks.
That way there’s no confusion about who’s doing what, and your team can update and manage their daily tasks . Don’t forget to check team availability along the way to avoid overloading anyone with too much work.
7. Use the RACI chart to define task roles more clearly.
This feature takes accountability one step further by letting you assign more specific roles to each task: Responsible , Accountable , Consulted , and Informed . Learn how RACI charts work and what each role means.
8. Add hourly estimates and/or points to each task.
This makes it easy to see the lift each task involves at a glance. Including hourly estimates in your project plan also enables you to manage workloads and track overages more accurately.
9. Color-code tasks for better scannability.
You can use colors to categorize tasks by project phase, priority, department, or team member—whatever makes visual sense to you and your team.
10. Add notes to clarify tasks or spell out important details.
There’s no such thing as too much information if it means your team has what they need to deliver quality work on time. Use the Notes section of your Discussion tab to enter any pertinent details your team will find helpful.
11. Upload important documents to the project.
This ensures project files are accessible to everyone in a centralized hub. For example, you might attach your creative brief to the project so your content and design teams have clear direction for completing their deliverables.
If you’re planning a project for the first time or taking on a totally new type of project, you might be struggling to get your plan off the ground. We created a simple project management plan template to help you get started.
TeamGantt gives you the ability to quickly and easily build and adjust your plan using drag and drop scheduling. Plus, it comes with customizable views to fit every team member’s work style.
Try our basic project plan template for free!
Looking for more specific project plan examples to jumpstart your process? Use these project planning templates to generate ideas and save time building out your plan:
- Construction project plan template
- Event planning template
- Strategic marketing plan template
- Tactical marketing plan template
- Software development plan template
- Video production schedule template
- Website project plan template
Plan your next project in minutes
Discover just how easy project planning can be with TeamGantt. Create your first gantt chart for free!
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How To Write a Project Plan in 8 Easy Steps
By Laura Quiambao , April 25, 2022 - 10 min read
A project plan is a comprehensive document that outlines the goals, objectives, timelines, and resources needed to complete a project successfully. It’s an essential tool for project managers and team members to monitor the project’s progress and ensure that it stays on track.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the essential steps to write a project plan that meets your team’s needs. We’ll cover how to define the project’s scope , set realistic goals and timelines, identify potential risks and issues, create a project schedule, and monitor and adjust the plan as needed. As a bonus, we’ll share with you the project scheduling template that will help you to start your planning effortlessly.
How to write a project plan in 8 easy steps
Step 1: explain the project to key stakeholders, define goals, and get initial buy-in.
The first step in any project is to define the “what” and “why.” Key stakeholders have the influence and authority to determine whether a project is successful, and their objectives must be satisfied. Even if the project comes from the CEO himself, you still need their buy-in.
Use this initial conversation to get aligned, define goals, and determine the value of the project. In this part of the project planning process, discuss needs and expectations and establish a scope baseline, budget, and timeline. This creates a solid base for your project work plan. Consider utilizing a project plan template to get started.
Here are some questions you should consider reviewing with stakeholders:
- How do we write a project plan that aligns with company goals?
- What do stakeholders expect? What will be expected from them?
- How will you measure success?
- What are your resources?
- What assets or deliverables are expected out of this project?
Step 2: List out goals, align OKRs, and outline the project
According to executive leaders, a lack of clear goals accounts for 37% of project failure . Without clear goals, you’ll find that the requirements, tasks, and deadlines you set for your project work plan have nothing anchoring them. Now that you have a list of key stakeholder needs and their buy-in, begin to assign them to goals and OKRs. OKRs are a planning and goal-setting technique made famous by Intel and Google. Your project should align with your team and company’s OKRs.
Try writing down the project goals on a project plan board and connect them to the stakeholder requirements they address. From there, build out the structure, milestones, and tasks it takes to reach those goals. For example, the project or product launch itself can be a big milestone, so it's important to know how you will go about it — perhaps you'll use a product launch plan template to make the process easier. Milestones can define check-in points throughout the project so that everyone is clear about what progress looks like, what the expectations are, and when they’ll be measured.
Step 3: Create a project scope document
Now that you have the project outlined, your tasks aligned with goals, and buy-in from the team, it’s time to create a project scope document detailing the project elements you’ve listed in step two.
Look at each deliverable and define the series of tasks that must be completed to accomplish each one. For each task, determine the amount of time it’ll take, the resources necessary, and who will be responsible for execution. Finalize and record the project details so that everyone has a single source of truth. Make the document easily shareable, like in your project management tool , to reduce the chance of costly miscommunication.
While preparing project scope documentation and calculating earned value should be standard practice, one in four project managers surveyed in Wellingstone's State of Project Management Survey said they “never” or “sometimes” prepare standard scoping documents. Creating one ensures you stand out from the crowd and helps everyone stay on the same page.
Step 4: Craft a detailed project schedule
With your goals, tasks, and milestones already outlined for you, it’s time to start plugging your project into a schedule. A Gantt chart is a handy tool that helps you visualize your project timeline easily. It’s an interactive timeline that gives you a complete view of the project’s progress, work scope, and dependencies.
Dependencies are tasks that need to be completed before other tasks can begin. As you plot out tasks, use subtasks to help you break up larger ones into smaller ones. This can make reporting (you can check out our guide on how to write a project management report !) and resource management easier. Let’s define each:
- Tasks: The individual tasks that people need to carry out to achieve your goals
- Subtasks: No longer than a few days each, these help you break a larger task into the smaller steps
- Milestones: Major phases or events in your project that help break up the project and act as check-ins throughout the project life cycle
Pro tip: Want in on a little secret? As you set them up, add cushions to key tasks so that you have wiggle room for fire drills or unexpected bottlenecks — for example, if a client needs extra time to review or a team member calls in sick. In a perfect world, some tasks might take a day. So maybe you make it two in your plan. There's no need to give every task a cushion, though — weigh the risks and add them where it makes the most sense. Future you will thank you.
Step 5: Define the roles, responsibilities, and resources
Resources are the people, equipment, or money needed to complete a project. Once you’ve selected your tools and gotten a budget, don’t forget about your people. Even folks who already know how to write a project work plan and have done so a hundred times can underestimate their labor needs.
A RACI chart helps you determine who will do what for your project. It's a matrix of all a project’s tasks, paired with who's responsible (assigned to complete the work), accountable (has yes/no/veto power), consulted (needs to approve or contribute), and informed (needs to know about the action or decision).
As you begin to assign tasks, make sure you take bandwidth into consideration. Clarify the responsibilities and expectations of each person. Keep in mind that 95% of workers report working on more than one team or project concurrently, and if projects aren’t aligned, workloads become too stressful for teams. Stress causes about 50% of workers to start looking for another job and 25% to quit their current jobs altogether, according to our report on The Stress Epidemic .
As you plan your project, consider how you’ll filter incoming requests that impact the project’s timeline or budget . Knowing how to calculate earned value to monitor the level of work completed on a project against the plan is imperative. For project managers, tools like Wrike's resource management can help you visualize the tasks for your project from a team workflow perspective, giving you the visibility and flexibility to balance workloads.
Step 6: Define the communication and check-in process
According to McKinsey , employees spend nearly 20% of the workweek searching for and gathering information. Inefficient communication and collaboration are two of the top causes of stress in the workplace . When stakeholders have to dig through pages of emails or constantly ask for updates, they get frustrated, and their motivation dips.
Mitigate frustration by housing all project pieces — like assets, conversations, tasks, due dates, updates, and reporting — in a single location, like a collaboration tool . This makes it easy to manage clients, track progress, share updates, and make edits. Define how everyone should communicate throughout the project and keep it in one tool so everyone can access information.
Step 7: Plan for it not going as planned
Even if you’re an expert and already know how to write a project plan , the truth is that all projects have twists and turns — that’s what makes them fun. You’ve given yourself some breathing room during the scheduling process, ensured everyone knows their role, and set up communication.
Before you launch, sit down and identify potential issues like upcoming vacations for team members, holidays, or external teams that might be involved. Set up a clear chain of command and list key contacts within the project. Communicate upfront about risks so the whole team can be prepared to tackle them together.
Step 8: Throw a launch party!
Every successful project needs a kickoff. Set a quick meeting with key stakeholders and have a clear agenda. Your goal should be to get everyone on the same page with goals, roles, processes, and timelines. Your agenda should include everything you’ve focused on in the steps above:
- Define the project goals and the value they bring
- List the assets the project is expected to deliver
- Draw the connection between stakeholder requirements and the project tasks
- Show the timeline of the project so everyone can see dependencies and know the expected dates
- Describe the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder
- Review how and where everyone will communicate throughout the project, where they can go for information, and who to call for questions
- Discuss risks and ensure the team is prepared
- Get that final commitment!
Bonus tip: You don’t have to start from scratch every time! Now that you know how to write a project plan that jives with your team, you can copy your project plan into a template to use again and again. As you grow, you can create multiple templates for specific types of project work plans. Let’s get you started right away with these free sample project plan templates .
Getting to “The End”
Looks like your weekend is saved! You’re welcome. You’re now empowered with the project planning process, and after this, you’ll have a simple project plan template to help you lead your next project to success — and the next one after that. In fact, all these complex projects will become so easy that you may start to feel like you’re on vacation. Right?
How to use Wrike for project planning
Wrike offers a range of powerful features and templates to help you plan and execute your projects more efficiently. With Wrike, you can create a project plan that covers all the essential aspects of your project.
Wrike’s pre-built project scheduling template provides a customizable framework for creating a project schedule. This template helps you set realistic timelines, identify potential risks, and assign tasks to team members, so you can create a clear, actionable project plan that helps your team stay on track and ensure on-schedule delivery.
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