What is a Project Plan?

If you’re considering a project plan, that’s great news! You’ve already had a project proposal approved. Creating a thorough plan is the next step in the process. The project plan outlines the course of work for each team member, while keeping the triple constraint of scope, schedule and budget in mind. Project plans describe the processes which will bring the proposal to life.

Delivering on a project can be made much easier through use of a project planning software. But first, let’s go over the five phases of a project. These five phases will need to be addressed by your project plan.

The Five Phases of a Project

  1. Conception and Initiation: During this phase you reiterate the project proposal or the business case. It’s also time to round out details of how you will deliver on the project and meet stakeholder demands.
  2. Definition and Planning: Project tasks are defined with scope in mind. Prioritization of tasks begins with each being listed in order of importance to the project. Budget estimations are laid out, and a schedule is created so all team members are aware of the resources and time available for work.
  3. Launch: Allocation of tasks and resources begins. Team members are notified of responsibilities. The work really begins here, but the plan is always nearby for reference to ensure things are staying on track. Changing and tweaking plans during a project is part of the process, so it’s great to have the plan nearby.
  4. Performance and Control: This is the monitoring portion of the plan. Team status updates are evaluated to ensure that project progress is aligning with predictions made early on. Reallocation of resources happens—if necessary—to keep the project on track, referencing the plan as a guide. Using real-time dashboards allow you to easily track progress of the project and keep an accurate picture.
  5. Closure: You’re almost to the finish line, but you’re not there just yet! Securing client approvals of work completed comes first, and this includes getting sign-off from all stakeholders involved in the project. Delivery of payments to contractors, vendors, and project team members has to happen. In general, closure is about cleanup duties. It’s about tying up loose ends to bring things to a positive conclusion.

How to Make a Project Plan

Project plans aren’t created just to be a high-level overview of how the project could unfold. Best-case scenario, they’re a reflection of how the project actually does unfold. Do these four things to help ensure that your project plan unfolds as expected.

  1. Create Task Lists: Create a task list that details steps for every task throughout the project. Then, prioritize this list to effectively assign team members and resources. Tasks vary in how essential they are to the project. As you prioritize tasks, it’s likely you’ll find some tasks that can be sacrificed completely to increase efficiency.
  2. Establish Duration: Once tasks have been compiled and prioritized, the next step is to establish how long they will take. Duration of tasks, here, will likely be an educated guess. No matter, it’s important to use all the tools you have available—including past experiences—to make the best possible estimation.
  3. Outline Dependencies: Not all tasks are the same. Some are dependent tasks. A dependent task is a task that can’t be started until another task has been completed. When crafting your project plan, it’s important to identify these dependent tasks from the outset. Dependent tasks can derail a project plan if too many team members are waiting for completion. It’s vital to note dependent tasks on your project plan so they can be linked. This linking shows team members the importance of one task being completed before another can be started.
  4. Develop a Resource Plan: Completing tasks on time requires the development of a resource plan. This is the final transitional step between project phases. Resources, in this context, include everything from team members, to office equipment, to the software you’ll use to plan and execute your project. It’s important to identify all resources so they can be managed effectively.

Using a Gantt Chart to Create Your Project Plan

Project plans can be complex and tricky. Therefore ease of creation should be a primary consideration when developing your project plan. One option is to go old-fashioned, and write everything down on paper. However, there are more efficient and modern means, such as an online Gantt chart.

ProjectManager.com offers award-winning online Gantt charts that make planning a project both visual and interactive. Our Gantt tool creates linear bar charts showing tasks, resources and even dependencies between tasks. Linking dependent tasks makes identifying an end-goal milestone easy.

The first step is to list out the phases of your project in the Gantt chart:

A Gantt chart project plan example

Adding tasks to a ProjectManager.com Gantt chart

Creating milestones comes next once tasks have been added. Add tasks at the end of each phase—and at the end of the project—which will be your milestones. Highlight those tasks. Finally, click on the diamond icon in the navigation bar to create the milestones:

A Gantt chart project plan with milestones added

A Projectmanager.com Gantt chart with milestones added

Adding tasks to each phase of the project is the next step once phases and milestones have been created:

A Gantt chart project plan with milestones and phases added

Adding tasks to a project plan

Expanding tasks, and adding people to those tasks just takes a couple of clicks. Switch to the Board view to expand and add people to tasks.

Project Plan board assigning a task

Expanding task view and assigning task in Board view of project plan

Click on the name(s) of the individuals you’d like added to the task to add them. You can also add To Do Lists and Files within tasks so those items are easily accessible by everyone involved in the project:

Project plan task expanded to see all options

Adding to do lists and files to tasks

Finally, to wrap up your project plan within the Gantt chart, you’ll want to create task dependencies. Creating dependencies between tasks—so one task must be finished before another can be started—is easy. Highlight all of the tasks that are dependent, then click on the link icon in the navigation bar to create dependencies in the phase:

Creating task dependencies within phases in the Gantt chart view

Creating task dependencies within phases in the Gantt chart view

It’s also possible to color code the phases of the project to create a separation between the phases. To do this, highlight a phase and click on the paint can icon in the navigation bar, then fill in the phase with the color of your choice:

A Gantt chart with color-coded phases

A Gantt chart with color-coded phases

Because our Gantt charts are cloud-based, there is great flexibility of use. Plans created in other programs like Microsoft Project or Excel can be imported straight into the Gantt without loss of formatting. These plans automatically populate the Gantt chart without any need to manipulate imported data. Remote task storage encourages easy collaboration and sharing of feedback and files.

Using the Kanban Board to Plan Projects

Some projects are simple enough that using our Gantt charts would be inefficient. Resources may not be set for the project, and a solid timeline may not be established for project completion. For these projects, a great option is our fully-customizable, drag-and-drop kanban boards. The kanban populates three standard columns. Labeled columns are To Do, Doing and Done:

A standard Kanban board with default column names

A standard Kanban board with default column names

It’s easy to change the name of any column by simply clicking on the column name and changing it to what you’d prefer:

Changing column labels on Kanban board

Changing column labels on the Kanban board

Collaborating on tasks is a breeze using the kanban board. Anyone added to a task can make comments, tag others on tasks, change the percentage completion of a task, and even add supporting files to the cards for everyone to access. These additions and shared access help keep the conversation focused, and the project on time, under budget and within scope.

Planning a project and managing transitions through all its phases can be a challenge. Having the right tools that encourage collaboration can make the process so much more efficient. ProjectManager.com has these tools. Evaluating a project’s status against estimations has never been easier thanks to our cloud-based tools. See the kanban boards and Gantt charts in action by taking this free 30-day trial.

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