Planning a project involves a lot of coordination of time, tasks and costs. It can feel like an insurmountable job, but just remember that plenty of projects are planned and executed every single day. You can do it too! You just have to bite it off in digestible bits—and suddenly what seemed impossible is not only possible, it’s a success.
One way to start organizing all those disparate pieces is by using plan templates. A template lays the groundwork for you, so that all you need to do is fill in the blanks. The following are a few of the essential plan templates that will help you put together the pieces of your project and build a great project plan.
Every project has a few things in common, and chief among them is that they all encompass work done over a specific period of time. In order to see the entirety of your project, you need a timeline. It’s a visual tool that lays out the work in chronological order. The project timeline provides an overview at a glance.
Using a project timeline template is one of the first steps in creating your project schedule, which is the backbone of any plan. It identifies your major deliverables and places them in the order in which they need to be executed. This plan template will not only will assist as you develop your plan, but it can be shared with stakeholders in the project to keep them updated and get their feedback.
The template has places for you to add all the tasks related to the project, which are the smaller, more manageable work that eventually leads to your final deliverable. Every task has a start and end date, and the timeline template is where you estimate the duration of each task. This is only the start of a plan and eventually you’ll need more features than a template offers, but once you’ve built your project timeline, the plan will begin to take shape.
We talked about tasks that are added to your project timeline, but how do you discover all the tasks needed to achieve your project goal? There might only be a few if you’re working on a small project, but the bigger and more complex the project is, the more tasks you’ll need to reach that goal.
A work breakdown structure template is a time-tested technique used by project managers to figure out every task that you need to accomplish your project. It works by going backward. The work breakdown structure is what’s called a tree diagram. The final deliverable, or the project objective, is on top. Underneath that are all the various branches that make up the project.
The first sheet in this plan template helps you determine all the tasks needed for the project by providing space for a detailed task list and subtasks, which are smaller jobs that are part of the larger task. Add the task description and who will be responsible for executing it. If there are any dependencies, (that is, a task that can’t start or stop until another has started or stopped) note it on the template. You can also list what resources and costs are associated with the task. There’s space for the status, which will help you track progress. The second sheet of the template is the tree diagram that gives you a visual of the project and how all the tasks are related.
A project plan is many things, but mostly it’s a strategy for achieving your goals and objectives. An action document is where that strategy is outlined. It shows what steps are needed and in what order they must be done. That’s why it’s called an action plan—it details what actions are necessary to reach your project’s goal. No plan should be devised without one.
The action plan also addresses the resources needed to execute those steps, and a timeline is created to show the tasks in chronological order and the team is determined. This is more than a to-do list. It’s more specific, and revolves only around the needs of the project. An action plan template is a framework to walk you through all these project details.
Using an action plan template helps you organize your tasks by including all the various aspects of the project plan that you’ll need to outline. Once you have completed the open fields in the action plan template, you have the broad strokes of your project collected in one place. That doesn’t mean that everything will make it into the finished plan, but it’s easier to edit than to add.
No project gets started, let alone finished, without funding. The financial portion of your project is called the budget. It’s the bucket from which all project costs are dispensed. The budget is one of the many parts of your project plan. Before you can start a project, or even have it approved, the money to run it must be estimated and delivered to stakeholders.
Once the budget is created, it’s critical to monitor the number of costs to keep your project solvent. All these figures are complicated and keeping track of them requires a project budget template. This plan template knows what’s required financially when executing a project and has fields for you to add your estimates on costs related to labor, consultant fees, raw materials, software licenses, travel and more.
Projects have unique costs, but there are also those that carry over from project to project. These expenses are also captured in the project budget template, including telephone charges, office space and equipment, general administration, company insurance and more. The template is a great start, but you’ll want to have more dynamic tools when you start your project to plan and monitor costs, such as Gantt charts and dashboards.
Projects rarely go as planned. There are internal and external risks that can impact the triple constraint of time, cost and scope, which are the pillars holding up any successful project. You can’t avoid risk, but you can manage it by planning what might happen and how you’ll respond to it. By developing a strategy, risk becomes less risky. It’s always there, but its impact on your project is lessened. That’s risk management, and it’s a big deal.
Risk management includes a risk tracking template. Preparing is important, but you need to have a plan in place for when one of those risks you identified shows itself. A risk tracking template is a tool to identify, monitor and respond to whatever risk exposes your project to go off track or worse. This mitigates the risk and its impact on the project by keeping it in the forefront to avoid that risk falling through the cracks and causing real damage.
The risk tracking template provides you a space in which you can not only identify risk but describe where it’s most likely to occur and how it will impact the project. The template also tags the person who identified the risk and determines who will be tasked with owning and dealing with it. Track the risk from start to finish and then cross it off the list when it’s no longer a risk to the project. There’s even a place to explain your reasoning for dismissing the risk, which is a great communication tool for your team and stakeholders.
All the work you’ve done with the above templates has led to this, the creation of your project plan. This is where you scope out your work and break everything about the project down into manageable pieces. It also includes the schedule, assignments and so much more. You could try and execute a project without a plan, but that’s a nightmare not to wish on your worst enemy.
The project plan template starts with an outline of the scope, which is the tasks, their order of execution and resources needed to complete them. To break this up into more manageable work, create milestones, which are important dates in the project, most often where one project phase ends and another begins. This is the start of scheduling a project.
The project plan template collects this data in one place, but to plan and execute a project requires more than a static document. Most project managers take the information gathered in the project plan template and import it into a Gantt chart tool, which is part spreadsheet and part project timeline. Gantts not only visualize your project plan, but they can also link dependent tasks, set milestones, track resource costs, assign and much more.
Next Steps for Project Plans
Use plan templates to get started, but once you’re comfortable managing projects, you’ll need to graduate to online project management tools to get more control and efficiency.
ProjectManager.com gives you real-time data so you’re making better decisions. You can track your plan as it’s executed, view project variance to show if your actual progress is aligned with where you expected to be at that stage in the project.
Take your project timeline to the next level with ProjectManager.com’s Gantt charts that not only lay out your tasks visually in chronological order, but have subtasks, link dependent tasks, set milestones and much more. You can also easily track progress, resource costs and share project plans with your team.
To help you stay on target, we also have dashboards for a high-level view of performance, reports to get a deeper dive into the data and resource management tools to keep your team’s workload balanced and boost productivity.
ProjectManager.com is an award-winning tool that organizes tasks and projects, giving managers transparency into the process of their teams, who gain collaborative tools to work better together. Plan, monitor and report on your progress all with one tool. Get productive today by taking our free 30-day trial.