How to Run a Planning Meeting (Checklist Included)


Meetings—there can be too many. Meetings are sometimes held to discuss when to meet: it can feel absurd. However, meetings are not some useless artifact from business past. They are an important means of communication. That’s why a planning meeting in project management is key to kicking off a successful project.

Like any meeting, there are guidelines that must be followed. There must be an agenda, and only those people who need to be there should be in attendance. If not, well, that’s why meetings get a bad name. The more prepared you are, the more productive the meeting and the more efficient your project planning.

That’s why we’ve broken down a good planning meeting into the core items you should include to make it thorough and beneficial. We’ve even included a checklist you can use to make sure you’ve not neglected anything in your meeting.

What Is the Purpose of a Planning Meeting?

The obvious reason to have a planning meeting is to create a plan and get buy-in from the team. It’s the first step in developing a plan and requires that certain questions be answered, such as how do we achieve this goal? What do we know already about it? Who is going to be responsible for what?

When the planning meeting is complete, there should be a few deliverables, such as a rough outline of the plan that has been quickly sketched after answering the questions above. There must also be some clarity about who is going to be doing what in the project.

It doesn’t hurt if you can begin to identify dependencies, what resources you’ll need and which you don’t already have. Plus, you’ll have questions that need answering or require further investigation and research.

A general understanding of what the plan’s scope is should also be established. Everybody present should have a good idea of the plan. Get feedback to make sure those parameters were clear in the planning meeting and, if they’re not, encourage questions from the group until they are. This includes how individuals will coordinate with others on the team.

Key Elements of a Planning Meeting

A planning meeting is only as good as its parts. Those parts are what you have to prepare before even calling the meeting. You want to have all your ducks in a row, so to speak, so that the meeting goes off without a hitch and the plan and team responsibilities are well-outlined. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure you’ve addressed each of the items below.

Vision, Goals & Objectives

Before you can have a plan, you must have a target. In other words, what are the goals and objectives you want to achieve. To figure that out requires asking yourself simple but important questions, such as what are you trying to do and what problems are you trying to solve?

Answering these questions will define the vision, which is an important lodestar to follow when implementing the plan. This will also give stakeholders and team members a ramp to onboard to the project. This leads to creating a business case, aligning the project to the organization’s overall business objectives and identifying the project’s benefits.

Critical Success Factors

Once you have a vision, goals and objectives, you’ll need to qualify that vision, goals and objectives. What does that mean?

According to D. Ronald Daniel, who first developed the concept, it’s “the limited number of areas in which results, if they are satisfactory, will ensure successful competitive performance for the organization. They are the few key areas where things must go right for the business to flourish. If results in these areas are not adequate, the organization’s efforts for the period will be less than desired.”

In other words, what are the things you can’t fail at doing. These basic components of your plan must be defined and clear to all. These include the deliverable for the project, an agreed upon budget and schedule, etc.

Having critical success factors in place means that you can prioritize not only the planning process but the project execution. You’ll know who the leaders are, where to put your resources and how to adjust your plan to make sure those critical success factors are always safeguarded.

Key Performance Indicators

A key performance indicator or KPI is something that is of a measurable value. It shows how effective a project is working towards meeting its key business objectives. It’s a way to evaluate success, but in order to do that you first must determine what the KPIs are for the project.

Therefore, the planning meeting must address the project KPIs and, more specifically, what everyone on the project team is responsible for doing in order to achieve those KPIs. Without setting a target to hit and explaining that to the team, as well as their part in reaching that target, the project is less likely to succeed. This is why it is an essential part of the planning meeting.

Key Issues

Then there are the key issues: the things most pressing that must be immediately addressed. Before moving forward with the project or even the planning, there are likely obstacles that must be cleared. This is the time in which they are identified, and a decision is made regarding the resolution and who will lead that charge.

Related: Free Issue Tracking Template for Excel

Hitting these points will provide a basic outline for a one-day planning meeting. Of course, you can and might need to have more time devoted to the planning, but that will depend more on the size of your team than the project. Regardless of how big or small your team is, in order to make the planning meeting more productive you’ll want to include them prior to meeting and get their ideas and comments.

ProjectManager Turns a Planning Meeting Into a Plan

You’ve met, you’ve defined the project and now comes the making of a real plan to incorporate all you’ve talked about. That’s where ProjectManager can help. ProjectManager is an online project planning software that can help you plan, schedule and manage projects from start to finish.

Easy Imports

You have a vision, goals and objectives, but how do you break those down into steps that will lead to the final deliverable of the project? Well, to begin with, use a work breakdown structure, which will help you work back from the end of the project to all the tasks that are necessary to get there. This is basically creating a task list that can then be uploaded into ProjectManager and will open up as a new project.

Set Dependencies, Deadlines & Milestones

Not all tasks can be completed at once, some can’t start until others are finished, so you need to organize them. ProjectManager simplifies this process. Add task durations and the populate a timeline on your Gantt chart tool.

Now you can link dependent tasks, set milestones to break the project into phases and even begin assigning team members all from the Gantt.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart, ideal for planning meetings
Turn project plans into actionable schedules with ProjectManager’s online Gantt charts Learn more

Task Management Tools for Managing Work

Once a team member is invited to ProjectManager they can be assigned tasks. The tasks can have directions from the manager, to-do lists and include unlimited file and image attachments. But that’s just the start.

Different people working on the project work in different ways, which is why ProjectManager has multiple project views. Team members might prefer a task list or even a calendar view.

Once they start executing tasks, though, it can be hard to focus on priorities and control workflow. The kanban view keeps team members working on just those jobs that they have the resources and capacity to accomplish. Managers get transparency into the production cycle too.

A screenshot of the Kanban board project view
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Of course, team members are most productive when they’re working together, which is why ProjectManager fosters collaboration. Tasks can be commented on and other team members who aren’t assigned to that task can be tagged and brought into the conversation.

Track & Report on the Plan

Managers want to track team progress and can do this on a high-level with a real-time dashboard or go deep into the data with one-click reporting. ProjectManager is the perfect tool to turn plans into reality and should be on the agenda of every planning meeting.

ProjectManager is a cloud-based project management software that helps with planning your project and then executing it. Multiple project views make it a flexible tool for everyone on the team from managers to teams and stakeholders, who love the clear and easy reporting. Try ProjectManager the next time you plan a project with this free 30-day trial.