There are many steps that are taken just to get a project approved. The project has to have a goal and then a criteria for defining its success. But once you’ve sold the project with a strong business case and presentation to your stakeholders, the fun really begins.
That’s because now comes the planning. Ideas are great, but without a practical roadmap detailing how you’ll get from concept to creation you’re just spinning your wheels.
No plan has ever just materialized fully formed on your desk. If only. What you need is project planning software that gives you the tools to gather and organize all the dissipate information you need to manage. But let’s start simple and work our way up.
What Makes a Project Plan?
Whether you’ve lead many projects or this is your first, it never hurts to remember the fundamentals. Let’s take a moment to look at what the project plan is made up of. First, a project plan is the activities, tasks and resources you are going to use to fulfill your project.
The good news is that much of those broad strokes have already been outlined in your business case, where you proposed the project and explained its expected commercial benefit. But now you have to describe these actual processes by which you’re going to lead that project to success.
Sample Project Plan
Describe the Major Phases of the Project
The plan needs to include all parts of the project, which are as follows.
- Conception and Initiation: This is a reiteration of the business case, where you described the idea behind the project and how it benefits the organization. You have already explored this and identified how it can be completed in your business case. You now what to expand upon those ideas and flesh out the concept of the project and how you plan to meet those demands.
- Definition and Planning: Now you put the plan down in writing, concentrating on the project’s scope and outlining the work that will need to be performed. Here’s where you prioritize tasks and calculate your budget and schedule. List all your tasks in order of importance and from that list make an estimate as to how much money and time will be needed to complete the project.
- Launch: The execution of the plan you devised begins with allocating the resources and tasks to your team, who are informed of their responsibilities. This is the start of the actual work, though it doesn’t mean the plan is put aside. There will always be changes that you’ll have to adjust for.
- Performance and Control: Speaking of those changes, while executing the project, it’s crucial to monitor the estimated progress of your project plan to the actual progress as recorded by your team’s status updates. This is when you return to the plan to re-allocated resources as necessary to keep on track. The better you can track the progress of the project, ideally in real time, the more accurate picture you have of where your project is and what it needs to stay on track. ProjectManager.com offers a real-time dashboard that uses live data to get a completely accurate snapshot of your project status.
- Close: You’re not finished when you’re finished, now you have to get client approval, make sure all the paperwork has been signed off on, payments have been delivered, etc. There are a lot of cleanup duties that you’re still in charge of managing, from onboarding team members to payment of team, vendors, contractors, etc.
So, the project plan is more than just a plan on how to execute the project but as close to a realistic snapshot of the project in its entirety that you can estimate.
Drill Down Into Details
The phases are important to break up the project into the parts that make up its life cycle. Now you have to get down to the nitty-gritty of how you’re going to move from one phase to the next.
- Make a Task List: The tasks are the small jobs that make up the whole project. You want to create a detailed list determining every step along the way of your project. Prioritize that list. There will be tasks that are crucial to the project, which must be done, but there will also be some that you can sacrifice without impacting the overall success of the project.
- Duration: Once you’ve collected all the necessary tasks to complete the project, you have to figure out to the best of your ability how long each of them will take to complete. You can only make an estimate, of course, but you should use past experience and any other factors at your disposal to make those guesses as accurate as possible.
- Dependencies: Not all tasks are created equal, some cannot start until the one before it is finished. You need to know which tasks are dependent on one another. A dependent task has the potential to block another team member and throw the whole project off-track. Therefore, be sure to note those on your project plan and link them so you and the team are aware of the importance of completing one before starting the other.
- Resources: The next step is deciding what resources you need to accomplish the tasks in the time you have allotted for each. This can include everything from project planning tools and team members to equipment and office space. You have to manage these resources, so you need to know what they are and plan accordingly.
But there are still more things to take into account in your project plan.
- Scope: What are the activities and tasks that must be done to complete your project successfully. You need to document these project goals, from deliverables and tasks to costs and deadlines.
- Milestones: These are major phases or events in your project that are collected to break up the monolith of the project into more digestible parts. They can be added to a Gantt chart, with a description and a delivery date—more on this next.
Example of a Project Plan
The best way to understand the planning of a project is by doing one. Let’s walk through the steps of a simple project, say, finally hanging that artwork your daughter made in grade school.
The concept and initiation are simple: your daughter has been asking why you haven’t hung her drawing. “Do you not like it?” she asks. Of course you do. In fact, you’re going to hang it up in the living room so everyone can see how proud you are of her work. The idea is to frame and hang the piece, which benefits the organization through returning peace and harmony to the family.
Next step is defining and planning. Write down the plan and scope of work, noting any risks and how to resolve them. This project requires a trip to Target and the purchase of a nice-looking but inexpensive frame, one that stylistically complements the work, but doesn’t overshadow your daughter’s piece.
So, you have to factor in the time to get to the store, pick out the proper frame and then get home and assemble your team and tools. You’ll get her brother to help, as your children have some sibling rivalry that working together might resolve. Next, you’ll go through that messy drawer in the kitchen and find the hammer, nails and a level. You’ll put the picture in the frame and help the kids hang it, clean up and then bask in the light of a job well done.
Then you launch the project and assign the tasks to your children that you wrote out earlier in the planning stage. As you work, there might be conflicts to resolve, as your team is not the cohesive whole you hoped. Change is part of a project. Maybe there will be not enough nails, or you can’t find the hammer. These risks were identified earlier, so if they do occur, use the contingency plan you created.
While you’re executing the project, as project manager it is your responsibility to monitor the performance and control it, so that the whole thing stays on track and you don’t waste time having to go back to Target to buy the nails you thought you had at home.
One way to keep track of the project’s progress is to get status reports from your team as they work on their tasks. You gave them a certain amount of time to complete the task, so ask them to report back to you with if that timeline is being met or they’re falling behind. If they are behind schedule, you’ll have to work at adjusting the scope, either adding more time to the schedule or allocating resources, which might mean getting off the couch and helping.
The picture is framed, hung and even looks straight. Your children are proud and want to celebrate with lemonade and cookies. But you’re not done yet. There’s cleanup, but more important, you must make sure the stakeholder of the project is happy with the quality of the deliverables. Get mom in there to give the final okay. Then the party can begin. You and the team deserve it.
Using Tools to Create a Project Plan
As you can see, even a simple project requires a lot of information to collect and organize. You can do it the old-fashioned way on paper. Certainly many in the past have been able to complete big and small projects successfully this way. But there are planning tools that make that work so much easier for you and more efficient and productive for the project.
There is a free project plan template you can use that helps you step-by-step in building a project plan. While those are a step in the right direction, they’re standalone documents that are problematic to share. They can be overwritten or duplicates can float around in people’s emails, all of which can lead to muddied communications at best and at worst seriously dire consequences for the project.
It’s not that you should throw away planning templates. They’re a great way to start the process of planning for your project. But an online project management tool is going to give you greater flexibility, more features and a platform on which you can build true collaboration for great project success.
ProjectManager.com for Project Planning
No project management tool does more for project planning than ProjectManager.com. Our award-winning software has a number of powerful features to help with every aspect of project planning.
One such feature is our Gantt chart of which we wrote about above. Gantt charts are great tools to visualize your schedule, with a bar chart that creates a linear timeline showing you tasks, duration and even task dependencies. The latter are linked, so you can see where team members potentially may be blocked.
But when you take your Gantt chart online you open up a whole new world of managing possibilities. First, you can easily import your project plan into ProjectManager.com from whatever template you composed it on, be it MS Word or an Excel spreadsheet, and it keeps your formatting and automatically populates the spreadsheet and bar chart of your Gantt chart.
Because the online Gantt chart is cloud-based it’s easy to use. All your tasks are saved and stored remotely, they’re easy to share over any device, and collaboration is conducted on the task level. You can attach files and keep the conversation tied to the task at hand.
As we noted, things will change, and an online Gantt chart allows you to adjust task durations with a simple drag-and-drop of your cursor. This saves you time, as does the automated notifications that can alert you when a task is completed or about to go off-track, so you can see it in real-time and fix it before it becomes a problem.
Online Project Planning Tools Makes for More Productive Planning
That’s just one of the advantages of planning with ProjectManager.com. You still have to collect all the data, but now it’s collected in the cloud where it can be easily accessible and shared with team members and stakeholders. Each time you import your task list into project management software it creates the project plan for you, leaving you free to deal with the management of a successful project.
When you’re planning a project and managing all its phases through a successful completion, you want the right tools to streamline the process and foster collaboration and communications. ProjectManager.com has all the features you need to plan your project and it’s a cloud-based PM tool, which reports in real-time, so you are always clear on the plan versus the actual execution of the project. See for yourself by taking our free 30-day trial.
This post was updated November 2019.