- What is Project Planning?
- The Elements of A Project Plan
- How To Create A Project Plan
- Why You Need A Project Plan
- How Long Does Project Planning Take?
- The Tools for Project Planning
- How To Manage Your Plan
- How To Plan When You Don’t Have All the Answers
- Getting Your Plan Approved
- Next Steps for Project Planning
What is Project Planning?
First, let’s clarify the meaning of project planning, as it can be interpreted a number of ways. Project planning refers to everything you do to set up your project for success. It is the process you go through to establish the steps required to define your project objectives, clarify the scope of what needs to be done and develop the task list to do it. Project planning software is often used to help craft thorough project plans.
Many people think of the project plan as the project schedule: the list of tasks and dates that tell you what to do when. Schedules are often created using Gantt charts, which map out project tasks, phases and dependencies.
ProjectManager.com has an award-winning Gantt chart feature that lets you plan, schedule and assign all the work in your project. Gantt charts are critical for rolling out a successful plan. Of course, there’s more to project planning than making Gantt charts. Watch the video to find out more.
The schedule is a big part of your project plan, but it’s not the only part. The activities in project planning are varied because you have to work out how to achieve your goals. Every project is going to be different as the objectives will be different. Most of the work of planning is thinking about what you need to do to get everything done and putting the structure in place to make that happen.
By structure, we mean the processes and governance to keep everything running smoothly. These are things like the change management process, the budgeting process, how you are going to sign off the deliverables when the time comes, what quality measures are important and things like that. We’ll cover those in more detail later.
The end result of project planning is…ta da!… a project plan. This is a document or set of documents that explains what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.
The Elements of A Project Plan
A lot of project planning is talking to your team, getting the views of the people who will be affected by the project and working out how it all hangs together. There’s a lot of chat and a lot of thinking time.
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 plan for managing the human resources on the team both in terms of availability and skills
- A plan for managing costs and the budgeting elements of the project including any procurements or supplier engagements you might have
- A communications plan setting out who is going to receive messages about the project, when and in what format
- A plan for dealing with project risk including the processes for logging and tracking risks
- 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 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.
How To Create A Project Plan
By now you’ve probably got a good idea of how to go about creating your project plan. You need to spend time with your team:
- Clarifying what you need to achieve together
- Working out the processes you need to get there
- Developing an action plan for how you are going to take this forward
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make a project plan in ProjectManager.com, our award-winning project management software, that hits all the important marks.
1. Onboard Important Stakeholders and the Project Team
When planning a project it’s critical that you identify stakeholders and assemble a capable team. They will be executing the work and will require management. It’s best to use a tool so everything can be managed in one place.
Onboarding your team into ProjectManager.com is easy. Just type in their emails, and they can add profile pictures once they enter the tool. You can set permissions and team assignments too.
2. Add Files to the File Upload Section
A project plan has defined goals, which have been worked out by the project manager and stakeholders. These documents are the project’s north star, and they must be communicated clearly throughout the project team.
Add as many documents and images as you need: ProjectManager.com has unlimited file storage. You can add directly to the task, or there’s a section where all the project files are stored. No more hunting for important info. Everything is where you want it.
3. Create Tasks with Task Lists
The project plan is made up of tasks that lead to your final project deliverable. Collecting all these steps is crucial to planning a successful project.
ProjectManager.com has multiple views, so once you import your tasks in our software, you can build it out in the task list view. If you’ve forgotten some tasks, don’t worry, you can add them now. The task list can also be shared with teams and stakeholders, so everyone is literally on the same page.
4. Set Priority
Tasks are steps, and steps have to have an order or you’ll get nowhere. The way to organize your tasks is by prioritizing them. This way you can know what must be done and what can be neglected if necessary.
Prioritization is as easy as tagging your task as high, very high, critical or whatever you want. Priority settings are customizable to suit how you work. Now team members can filter their work by the priority tag and quickly see what must be done when.
5. Use Gantt View for Deadlines and Dependencies
Without a deadline, tasks can linger and never get done. They need a start date and an end date. There are also tasks that are dependent on other tasks to finish before they can start. If these are not identified, it can cause bottlenecks during the execution phase of the project.
Deadlines are critical. Once you have your dates in the Gantt chart, tasks populate a timeline. But that’s only the start. Now you can link dependent tasks and avoid costly bottlenecks later on in the project.
6. Set Milestones
A milestone is a way to break up a project into phases. This makes the project more manageable and gives you points in the project life cycle to reward the team on completing a major section of their work.
The Gantt chart tool in ProjectManager.com gives you the tools to create project milestones. They are represented on the project timeline by diamond symbols.
7. Assign Work
Tasks can’t be executed if you don’t have a team member assigned to do the work. This is where the project plan goes into action. All the steps leading to this were really just in preparation for getting the work done.
With ProjectManager.com, you can assign tasks in any of the project views. Just use the pulldown menu and start assigning work. It’s that easy. They’ll get notified by email so they can get started immediately.
8. Project Roadmap
Your project plan isn’t an island. It must fit into the overall goals and business strategies of the organization. You don’t want to make it in isolation, but it can be difficult to see it in context with other plans.
ProjectManager.com makes it easy to see how one project aligns with the others in your organization. Just open up the project roadmap, which is a Gantt chart with a timeline that shows all the projects everyone is working on, so you can see how your plan fits in the grand scheme of things.
9. Monitor and Report
A project plan is not set in stone. Once the project is executed there will be issues and things will have to change to keep on schedule and within budget. Therefore, monitoring your team and tracking progress is crucial for a successful plan.
ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based software, which means you get real-time data. You can track your project’s progress at a high level on the dashboard or take a deep data dive with reports that can be filtered to show you just the information you need. You can generate a project plan report to figure out if the project is one track and when it’ll likely be completed.
ProjectManager.com 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.
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!
Why You Need A Project Plan
The project planning phase comes at the start of the project: it’s after the initiation phase where all you’ve really done is got approval to go ahead and put the basics in place and before the delivery phase where you actually do the work.
We plan at the beginning to save time later. A good plan means that you don’t have to worry about whether those people 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—because you’ve planned your financial process. You don’t have to worry about whether everyone agrees on what a quality outcome looks like—because you’ve already planned what quality measures you are going to use.
It 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.
Planning streamlines the doing.
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.com has a real-time dashboard that updates automatically whenever tasks are updated.
How Long Does Project Planning Take?
This is hard to answer. It’s going to take longer to plan a moon landing than a new 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, like ProjectManager.com, 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.
The Tools for Project Planning
Project planning 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 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 plan in. Make sure that everyone in the team can access the latest version of the project plan.
How To Manage Your 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 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 project resources, then go back and review it. Make the changes you need, get the document approved again and share it with the team.
How To 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.
Getting Your Plan Approved
OK, we’ve talked a lot about what project planning is and why you must do it, so now let’s get into the detail of how you plan your project. Let’s assume that you already know what your project is going to achieve and that you have authority as the project manager to get started. Jason Westland, CEO of ProjectManager.com, has written a free ebook on project planning. Download your copy for free and use it as a reference guide as you put your plan together.
Next Steps for Project Planning
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t rush project planning. 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.com and start planning your project today!
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