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How to Create a Project Management Plan (Step by Step)
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Here’s how to create a project management plan, even if you have zero experience doing so.
Whether you’re a newly hired project manager or one who’s been slaying the game for years, having the right plan in place is essential to the success of your project. After all, when you have everything outlined and neatly organized, you’ll score a much better chance of managing a project that runs smoothly from start to finish.
Bad news: It’s this step, actually creating the plan, that trips many managers up. Fortunately, with the help of today’s article, you won’t fall into that trap. I’ll show you everything you need to know about how to create a project management plan so you have a roadmap to run with.
We’ll cover how to:
Step 1: Identify the goal of the project
Step 2: map out the scope, step 3: develop an outline or plan, step 4: share this initial idea with your team, step 5: finalize your plan.
- Step 6: Use a Gantt chart to keep things organized
Step 7: Distribute your project management plan
Step 8: hold a project post mortem.
So let’s jump right in.
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How to create a project management plan
Follow these eight steps to build a solid project management plan from the ground up:
To build anything of substance, the first step you’ll want to tackle is creating the right foundation.
Ask yourself these questions to lay the groundwork:
- Why are you creating this project?
- What’s the goal of it?
- How will this affect your stakeholders?
- What about your team?
And to help you answer those, make sure you do the following:
Research and homework
- You may already have a good idea of why you’re creating this project, but it’s essential to back this up with research.
- How is your company doing things right now? What’s working? What doesn’t work?
- Are there enough resources available? What else is needed?
- Figure out the real the problem at hand and gain a deep understanding of the current mechanics before you try to improve them.
Meet with your team for feedback
- Meet with anyone who could be involved in this project during this stage. Before narrowing things down, be sure to speak with any employees who will be involved in this project.
- You need to see things from their perspective so you have all your ducks in a row when it comes time to introduce the plan to your stakeholders.
- Once that’s taken care of, you can then meet your stakeholders with confidence.
Figure out who is a stakeholder
- Sure, you may have a Board of Directors or some other stakeholders involved, but don’t forget, those aren’t the only people to consider.
- Your customers and employees may also be stakeholders in this project.
- In short, anyone who could be affected by these changes is a stakeholder and must be considered as such.
- After you nail down your “why” and meet with both your team and all prominent stakeholders, you’re ready to set your priorities and goals.
- Before you dive into your goals, consider your priorities first. What is more important here? What can take a backseat?
- Identify your priorities before moving on to finalizing your goals.
Set clear goals
- Once you’ve tackled all of that, you’re ready to set specific, measurable goals.
- These goals serve as the foundation of your project management plan so it’s crucial that you spend enough time figuring them out before moving on to the rest of our steps.
You’ll need to answer:
- What are you hoping to achieve here?
- How will you measure that?
- What’s considered a success?
With that important information nailed down, you can then map out your project’s scope.
If you were to compare your project management plan to building a house, your first step is the concrete foundation.
This next step is the blueprint for how things will get done and what your project will look like once it’s in motion.
So answer these next questions before proceeding:
What is your budget?
- Before you create an elaborate project scope that’s out of reach, you need to consider your budget first. And I’m not only referring to your financial investment here.
- You must also take into account your other valuable resources, such as time and manpower. How much of these can you afford to use?
- Outline your budget in terms of financial investment, time, and resources needed. Only then will you be able to create a realistic project scope, which is also your next step.
What is your project scope?
- As with setting goals, it’s important to stretch your project to the right limits. You don’t want to go so far that your team can’t reach its targets, yet you also don’t want to create a project that doesn’t accomplish much.
- To help strike the right balance, create a project scope that is crystal clear and outlines all of the details — both big and small.
- Your project scope should also include your deliverables and the deliverable schedule .
- For more on keeping your project's scope within bounds, check out our definitive guide to scope creep .
What are your deliverables?
- Everyone on your team should know what needs to be delivered and when. By spelling this out in your project scope, you’ll do just that.
- Not only does this deliverables list create a workflow everyone can follow, it also helps keep everyone on track.
- You’ll also show stakeholders or clients what they can expect, which naturally builds accountability into your project management plan.
- So when you account for all the deliverables you’re responsible for, your next task is to plot out your deliverable schedule.
What is your deliverable schedule?
- It’s crucial that you don’t over promise during this step. Do that and your team will be left scrambling throughout the project and your deliverables will suffer in quality.
- A better approach is to use the research you conducted in step 1 to hone in on a realistic delivery schedule.
- If your research uncovered that the task takes 2 weeks to complete, it’s not a good idea to only give your team a few days and hope everything somehow falls into place within a shorter time frame.
- It’s also smart to add a buffer to any areas you’re not sure of, just to be safe. This gives your project and your team the breathing room needed to get the job done correctly.
- If you’re worried that your stakeholders will be concerned about the amount of time needed, reassure them that to do the job right the first time, it needs to take that much time. Otherwise you’ll be stuck re-working things for months to come.
- Now that you have all of this sketched out, you’re ready to create the first draft of your project plan.
Your next step is to create an outline and plan of action based on everything you’ve learned so far.
While this is only a first draft at this point, it pays to finalize as much as you can (as if it were the real thing) so you can avoid multiple rounds of revisions.
In this outline, include the project’s:
- Deliverable schedule
You should also include a page about your research to highlight your biggest key findings and discuss how they inspired your project management plan.
Polish up your document, add some branding elements, and you’ll be ready to share it with your team.
Before you get too excited and send your document to every one of your stakeholders, you need to finalize it with your team beforehand.
This step is one that many project managers overlook for time’s sake — and it’s a crucial and costly mistake.
When there’s a disconnect between the initial plan and how the work is implemented, you’re going to face several snags along the way.
You’re better off finalizing this draft plan with your team before it gets to the approval stage.
This ensures that your project will run as smoothly as your dreams.
So in this stage, hold a kickoff meeting to:
- Explain the ins and outs of the project
- Let your team know what’s expected of them and when
- Work out any kinks that may come up
It’s especially important to pay attention to that last point.
No matter how hard you try to cover all of your bases, hiccups will inevitably surface in any project.
But with proper planning, you’ll minimize problems as much as humanly possible. I’ll touch more on this next.
Using the feedback from your team, you’re ready to finalize your plan.
This official plan will be the one you’ll send to stakeholders so it’s important to take your time here.
You should also add a section about any issues that may come up, including how you plan to handle them.
While it may seem counterintuitive to highlight possible hiccups to your stakeholders, you’ll be showing them that you’re taking a proactive, instead of reactive, approach. This foresight is always appreciated.
It’s also ideal to assign roles during this phase of the project plan so stakeholders know how to get in touch with your points of contact during each step.
The best way to display this type of information, both internally and externally for stakeholders, is through a Gantt chart.
Step 6: Use a Gantt chart to keep things organized
If you have Excel, you can use this free Gantt Chart template to create a timeline of deliverables.
This helpful tracker ensures that both your team and stakeholders know what to expect and when.
As the project unfolds, keep this updated throughout the day so anyone can see where your project presently stands.
Once you’ve finished creating your project management plan and created a timeline using a Gantt chart, you can finally share your plan with everyone.
When your plan is ready to send out to stakeholders and everyone else on your team, you’ll be able to answer questions and start putting your plan into motion.
To stay on track, plot out the big milestones first and then how you plan to achieve each one using smaller targets, such as daily, weekly, or monthly goals.
After that, you’re simply managing deliverables and your team. Easy peasy.
Now, before you use this template again on your next project, conduct a project post mortem as I’ll show you next.
This is similar to a kickoff meeting except that it happens after a project has finished.
I spoke in depth about the topic in this guide so I’ll keep things brief here. If you need more help, check out that guide when you’re done reading this one.
With a project post mortem, your goal is to find out how your project went from start to finish, including any bumps in the road you experienced.
- Did you run on schedule?
- If there were any milestones missed, what caused the delay? Can that be prevented for the next one?
- Are there any other issues you ran into?
You should also compare how your results fared with your initial plan.
By taking this time to reflect, you’ll all but guarantee that your next project doesn’t fall victim to the same mistakes.
You also want to highlight what went well and give your team the kudos they deserve for a job well done.
This will help keep the positive momentum moving right into your next project.
Jot down everything you discover here so you can use this intel to improve your next project management plan.
Create your project management plan now
Don’t let the thought of creating a project management plan from scratch stress you out.
Follow these 8 steps and you’ll have everything you need to make your project a success starting today!
Want to brush up on your project management skills? Check out the Project Management Basics and Project Management for Team Members courses to get a solid foundation in how to better manage your projects.
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Project Planning 101: 6 Steps to a Foolproof Project Plan
A project plan is a critical project management step, and skipping it will put your project’s success in jeopardy before it even kicks off. A project plan can show you the resources required, how long it will take to achieve, and help you avoid roadblocks that could throw you off schedule.
To help you create a foolproof project plan, we’ve put together the six steps you’ll need to follow in order to ensure your project plan results in project success, and we’ll share how to create your project plan with our project scheduling template .
Step 1: Identify and meet with stakeholders
A stakeholder is anyone who is affected by the results of your project plan. That includes your customers and end-users. Ensure you identify all stakeholders and keep their interests in mind when creating your project plan.
Meet with the project sponsors and key stakeholders to discuss their needs and project expectations, and establish a scope baseline, budget, and timeline. Then create a scope statement document to finalize and record project scope details, get everyone on the same page, and reduce the chances of costly miscommunication. Cost control, in particular, is also critical during this stage of the process.
Tip: Look beyond the stakeholders' stated needs to identify the underlying desired benefits. These benefits are the objectives your project should deliver.
Step 2: Set and prioritize goals
Once you have a list of stakeholder needs, prioritize them and set specific project goals. These should outline project objectives or the metrics and benefits you hope to achieve. Write your goals and the stakeholder needs they address in your project plan so it's clearly communicated and easily shareable.
Tip: If you're having trouble prioritizing, start ranking goals based on urgency and importance, or check out these helpful decision-making tips .
Step 3: Define deliverables
Identify the deliverables and project planning steps required to meet the project's goals. What are the specific outputs you're expected to produce?
Next, estimate the due dates for each deliverable in your project plan. (You can finalize these dates when you sit down to define your project schedule in the next step.)
Tip: Set firm milestones for essential deadlines and deliverables. You'll be able to track your progress once work begins to ensure you complete tasks on time and keep stakeholders happy.
Step 4: Create the project schedule
Look at each deliverable and define the series of tasks that must be completed to accomplish each one. For each task , determine the amount of time it will take, the resources necessary, and who will be responsible for execution.
Next, identify any dependencies. Do you need to complete certain tasks before others can begin? Input deliverables, dependencies, and milestones into your Gantt chart , or choose from the many online templates and apps available. Be sure you also understand how to write a project management report for a summary overview of the project status.
Tip: Involve your team in the planning process. The people performing the work have important insights into how tasks get done, how long they'll take, and who's the best person to tackle them. Draw on their knowledge. You'll need them to agree with the project schedule and set expectations for work to run smoothly.
Step 5: Identify issues and complete a risk assessment
No project is risk-free. Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t doing you any favors. Are there any issues you know of upfront that will affect the project planning process, like a key team member's upcoming vacation? What unforeseen circumstances could create hiccups? (Think international holidays, back-ordered parts, or busy seasons.)
When developing a project plan, you should know how to manage risk in a project and consider the steps you should take to either prevent certain risks from happening or limit their negative impact. Conduct a risk assessment and develop a risk management strategy to prepare.
Tip: Tackle high-risk items early in your project timeline, if possible. Or create a small time buffer around the task to help keep your project on track in the event of a delay.
Step 6: Present the project plan to stakeholders
It's important you understand how to present a project effectively. Explain how your plan addresses stakeholders' expectations, and present your solutions to any conflicts. Make sure your presentation isn't one-sided. Have an open discussion with stakeholders instead.
Next, you need to determine roles: Who needs to see which reports and how often? Which decisions will need to be approved, and by whom?
Make your project plan clear and accessible to all stakeholders, so they don’t have to chase you down for simple updates. Housing all project plan data in a single location, like a collaboration tool , makes it easy to track progress, share updates, and make edits without filling your calendar with meetings.
Communicate clearly . Ensure stakeholders know exactly what's expected of them and what actions they need to take. Just because it's obvious to you doesn't mean it's obvious to them!
Not looking forward to having an open discussion with your stakeholders? Here are some strategies to arm yourself against difficult stakeholders to keep the project planning process moving forward.
Tip: If your plan or schedule doesn’t align with stakeholders' original expectations, communicate that now to avoid any nasty surprises or tense conversations down the line.
Rather than telling stakeholders their expectation or request is unrealistic, tell them what's required to make it happen, including how much time, money, or manpower. Let them decide if it's worth dedicating the extra resources.
How Wrike can help you create your project plan
Wrike's project management software makes creating your own project plan effortless by keeping your plans in a single, accessible location, giving you the ability to visualize your project timeline in a variety of ways, and ensuring your entire team can view the project plan and stay on track.
To make creating your project plan even easier, we’ve created a project scheduling template that will help you break down the project into manageable parts, develop a checklist to assign work to your team, and track that work to monitor progress. From dynamic calendars to streamlined approval processes and real-time, interactive reports, Wrike makes kicking off your project seamless.
Click here to start your free two-week trial and kick off your project plan today.
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12 Steps to Develop a Project Management Plan
Industry Advice Management
The Project Management Institute’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession report reveals that 11.4 percent of business investment is wasted due to poor project performance. Today’s organizations must uncover the cause of these failures and determine what project management professionals can do to help overcome these challenges.
“For decades, we’ve been trying to improve the rate of project success,” says Northeastern University assistant teaching professor Jacques Alexis . “ Poor planning has been one of the consistent causes of failure. Often this means the project management team did not engage stakeholders in the planning and therefore didn’t understand the scope of the project. If you don’t understand the sco pe of the project, then the schedule and the budget will be unrealistic. There is ample evidence that planning is a critical success factor in project management.”
Download Our Free Guide to Advancing Your Project Management Career
Learn what you need to know, from in-demand skills to the industry’s growing job opportunities.
How to Create a Realistic Project Plan in 12 Steps
Alexis is a scholar-practitioner with a unique combination of expertise in business economics, general management, portfolio, project, and operations management . He has nearly two decades of experience managing major programs and projects within the manufacturing and power generation industries. Based on his experience, he recommends project managers follow the below steps to develop a plan that results in quality deliverables on time and within budget.
1. Collect requirements from key stakeholders.
Once you’ve created a project charter and identified key project stakeholders, it’s essential to gather requirements. “You need input to generate output,” Alexis says. “The planning process starts with collecting requirements from stakeholders. Once you have this information, you will be able to define the scope of the project and determine exactly what you need to deliver to your stakeholders.
Strong communication skills are critical at this stage in the planning process. Without effective communication, it’s possible to miss important details that could be detrimental to the project’s overall success.
2. Define the scope of the project.
Ask yourself: “ What is it the team needs to produce or deliver? ” and “ What problems are the stakeholders trying to solve? ” Then, work with your stakeholders to develop a comprehensive description of the project and the product deliverables in the form of a project scope statement . You must have a clear understanding of the boundaries of the project.
For example, if you are building a software app for a customer, you must know what will be included in the app and what won’t. Who will use the application? What is it intended to do? What are the critical functions and features it needs to have?
3. Create a work breakdown structure.
Break down the project’s scope into smaller, more manageable deliverables and groups of related tasks, also known as “work packages.” This will allow you to assign resources to different parts of the project based on the skills needed. The work breakdown structure facilitates planning and coordination, which are two important functions of project management.
4. Define project activities.
Break down work packages into a list of project activities. Consider this an action plan. It can help to ask yourself: “ What are the activities that must be performed to create the deliverables of the project?”
5. Sequence project activities.
“Almost everything happens in a sequence, but the trick is to do as many things in parallel as possible—if you have the resources to do so,” Alexis says. “One of the key reasons for adopting formal project management methodologies is to reduce time-to-market. In dynamic and hyper-competitive industries, the ability to reduce cycle time is a competitive advantage.”
6. Estimate activity duration, costs, and resources.
The cost, duration, and resources required to complete the project activities depend on the scope of the project. Proper estimating is important for any project, as it helps determine if the plan is viable, set expectations, and keep costs under control.
7. Assign resources to work packages and activities according to skills and interests.
Resources include not only labor but also materials, equipment, space, and technology. After identifying which resources you’ll need, Alexis suggests identifying the skill level needed for each activity.
“The scope and level of complexity of the project will help you determine in what areas you need to bring in high, mid-level, or entry-level skills,” Alexis says. This step allows you to determine the sequence of events that need to take place. To establish a realistic timeline, you’ll need to know how long each activity will take, how much each will cost, what resources (team members) you’ll need, and also when those resources are available (e.g., check into vacation schedules to avoid unexpected delays).
8. Build in contingencies.
“ A plan without contingency is a bad plan,” Alexis says. “Projects rarely go as planned, so you need to build in backup plans . The contingencies can be determined by looking at historical data to identify risks that occurred on similar projects in the past.”
For example, if a vendor you’re relying on to deliver a key component of your project has had performance issues in the past, this could impact your schedule. If so, a contingency plan—such as identifying alternative vendors and estimating the costs if this risk should occur—is necessary. The key here is to consider both internal and external factors that may impact your project’s objectives. There are many factors outside of the organization that could add risk to the project, including the consumer price index, the economy, government issues (e.g., emerging regulations), and competitors’ actions.
Also, consider organizational culture when formulating your contingencies. The culture of the organization can impact certain elements of a project plan. For example, in some organizations, it’s common to pad estimates, while in others, there is an expectation that a project will have exact numbers.
9. Create a performance measurement baseline.
Develop an integrated scope-schedule-cost baseline for the project work, which will serve as a control tool for your project. Then, compare the execution of the project to your baseline to measure and manage performance. These baselines can be established through status reports within project management software applications.
“Performance should be measured throughout the project lifecycle,” Alexis explains. “This way, you can identify issues and take corrective action before it’s too late. It’s equally important to measure performance upon completion of the project. This allows you to compare actual results to their baselines to evaluate overall and individual performance.”
10. Develop all subsidiary plans.
“Developing a comprehensive and realistic project plan requires time and effort,” Alexis says. “However, planning can make your life easier during the execution phase of the project by preventing nasty surprises and misunderstandings.”
Most project plans need to incorporate the following subsidiary plans:
- Scope management plan
- Schedule management plan
- Cost management plan
- Quality management plan
- Resource management plan
- Communications management plan
- Risk management plan
- Procurement management plan
- Stakeholder engagement plan
- Requirements management plan
- Change management plan
- Configuration management plan
11. Document everything.
Document a project plan that outlines the scope, schedule, and cost of the project. Typically, plans should cover cost management, quality management, resource management, communication management, risk management , procurement processes, as well as ongoing stakeholder engagement (i.e., how to continually engage stakeholders through the lifecycle of the project.)
12. Build a knowledge base.
Some organizations have a learning culture where project managers are expected to document and share their plans. This can be a valuable way to learn from the mistakes and successes of others. In other companies where this historical knowledge isn’t documented, this could be more challenging, and it may be necessary to reach out directly to other project managers to gain insights.
Advancing in Project Management
Project management is a growing and in-demand career , but how do you take steps to grow in your role? Alexis recommends taking the following steps to further your project management career .
Make learning a daily habit. “ Some of the most successful project managers I know regularly work on furthering their communication, team building, and negotiation skills,” he says.
Remember that learning is everywhere. Earning a degree is an important way to propel your career forward. You can also learn in other ways—from experience on the job and through support systems within the profession.
To demonstrate your skills to employers, you can also explore opportunities to earn various credentials, such as becoming a certified project manager . Data has shown that project managers who hold a certification and/or a master’s degree in project management typically earn higher salaries than their counterparts who do not.
Develop your technical skills. Like many fields, project management technology is continually evolving, so professionals need to stay ahead of trends in the field. For example, many project managers today are investigating the potential applications of artificial intelligence and robotics. “Artificial intelligence will play an important role in the way we collect, store, and share lessons learned in project management,” Alexis says. “Capturing lessons learned will be more structured, and machine learning will help reduce mistakes and project failure.”
Develop a strong network for support. Many professionals are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Two places to start are the Project Management Institute and project management groups on LinkedIn.
Hone your leadership skills. Power and influence are important, yet often project managers have project team members on their project who are not their direct reports, which can be an added challenge. However, you can influence people based on your power, which comes from different sources. Sometimes project managers will rely on their expert power to influence team members or their referent power—their ability to connect with others and develop connections within the organization. Simply knowing your field isn’t enough. Strong leadership and communication are essential skills for project managers .
Share the value of project management. Demonstrate to managers and others in the organization how project management is essential for developing the organization’s competitive advantage. Effective project management can result in measurable benefits such as improved productivity or reduced time-to-market for a new product.
To learn more about advancing your career as a project manager, including actionable tips and strategies, download our comprehensive guide below.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2019 and has since been updated for recency and accuracy.
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How to create a project management plan that actually works (Template included)
Your project management plan is the map that’s going to guide you through your project from beginning to end. Here’s how to make a great one that keeps you on track (even when things get weird).
You’ve been honing your project management skills . You’ve been reading up on the various PM methodologies . Maybe you’ve even gotten a project management certification somewhere along the way.
And now that you’ve successfully written a project charter and identified your key stakeholders, you’re ready to turn it all into a full-blown project management plan that’s going to knock your project’s socks off.
This is where all of your research and preparation pays off in the form of a definitive project plan document that you’ll use to guide your project from beginning to end.
But what is a project management plan used for? Why is it so important? And what are the core project management plan components you need to include for it to be a success?
Here’s how to make a project plan that actually works.
What is a project management plan used for?
Your project plan document is where you go deep on the ins, outs, overs, and unders of your project.
Whereas the project charter is the high-level vision for your project, your project management plan is where you break this vision down into the actual day-to-day execution of your project, covering everything you need to do to reach your project goals.
A detailed project plan will plot out everything from timelines to budget, resourcing to deliverables, and more, giving you a blueprint of what needs to be done (and when) that you can use to guide — and assess — your project.
The importance of project management planning
Behind every great project, there’s a heck of a lot of preparation.
As a project manager , you’ll have tons of things to keep track of at any given stage. Your project plan helps you to take out the guesswork by showing you exactly what you need to be focusing on each step of the way; where your resources and attention should be going; and what you need to be looking out for to ensure things don’t become overdue or over budget.
The work you do upfront in creating a project plan will stand to you throughout the lifecycle of the project , allowing you to direct your efforts 100% on delivering results, not scrambling to figure out what you should be doing next.
Here are 5 benefits that highlight the importance of project management planning.
It gives your project a baseline to work with
Working from the approved project charter, your project plan will map out the agreed-upon scope , timeline, and budget for your project in more detail.
Once you have these baselines decided, defined, and approved by the project sponsor, you’ll be able to measure the actual execution of your project against the projected progress.
This is super helpful because it means that no matter which stage of your project you’re at, you can quickly gauge whether you’re delivering the way you planned — and what you need to do to course-correct if you’re not.
It creates project alignment (and removes confusion)
No alarms and no surprises: with your project laid out in a detailed project plan, everyone knows what to expect and when.
While your project charter brings you, your stakeholders, and the project team into general alignment, your detailed project plan will ensure there’s no room for error or uncertainty by mapping out the exact due dates and deliverables, so everyone can prepare accordingly.
It fully outlines the scope of the project
That alignment has another related benefit, too: avoiding scope creep .
When your stakeholders’ expectations and all agreed deliverables are clearly laid out in the project plan document, it’s easier to spot when things are out of scope.
And just as importantly, it makes it easier to address them, too. That’s because you have a written document or project planning sheet that you can refer back to in discussions, so everyone can be reminded of what they originally agreed to and there’s no ambiguity about what’s in (or out of) the purview of the project.
It allows for better resourced project management
Once you start to break down the project’s work into manageable chunks like deliverables, milestones, and tasks, it becomes much easier to see what kind of resources you’ll actually need in order to get it done.
Again, while you may have started to outline this in your project charter at a very high level, your project plan is where you get really granular about how you’re planning to use the resources at your disposal.
(Pro tip: for a really great project plan, you’ll also want to factor in some wiggle room for when things inevitably change and you have to re-optimize your resources on the fly.)
It builds confidence in your project
Having a detailed project plan helps to reassure your project sponsor, your stakeholders, and your project team (and let’s be honest, maybe yourself if you’re having a particularly bad day) of where you’re going and why.
Your project plan document builds confidence in your leadership as a project manager, because it allows everyone to see how all of the work comes together to advance the project’s — and by extension, the organization’s — goals .
5 things you need to know before writing a project plan
Sound good? Ready to get down to business? Before you dive in to writing a project plan, here are the 5 things you need to ensure you’ve identified.
1. Identify the baselines for your project
Before you begin writing a project plan, you need to make sure you have the basics down. Start by identifying the baselines for the project’s scope, schedule and cost, as the rest of your project planning will need to fit in around those constraints.
As mentioned above, these baselines should already be roughly outlined in your project charter — but here’s where you really start to map them out and create accurate estimates. And the more detailed, the better, because these are what you’ll be using for comparison to measure how your project performs.
2. Identify your project dependencies
Or in other words, ask yourself: what needs to happen before this other thing can happen? Identifying your project dependencies at the outset of your project means you can plan your timelines more efficiently, spot potential blockers, and ensure that you avoid unnecessary delays.
3. Identify project stakeholders
You’ll already have done the groundwork for this in your stakeholder analysis, but as you flesh out your project management plan and think through the phases of your project in more detail, you’ll likely start to find more project stakeholders at each phase.
Now is also a good time to go deeper on which stakeholders need to be informed and involved at which stages, for a more comprehensive stakeholder management plan you can use at each phase of your project.
4. Identify project milestones
What are the key markers of your project’s progress? It can be a concrete deliverable, the end of a phase in a stage-gate process — whatever milestones make sense to you, breaking your project down into manageable chunks, each with a defined goal, helps to keep the team motivated, allows you to celebrate each achievement, and signposts how the overall progress is coming along. Learn more about using Milestones here .
5. Identify who’s responsible for what
Once you start to get a big-picture understanding of the work that’s needed and the resources you have to complete it, you can start deciding who should do what. Giving each item an owner is essential to getting things done. No more “oh, was I supposed to do that?” — once you identify who’s responsible for what, you can ensure accountability and transparency.
The 5 Stages of Team Development
All teams develop according to some natural patterns and using that knowledge, you can offer some guidance to build the kind of team that communicates well and finds better ways to collaborate and achieve the goals you’ve established. Here’s what you need to know.
How to make a project plan
1. start with a high level project plan template.
What does a project plan look like in your organization? When you’re creating a project plan, start by drawing on any existing materials you can use to guide you, like project plan samples or project plan templates.
Whether your organization provides you with a high level project plan template, a project planning form, project plan samples, or a project planning calendar, leverage any organizational process assets you can.
Don’t have a project plan template available? Make your own , and use it for all future projects to save time and replicate your successes.
Project management template
Save time on setup without sacrificing attention to detail. With our project management template, you can quickly create project management plans that help you complete your project on time and on budget.
2. Then tailor it to match your project type
A project plan template or sample project is a great way to get started with your planning, but don’t forget to choose the right project plan type for your specific project.
Your project plan should be tailored to your particular project type, team type, and needs. For example, an IT project plan for a rollout of new equipment will probably look different from a sample agile project plan , both of which will probably look different from more overarching strategic project planning.
Use all the features at your disposal, from task lists to Gantt charts, to make sure that your project plan works for you.
3. Get input from clients, project stakeholders and team members
Writing your project plan in a vacuum will make it harder to get buy-in when it matters.
Involving your stakeholders when you’re creating a project plan helps them to feel more represented in the process, and sets the tone for a collaborative working environment that will stand to you throughout the project.
So whether it’s a planning meeting, brainstorming session, or one-to-one interviews, make sure you get input from the project’s key players when you’re developing a project plan.
And as an added bonus? This is also a great opportunity for you as the project manager to continue growing the relationships you started building back in the project charter and stakeholder analysis phases.
4. Incorporate any other project management planning you’ve done
Your project management plan should be informed by all the other project planning you’ve done so far: not only the outcomes of the project planning steps 1-5 above, but all the research you’ve done before reaching this stage.
According to the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide and Standards, some other plans to include as part of your project management plan are:
Scope management plan
Requirements management plan
Schedule management plan
Cost management plan
Quality management plan
Resource management plan
Communications management plan
Risk management plan
Procurement management plan
Stakeholder engagement plan
While the PMBOK recommends having these 10 plans as standard, you might find that different projects require different approaches.
Nonetheless, even if you don’t have a comprehensive document for each one, it’s good to cover each of these bases at some stage of your PM planning so you’re prepared.
You might also want to include some or all of the following:
Change management plan
Configuration management plan
Performance measurement baseline
Project life cycle
Development approach (e.g. predictive, iterative, agile, hybrid)
If you have these documents already, use them to guide your planning. You can also include them in an appendix to your project management plan so they’re always close to hand.
5. Put your project management plan somewhere central
Just like your project charter, your project management plan should live somewhere central where everyone — stakeholders, the project team, management, clients — can access it.
Teamwork Spaces is great for storing all of your important project planning documents in a way that makes them intuitive and enjoyable to read. Mark essential SOPs or processes as Required Reading to ensure that essential info actually gets read.
And if someone has a question that they can’t find the answer to? Readers can leave comments on individual spaces to ask for clarification or leave an update.
Get started with Teamwork Spaces
Start working together beautifully. See how Teamwork Spaces can help your team with our 30-day free trial.
Use a project management tool to turn your project management plan into a plan of action
Once you’ve documented your project management plan, bring it to life with a project management tool that will help you to stay on track, keep your team accountable, and promote transparency.
Here are 3 ways you can use Teamwork to supercharge your project management plan.
Add your supporting documentation to Teamwork Spaces
Use the Teamwork and Teamwork Spaces integration to link a project in Teamwork with a space in Teamwork Spaces, so your important project documents are only ever a click away.
Some documents you might want to add in addition to your project charter and project management plan include:
Change management plans
SOPs for important project processes
List of stakeholders and their roles
Outline of approval processes
Any other best practices documentation or supporting info as necessary
You can even embed task lists into your pages and mark tasks as complete right from Teamwork Spaces, so you can keep work flowing without even needing to switch tabs.
Start adding your Milestones
Break down your work into Milestones and task lists that are going to help you reach them. With Teamwork, you can assign an owner to each Milestone, map out your Milestone due dates and see them represented in the project calendar, and even get a full change history for milestones so you can track any edits.
Visualize your task dependencies with a Gantt chart
Gantt chart-style views are a useful way to get a visual representation of your tasks and their dependencies, allowing for better scheduling and resourcing. In Teamwork, you can drag and drop to quickly rearrange your project schedule , without throwing everything out of order or straying off-plan.
Remember: software should support the way you work, not dictate it. So regardless of methodology or team type, create a project plan that works for you and your team — and find a tool that helps you put it into action.
Use our project plan template
Now that you know how to create a project management plan that actually works, you’re ready to implement using our team management software . To help you get up and running quickly, we’ve created a ready to use project plan template . Our project template will help you quickly create project plans that ensure all of your projects are completed on time and on budget
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What Is a Project Plan?
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A project plan is a series of formal documents that define the execution and control stages of a project. The plan includes considerations for risk management, resource management and communications, while also addressing scope, cost and schedule baselines. Project planning software is used by project managers to ensure that their plans are thorough and robust.
ProjectManager allows you to make detailed project plans with online Gantt charts that schedule task dependencies, resource hours, labor costs, milestones and more. Plus, your team can execute the plan in any of our five project views, while you track progress along the way with dashboards. Start today for free.
The project plan, also called project management plan, answers the who, what, where, why, how and when of the project—it’s more than a Gantt chart with tasks and due dates. The purpose of a project plan is to guide the execution and control project phases.
As mentioned above, a project plan consists of the following documents:
- Project Charter : Provides a general overview of the project. It describes the project’s reasons, goals, objectives, constraints, stakeholders, among other aspects.
- Statement of Work : A statement of work (SOW) defines the project’s scope, schedule, deliverables, milestones, and tasks.
- Work Breakdown Structure : Breaks down the project scope into the project phases, subprojects, deliverables, and work packages that lead to your final deliverable.
- Project Plan : The project plan document is divided in sections to cover the following: scope management, quality management, risk assessment, resource management, stakeholder management, schedule management and the change management plan.
This guide aims to give you all the information and resources you need to create a project plan and get it approved by your customers and stakeholders. Let’s start with the basics of writing a project plan.
Related: Free Project Plan Template
Your project plan is essential to the success of any project. Without one, your project may be susceptible to common project management issues such as missed deadlines, scope creep and cost overrun. While writing a project plan is somewhat labor intensive up front, the effort will pay dividends throughout the project life cycle.
The basic outline of any project plan can be summarized in these five steps:
- Define your project’s stakeholders, scope, quality baseline, deliverables, milestones, success criteria and requirements. Create a project charter, work breakdown structure (WBS) and a statement of work (SOW) .
- Identify risks and assign deliverables to your team members, who will perform the tasks required and monitor the risks associated with them.
- Organize your project team (customers, stakeholders, teams, ad hoc members, and so on), and define their roles and responsibilities.
- List the necessary project resources , such as personnel, equipment, salaries, and materials, then estimate their cost.
- Develop change management procedures and forms.
- Create a communication plan , schedule, budget and other guiding documents for the project.
Each of the steps to write a project plan explained above correspond to the 5 project phases, which we will outline in the next section.
What Are the 5 Phases of the Project Life Cycle?
Any project , whether big or small, has the potential to be very complex. It’s much easier to break down all the necessary inclusions for a project plan by viewing your project in terms of phases. The Project Management Institute , within the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), have identified the following 5 phases of a project:
- Initiation: The start of a project, in which goals and objectives are defined through a business case and the practicality of the project is determined by a feasibility study.
- Planning: During the project planning phase, the scope of the project is defined by a work breakdown structure (WBS) and the project methodology to manage the project is decided on. Costs, quality and resources are estimated, and a project schedule with milestones and task dependencies is identified. The main deliverable of this phase is your project plan.
- Execution: The project deliverables are completed during this phase. Usually, this phase begins with a kick-off meeting and is followed by regular team meetings and status reports while the project is being worked on.
- Monitoring & Controlling: This phase is performed in tandem with the project execution phase. Progress and performance metrics are measured to keep progress on the project aligned with the project plan.
- Closure: The project is completed when the stakeholder receives the final deliverable. Resources are released, contracts are signed off on and, ideally, there will be an evaluation of the successes and failures.
Related: 20 Must-Have Project Management Excel Templates
Now that we’ve learned how to make a project plan, and identified the stages of the project management life cycle, we need to emphasize on the importance of the project planning phase.
The project planning process is critical for any kind of project because this is where you create all the documents that will guide how you’ll execute your project plan and how you’ll control risks and any issues that might occur. These documents, which are part of the project management plan, cover all the details of your project without exception.
There are project plan templates out there that can help you organize your tasks and begin the project planning process—but we here at ProjectManager recommend the use of project planning software. The feature set is far more robust and integrated with every project phase compared to an Excel project plan template, and is a great way to ensure your actual progress stays aligned with your planned progress.
Once you write a project plan, it’s time for implementation . Watch the video below to see how project planning software helps organize a project’s tasks, resources and costs.
Project planning tools has become an invaluable tool for project managers in recent years, as it provides them the ability to maintain and automate the components we outlined above. Project planning software is a great tool to facilitate project management processes such as schedule development, team management, cost estimation, resource allocation and risk monitoring.
Beyond that, planning software also allows managers to monitor and track their plan as it moves through the execution phase of the project. These features include dashboards, for a high-level view of the project’s progress and performance, and in-depth reports that can be used to communicate with stakeholders.
Project planning software comes in all different sizes and shapes. There are some that focus on a single aspect, and others that offer a suite of planning features that can be used in each one of the project planning steps. What’s right for your project depends on your specific needs, but in general terms, project planning software is a much more powerful tool than project planning templates .
Online project planning software is highly flexible and adaptable to your team’s style of work. It has features that are designed to assist you throughout your project planning process.
Before the rise of planning software, project managers would typically have to keep up with a disjointed collection of documents, excel spreadsheets and so on. Savvy managers, however, make use of the project management tools available to them to automate what they can, and streamline what they can’t.
Some of the time-saving benefits of project planning software include the following.
- Organize, prioritize and assign tasks
- Plan and schedule milestones and task dependencies
- Monitor progress, costs and resources
- Collaborate with team
- Share project plans with team and stakeholders
- Generate reports on plans
Gantt Charts for Superior Planning
A Gantt chart is the most essential tool for the project planning process. Organize tasks, add their duration and they automatically populate a project timeline . Set milestones to break the larger project into manageable phases, and link task dependencies to avoid bottlenecks later in the project.
Get More Than a To-Do List
When planning a project, you need more than a to-do list. Seek out a planning software with a task list feature that lets you set priority levels, filters and collaborate. It’s a big plus if you can also make personal task lists that are private to manage your own work.
Use Kanban for Workflows
Workflows ensure proper execution of your plan, and no feature does this better than kanban boards. Customize boards to match your workflow and drag and drop cards as teams get their work done. See what work needs to be done and keep the focus on productivity with this feature.
Be Able to Track Progress
A dashboard can keep your project plan on track. Try and find a dashboard that’s synced with your planning tools, so everything updates automatically. It will make reporting easier too.
Get Transparency Into Teams
For a plan to go smoothly, you have to know what your team is working on. Find a way to balance your team’s availability with the project schedule. Workload features that map out resource allocation and holidays can be a big help here.
Be Able to Manage Multiple Projects
Rarely do you need to only focus on one project at a time. Give yourself the flexibility to manage multiple projects at once in the same tool. A roadmap feature that maps all of your projects on one timeline can be a lifesaver.
Before we dive into how to create a project plan, it helps to be familiar with some of the terms that you’ll run across. Here is a list of general terms you’ll encounter in this guide.
- Deliverable: The results of a project, such as a product, service, report, etc.
- Stakeholder: Anyone with a vested interest in the project—project manager, project sponsor, team members, customers, etc.
- Tasks: Small jobs that lead to the final deliverable.
- Milestone: The end of one project phase, and the beginning of the next.
- Resources: Anything you need to complete the project, such as personnel, supplies, materials, tools, people and more.
- Budget: Estimate of total cost related to completing a project.
- Tracking & Monitoring: Collecting project data, and making sure it reflects the results you planned for.
The project planning process is critical for the success of your project, and as a project manager, you have to think about all the elements that make up your project management plan such as work, time, resources and risks.
Now, we’re going to take you through the main project planning steps :
- Outline the business case
- Meet with key stakeholders
- Define project scope
- Assemble a project team
- Determine a project budget
- Set project goals & objectives
- Outline project deliverables
- Create a project schedule
- Assign tasks to your team members
- Do a risk analysis
- Create your project plan
- Report your progress
By following these project planning steps, you’ll clarify what you need to achieve, work out the processes you need to get there and develop an action plan for how you are going to take this project plan outline forward.
1. Outline the Business Case
If you have a project, there’s a reason for it—that’s your business case . The business case outlines reasons why the project is being initiated, its benefits and the return on investment. If there’s a problem that is being solved, then that problem is outlined here. The business case will be presented to those who make decisions at your organization, explaining what has to be done, and how, along with a feasibility study to assess the practicality of the project. If approved, you have a project.
2. Meet with Key Stakeholders
Every project has stakeholders , those who have a vested interest in the project. From the ones who profit from it, to the project team members who are responsible for its success. Therefore, any project manager must identify who these key stakeholders are during the project planning process, from customers to regulators. Meeting with them is crucial to get a better picture of what the project management plan should include and what is expected from the final deliverable.
3. Define Project Scope
It refers to the work required to accomplish the project objectives and generate the required deliverables. The project scope should be defined and organized by a work breakdown structure (WBS). Therefore, the project scope includes what you must do in the project (deliverables, sub deliverables, work packages, action items ), but also what is nonessential. The latter is important for the project plan, because knowing what isn’t high priority helps to avoid scope creep ; that is, using valuable resources for something that isn’t key to your project’s success.
4. Assemble a Project Team
You’ll need a capable project team to help you create your project plan and execute it successfully. It’s advisable to gather a diverse group of experienced professionals to build a multi-disciplinary team that sees your project management plan from different perspectives.
5. Determine a Project Budget
Once you define your project scope, you’ll have a task list that must be completed to deliver your project successfully. To do so, you’ll need resources such as equipment, materials, human capital, and of course, money. Your project budget will pay for all this. The first step to create a project budget is to estimate the costs associated with each task. Once you have those estimated costs, you can establish a cost baseline , which is the base for your project budget.
6. Set Project Goals & Objectives
Goals and objectives are different things when it comes to planning a project. Goals are the results you want to achieve, and are usually broad. Objectives , on the other hand, are more specific; measurable actions that must be taken to reach your goal. When creating a project plan, the goals and objectives naturally spring from the business case, but in this stage, you go into further detail. In a sense, you’re fine-tuning the goals set forth in the business case and creating tasks that are clearly defined. These goals and objectives are collected in a project charter , which you’ll use throughout the project life cycle.
7. Outline Project Deliverables
A project can have numerous deliverables. A deliverable can be a good, service or result that is needed to complete a task, process, phase, subproject or project. For example, the final deliverable is the reason for the project, and once this deliverable is produced, the project is completed. As defined in the project scope, a project consists of subprojects, phases, work packages, activities and tasks, and each of these components can have a deliverable. The first thing to do is determine what the final deliverable is, and how you will know that the quality meets your stakeholder’s expectations. As for the other deliverables in the project, they must also be identified and someone on the team must be accountable for their successful completion.
8. Create a Project Schedule
The project schedule is what everything hangs on. From your tasks to your budget , it’s all defined by time. Schedules are made up by collecting all the tasks needed to reach your final deliverable, and setting them on a project timeline that ends at your deadline. This can make for an unruly job ahead, which is why schedules are broken into phases, indicated by milestones , which mark the end of one project phase and the beginning of the next.
9. Assign Tasks to Your Team Members
The plan is set, but it still exists in the abstract until you take the tasks on your schedule and begin assigning them out to your team members. Their roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined, so they know what to do. Then, when you assign them tasks from your plan, they should be clear, with directions and any related documentation they will need to execute the tasks.
10. Do a Risk Analysis
Every project has some level of risk . There are several types of risk such as scope risk, technical risks and schedule risk, among others. Even if your project plan is thorough, internal and external factors can impact your project’s time, cost and scope (triple constraint). Therefore, you need to regard your planning as flexible. There are many ways to prepare for risk, such as developing a change management plan, but for now, the most important thing to do is to track your progress throughout the execution phase by using project status reports and/or project planning software to monitor risk.
11. Create your Project Plan
As discussed above, a project management plan is a document that’s made of several elements. Before we get into a detailed explanation of each of them, it’s important to understand that you should include them all to have a solid project plan. The components that you’ll need might vary depending on your project, but in general terms, you’ll need these main documents to create your project management plan:
- Project charter
- Project schedule
- Project budget
- Project scope statement
- Risk management plan
- Change management plan
- Cost management plan
- Resource management plan
- Stakeholder management plan
12. Report Your Progress
Your ultimate goal is to ensure a successful project for your stakeholders. They’re invested, and will not be satisfied twiddling their thumbs without looking at project status reports to track progress. By constructing a work breakdown structure (WBS) during the project planning phase you can break down the project for them so that they understand how your project plan will be executed. Keeping stakeholders informed is important to manage their expectations and ensure that they’re satisfied. Having regular planning meetings where you present progress reports are a great way to show them that everything is moving forward as planned and to field any questions or concerns they might have. Your stakeholder management plan will specify how you’ll engage stakeholders in the project.
Project planning software is a tool that helps to plan, organize and manage the schedule and resources needed to complete a project. ProjectManager is an award-winning project management software that organizes projects from planning to completion. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and follow along to build a thorough project plan that covers every detail.
1. List Your Tasks for the Plan
Tasks are the building blocks of any project and the start of any plan is identifying all the tasks that lead to your final deliverable.
Open the tool to add your tasks on the Gantt chart or one of the other multiple project views. You can import a task list from any spreadsheet or use one of our templates to get started.
2. Add Duration and Costs to Tasks
Every task has an estimated duration, which is the time it will take to complete it. They will also require a certain amount of funding, which needs to be collected to formulate your plan.
Add the start and end dates for each task in the Gantt and they populate a project timeline, so you can see the whole project laid out in one place. There’s also a column for task costs.
3. Link Dependent Tasks
Tasks are not always separate from one another. Often one cannot start or stop until another has started or stopped. That’s called a task dependency and needs to be noted in your plan.
Link dependent tasks by dragging one to the other. A dotted line indicates that they’re linked, so you stay aware of the fact and can avoid bottlenecks later in the project.
4. Set Milestones & Baseline
A milestone indicates the end of one phase and the beginning of another, which helps with tracking and morale. The baseline sets your plan so you can compare it to actual progress.
There is a filter on the Gantt that automatically sets the baseline, so you can use it to track your actual progress against the plan. The baseline can also be locked with a click.
5. Onboard Team & Assign
Getting the team and the tool together is how a project plan becomes actualized. The easier and seamless this transition, the faster you’ll get to work on the project.
Invite your team from the software and it generates an email with a link. Once they follow that link, they’re in and have access to the tools they need to manage their tasks.
6. Monitor Progress & Report to Stakeholders
Keeping track of your progress and then updating stakeholders is both how you stay on track and manage your stakeholders’ expectations.
See progress as it happens on our real-time dashboard, which calculates data and displays it over six project metrics. Reports can be filtered and shared for a deep dive into those numbers.
7. Adjust Plan As Needed
No plan remains the same throughout a project. Things happen and changes are demanded. Therefore, being able to edit your plan easily is key to the project planning process.
Edit your plan on the Gantt by a simple drag and drop. Move the old date to the new date and not only is that task fixed, but any impacted tasks are also updated automatically.
ProjectManager 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.
Ready to make your plan? Try ProjectManager today with this free 30-day trial.
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!
The purpose of a project management plan is to serve as a guide for the execution and control phases. The project plan provides all the information necessary for the execution phase such as the project’s goals, objectives, scope of work, milestones, risks and resources. Then, this information helps project managers monitor and control the progress of the project.
We plan at the beginning to save time later. A good project plan means that you don’t have to worry about whether the project participants 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—you’ve planned your financial process. You don’t have to worry about whether everyone agrees on what a quality outcome looks like—you’ve already planned what quality measures you are going to use.
A good project plan 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.
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 has a real-time dashboard that updates automatically whenever tasks are updated.
The project planning process already discussed only scratches the surface of what is a deep well of practices created to control your project. They start with dialogue — speaking to stakeholders, teams, et al.
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 project scope statement to define all the tasks and deliverables that are needed to complete the project
- A risk management plan for dealing with project risk including the processes for logging and tracking risks
- A change management plan to manage any changes that will be made to the project plan
- A cost management plan for managing costs and the budgeting elements of the project including any procurements or supplier engagements you might have
- A resource management plan for managing the material resources such as equipment and the human resources on the team both in terms of availability and skills
- A stakeholder management plan setting out who is going to receive messages about the project, when and in what format
- 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 management 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. As explained above, project planning charts and techniques such as Gantt charts, CPM, WBS or PERT can help you create your project plan.
This is hard to answer. It’s going to take longer to plan the moon landing than a new dating 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 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.
A project plan 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 project planning 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 project management plan in. Make sure that everyone in the team can access the latest version of the project 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 project management 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 work and project resources, then go back and review it. Make the changes you need, get the plan approved again and share it with the team.
How To Make a Project 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.
Next Steps for Project Planning
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t rush the project planning process. 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 and start planning your project today!
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Project Planning Resources
- Best Project Planner Tools: Apps, Software & Templates
- Best Project Planning Software of 2023 (Free & Paid)
- 25 of the Best Planning Quotes
- 3 Best Planner Apps for Mac in 2023
- 3 Best Project Management Charts for Project Planning
- Project Management Trends
- How to Create a Project Roadmap (Example Included)
- What Is Aggregate Planning? Strategies & Tips
- What Is Rolling Wave Planning?
- How to Create a Project Execution Plan (PEP) – Free Template Included
- Sample Project Plan For Your Next Project
- Operational Planning: How to Make an Operations Plan
- Project Planning Software
- Gantt Chart Software
- Project Scheduling Software
- Work Breakdown Structure Software
- Project Timeline Software
- Resource Planning Software
- Project Proposal Template
- Project Charter Template
- Project Timeline Template
- Implementation Plan Template
- Work Plan Template
- Action Plan Template
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What is Project Management?
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Many professionals think of a Project Management Plan as a Gantt chart or a Schedule . Professionals who carry this misconception into the PMP® certification exam are the least likely ones to pass the exam. As you will see in this article, a Project Management Plan is a document that defines how a project is executed, monitored, and controlled; it is much more than a schedule chart. A solid understanding of the project plan can pay rich dividends throughout your preparation for the PMP® certification exam , and also help in managing projects.
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What Is a Project Management Plan?
The Project manager creates the project management plan following inputs from the project team and the key stakeholders. A Project management plan is a formal, approved document that defines how the project is executed, monitored, and controlled. It may be a summary or a detailed document and may include baselines, subsidiary management plans, and other planning documents. This document is used to define the approach the project team takes to deliver the intended project management scope of the project.
As the work proceeds, the performance of the project is measured against the performance measurement baseline included in the project management plan. The scope baseline, schedule baseline, and cost baseline are collectively referred to as the performance measurement baseline. If there is a deviation from the baseline while the work is being done, the project manager deals with them by making adjustments to correct the deviation. If these adjustments fail to correct the deviations, then formal change requests to the baselines become necessary.
Project managers spend a substantial amount of time ensuring baselines are achieved, ensuring the project sponsor and the organization get the full benefits of their projects. Besides proper planning, a project manager’s abilities also lie in efficiently controlling the project and ensuring project deliverables are on time—and that the project is completed per the project management plan.
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What Is a Project Management Plan Used For?
There are no shortcuts to a thorough understanding of your project than through a well-written, well-structured project plan document.
When compared to the project charter, which is a high-level strategy for the program, your project management plan breaks down that high-level perspective into the practical day-to-day operation of your project, addressing everything you must accomplish in order to achieve your project objectives.
Everything from timeframes to budgets , resources to deliverables, and more will be plotted out in a complete project plan, providing you with a roadmap of what needs fixing that you could use to manage and analyze your project.
What are the Components of a Project Management Plan?
A project management plan is a collection of baselines and subsidiary plans that include:
- Baselines for scope, schedule, and cost
- Management plans for scope, schedule, cost, quality, human resources, communications, risk, and procurement
- Requirement management plan
- Change management plan
- Configuration management plan
- Process improvement plan
The Importance of Project Management Planning
There is a tremendous amount of planning that goes into any successful project. When you're a project manager, you'll have a lot to remember at all times. As a result of your project plan, you will know precisely what to concentrate on at each stage of the project, where to allocate resources and time, as well as what to watch out for in case things run over schedule or over budget.
In order to get the most out of a project, you need to put in a lot of effort upfront to create a project plan that will serve you well throughout the project's lifespan. Here are five reasons why project management planning is essential.
It Serves as a Starting Point for Your Project
Your project plan, based on the agreed-upon scope, timeframe, and budget, will be developed in accordance with the authorized project charter. Having these baselines in place, specified, and authorized by the project owner will allow you to compare the actual progress of your project to how it was expected to be achieved.
This is very beneficial since it allows you to rapidly assess whether or not your project is progressing according to plan and, if it isn't, what needs to be done to fix the situation.
The Project Is More Organized
There are no alarms or surprises when your project is written out in a clear project plan. To make sure there is no space for misunderstanding or miscommunication, your thorough project plan will lay out all of the deadlines and deliverables in great detail so that everyone involved is aware of exactly what is expected of them.
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It Lays Down the Project’s Scope in Detail
Another advantage of this alignment is that it prevents scope creep. When the project plan document clearly defines the stakeholder's expectations and all agreed-upon deliverables, it's easy to identify when anything is out of scope.
In addition, it makes it simpler to deal with these issues. As a result, everyone can be persuaded of what they initially committed to, and there is no doubt about what is (or isn't) within the scope of the project, owing to a written contract or project planning sheet.
It Provides for More Efficient Project Management
Breaking down the project's work into digestible parts like deliverables, goals, or tasks makes it much simpler to figure out what resources you'll need to get it done.
Once again, you may have begun to explain this in the scope statement at a basic level, but your project management plan would be where you become more specific about how you're going to utilize the resources you have available.
It Instills Confidence in Your Endeavor
Project sponsors, stakeholders, and the project team (and, if you're feeling really down, even yourself) might be comforted by knowing where you're heading and why.
When you have a project plan document, everyone can understand how your expertise as a project manager is advancing the project's and the organization's objectives in unambiguous terms.
Things You Need to Know Before Writing a Project Plan
You need to know these five things before you begin developing a project plan.
Determine the Project’s Baselines
The first step in creating a project strategy is to ensure you understand the fundamentals. Start with establishing the project's scope, timeline, and cost baselines, since these restrictions will dictate the remainder of your project planning.
Aside from the project charter, here is the place where you truly begin to map out these baselines and establish reliable estimations. Because you'll be comparing them to other projects to see how well yours does, be as specific as possible.
Determine the Repercussions of Your Project’s Failure to Meet Its Goals
Alternatively, you may ask yourself: what must happen first in order for the next step to be possible? Establishing your project's dependencies early on allows you to better manage your timetables, identify possible roadblocks, and minimize delays.
Select Key Players in the Undertaking
There are likely to be additional project stakeholders as you go through the project management plan as well as go through each step in more depth than you identified during your stakeholder analysis.
During this time, you should also consider which stakeholders have to be informed and engaged at which stages of the project in order to create a more thorough stakeholder management plan.
Identify the Project’s Key Milestones
What are the most important signs that your project is moving forward? Your project may be broken down into a series of smaller, more manageable parts, each with a clearly stated objective. This keeps the team engaged, enables you to celebrate your successes, and shows how the overall development is moving along.
Establish the Responsibilities of Everyone Involved in the Situation
With a clear picture of the labor and resources required, you can begin choosing who should be doing what. Each item must have a designated owner to ensure that it is completed.
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Creating a Project Management Plan
As per the PMBOK® Guide , the project management plan is an output of the Develop Project Management Plan process in the Project Integration Management Knowledge Area.
The Project management plan is not created all at once. It is progressively elaborated, which means it is developed, refined, revisited, and updated. Since the project management plan integrates all the knowledge area management plans into a cohesive whole, it needs to be assembled after all the component plans have been created.
Most of the components of the project management plan are created in various processes defined in the PMBOK® Guide; for instance, the Communications Management Plan is developed in the Plan communications process.
However, the Schedule Management Plan, Cost Management Plan, and Scope Management Plan are created in the Develop Project Management Plan process. When a project charter is created in the initiating process group, it contains a summary of scope, budget, and a summary (milestone) schedule.
Since you already have these things at the time you begin developing the project plan, you can go ahead and develop the scope management plan, cost management plan, and schedule management plan. Later, when you perform the Plan Scope, Estimate Costs, and Develop Schedule processes, you can revise the components of the project plan with more detail to reflect a deeper understanding of the project.
How to Create a Project Management Plan? [ Explained in 6 Steps]
Step 1 - create a high-level template for project planning.
When it comes to your company, what does a project plan appear like? Starting with any existing resources that you can use as a reference, such as project plan examples or project plan templates, is a good place to start when developing a project strategy.
Make use of whatever resources your company makes available, such as a high-level template for planning projects, a project planning worksheet, model plans, or a calendar for preparing projects
Step 2 - Define Your Project Objective
There are many free templates and examples available to lend a helping hand with your preparation, but remember to choose the proper one for your project type when using one.
Your project management plan should be personalized to your project type, workforce type, and specific demands. IT project plans for new equipment rollouts, for example, are likely to vary from agile project plans, which in turn are likely to differ from more comprehensive strategic project plans.
Gantt charts, task lists, and other project management elements may help you ensure that your plan is effective.
Step 3 - Identify All Stakeholders
Once your project outline is ready, you have to identify the key stakeholders in the project success. Hence, it is important to collect all your requirements. Once you have collected this information, you need to define the scope of the project for each stakeholder and mention clear deliverables. To ace this step of project management good communication skills are required.
Step 4 - Get Feedback From Your Customers, Project Stakeholders, and Team Members
A strategy written in a vacuum is less likely to acquire the support it needs when the time comes. Your stakeholders will feel more involved in the project planning process if you include them, and it sets the stage for an integrated team atmosphere that will benefit your project.
Make sure you gather feedback from the project's leading characters when you establish a project plan, whether it's a planning meeting, a brainstorming session, or a one-on-one interview. Also, as an additional perk? It's an excellent chance for you to continue establishing connections with key stakeholders that you began developing throughout the stakeholder and project charter and analysis.
Step 5 - Any Previous Project Management Planning You’ve Done Should Be Included
If you've already completed stages 1-5 of project planning, you should include the results of those steps into your project management plan, as well as any research you've done up to this point.
The Project Management Institute's Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide and Standards recommend the following strategies for your project management plan:
- Plan for scope management
- Plan for the management of requirements
- A strategy for time management
- A cost-cutting strategy
- Plan for quality control
- A strategy for managing resources
- A strategy for managing communications.
- A strategy for risk management
- The procurement strategy
- Stakeholder outreach strategy
While the PMBOK suggests implementing these 10 strategies as a baseline, you may discover that various projects need different methods.
Each of these areas should be covered at some point in your project management planning, even if they aren't comprehensively documented.
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Step 6 - Choose a Central Location for Your Project Management Strategy
Your project management plan, including your project charter, should be kept centrally so that all parties involved, including stakeholders, the team members, management, and clients, can easily access it.
How to Turn Your Project Management Plan Into a Plan of Action
Using a project management tool, you can bring your defined project management strategy to life, ensuring that you remain on schedule, hold your team responsible, and promote openness throughout the project.
Project Management Plan Approval
Since the project management plan is a formal document that is used to manage the execution of the project , it must receive formal approval. Who grants the approval for the project management plan depends on the organizational structure and a number of other factors.
Usually, the customer or the senior management of an organization does not approve the project management plan document. The customer signs the contract but often leaves the internal workings of the organization delivering the project. Typically the project plan is approved by the project manager, project sponsor, or the functional managers who provide the resources for the project.
It becomes less difficult for a project manager to get the project management plan approved, if:
- All the stakeholders are identified along with and their requirements and objectives.
- The project manager handles conflicting priorities in advance.
How Is Project Management Different From Financial Management?
Project Management involves all the practices required for managing a project to maintain its activities from its initiation till its termination, ensuring that the organizational goals and stakeholder demands are met.
Financial Management is all about managing resources and financial operations to increase profit while achieving the organization’s and stakeholder’s objectives as soon as possible in a satisfactory manner.
1. How can I write a project management plan?
Writing a project management plan requires you to identify your project baselines. Write an executive summary and create your timeline/ team charts. Next, you will have to perform and write a risk assessment. Note down your communications and resource sub plans. Lastly, present your project management plan to the stakeholders. Collect their insights, feedback, and suggestions. You must try to incorporate the relevant ones before finalizing your plan.
2. What are the six parts of a project management plan?
A project management plan comprises an executive summary, Gantt chart/ timeline, stakeholder or team chart, risk assessment, communication sub-plan, and resource sub-plan.
3. What is the purpose of a project management plan?
With all the details and necessary steps laid, a project management plan reduces confusion, boosts confidence, and prevents obstacles during project execution. It provides a clear outline and value proposition, assigning essential roles, identifying and preventing risks, outlining milestones, and ensuring clear communication and availability of essential resources.
4. What is project management methodology?
A project management methodology comprises a set of principles, processes, and values that gauge how a team will complete a project. It structures several factors that would influence the project competition, including planning, design and documentation, communication methods within and outside of the team, timelines, and assessment modes.
5. How can project planning software help plan projects?
Project planning software lends a helping hand and simplifies project planning from the beginning to the end. It supplies much-needed project management features and transparency in the planning and execution. It facilitates effective communication among and within teams, helps track key performance factors, store data in a central location, generate reports, and overcome any other project management challenges.
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Project Management Plans in Project Environment
An Introduction to Project Management: A Beginner’s Guide
What Is Quality Planning and Why Is It Important in Project Management?
What is Project Planning: Tools and Fundamentals
Project Management Interview Guide
Difference between Project Management Plan and Project Documents
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How to Create a Project Plan in 5 Simple Steps
Every project tells a story about its goals, team, timing, and deliverables—and it requires detailed project planning and management to get the story right. Some of those stories are short and to the point while others are epic novels rife with twists and turns.
No matter the length or level of drama, every story is based on a story arc or an outline—or as we call it in the project management world, a project plan.
What is project planning?
What is a project management plan.
- Project planning steps
How to create a project plan in TeamGantt
Simple project plan examples, free project planning templates, project planning definitions.
Before we dive into the process basics, let’s start with a couple of definitions.
Project planning is the process of defining the project scope , objectives, and steps needed to get the work done. It's one of the most important processes in project management. The output of the project planning process is a project management plan.
A project management plan—also known as a project plan—is a document that outlines the process your team will use to manage the project according to scope to meet its stated objectives. The purpose of a project plan is to map out the steps and resources it will take to complete a project on time and budget.
A project plan communicates vital information—such as deadlines, assignments, and key milestones —to all project stakeholders and is integral to project success. It is most commonly represented in the form of a gantt chart to make it easy to ensure work stays on track.
Project planning steps: How to write a good project plan
Poor planning can lead to some pretty ugly consequences—from missed deadlines and budget overages to team burnout and client frustration. That’s why it’s important to establish a solid process you can use to plan any project.
Planning a project doesn’t have to be difficult. These basic project planning steps can help you write a plan that’s both realistic and on target.
- Start with research and preplanning
- Draft a rough outline of your project plan
- Build out your detailed project schedule
- Present and confirm your plan
- Execute your plan and adjust as needed
Rather watch than read? Check out our video tutorial on how to make a realistic project plan.
Step 1: Start with research and preplanning
A project plan is more than a dry document with dates. It’s the story of your project, and you don’t want it to be a tall tale! So make sure you know all the facts before you start creating a project plan.
Understand the project scope and value
Understanding the ins and outs of the project will help you determine the best process and identify any snags that might get in the way of success. Conduct your own research to dig deeper on:
- Project goals and outcomes
- Partnerships and outlying dependencies
- Potential issues and risks
Dive into any communications that are relevant to the project. Review the scope of work and related documents (maybe an RFP or notes from sales calls or meetings with your client team). Be thorough in your research to uncover critical project details, and ask thoughtful questions before you commit to anything.
Interview key stakeholders
If you want to dazzle stakeholders with a stellar project delivery, you’ve got to know how they work and what they expect. Schedule time with your main project contact, and ask them some tough questions about process, organizational politics, and general risks before creating a project plan.
This will give project stakeholders confidence that your team has the experience to handle any difficult personality or situation. It also shows you care about the success of the project from the start.
Be sure to discuss these things with your stakeholders:
- Product ownership and the decision-making process
- Stakeholder interest/involvement levels
- Key outages, meetings, deadlines, and driving factors
- Related or similar projects, goals, and outcomes
- The best way to communicate with partners and stakeholders
See a list of sample interview questions to ask stakeholders so you can develop better project plans.
Get to know your team
The last step in the research phase is to take time to learn more about the people who’ll be responsible for the work. Sit down with your team and get to know their:
- Collaboration and communication styles
- Availability and workload
Understanding these basics about your team will help you craft a thoughtful plan that takes their work styles and bandwidth into consideration. After all, a happy team delivers better projects.
Step 2: Draft a rough outline of your project plan
Now that you’ve gathered the basic project details, the next step is to knock out a rough draft of your plan. Take some time to think about the discussions you had in the pre-planning phase and the approach your team might take to meet the project goals.
Sketch out the main components of your project plan
Sit down with a pen and paper (or a whiteboard), and outline how the project should work at a high level. Be sure you have a calendar close by to check dates.
If you’re at a loss for where to begin, start with the who, what, when, and how of the project. Any solid project plan should answer these questions:
- What are the major deliverables?
- How will we get to those deliverables and the deadline?
- Who’s on the project team, and what role will they play in those deliverables?
- When will the team meet milestones?
- When will other members of the team play a role in contributing to or providing feedback on those deliverables?
A first outline can be very rough and might look something like a work breakdown structure , as noted in our chapter on project estimation . Make sure your project plan outline includes the following components:
- Deliverables and the tasks taken to create them
- Your client’s approval process
- Timeframes associated with tasks/deliverables
- Ideas on resources needed for tasks/deliverables
- A list of the assumptions you’re making in the plan
- A list of absolutes as they relate to the project budget and/or deadlines
Considering these elements will help you avoid surprises—or at least minimize them. And remember, you’re doing this as a draft so you can use it as a conversation-starter for your team. It’s not final yet!
Get input from your team on process, effort, and timing
You don’t want to put yourself or your team in an awkward position by not coming to a consensus on the approach before presenting it to your client. That's why a project manager can’t be the only one writing a project plan.
Once you’ve sketched out a basic outline of your plan, take those rough ideas and considerations to your team. This enables you to invite discussion about what might work rather than simply dictating a process. After all, every project must begin with clear communication of the project goals and the effort required to meet them.
Be sure to get input from your team on how they can complete the tasks at hand without killing the budget and the team’s morale. As a project manager, you can decide on Agile vs. Waterfall approaches , but when it comes down to it, you need to know that the team can realistically execute the plan.
You can also use this project plan review time to question your own thinking and push the team to take a new approach to the work. For example, if you’re working on a website design project plan , could designers start creating visual concepts while the wireframes are being developed? Or can you have two resources working on the same task at once?
Running ideas by the team and having an open dialogue about the approach not only helps you build a more accurate project plan. It gets everyone thinking about the project in the same terms. This type of buy-in and communication builds trust and gets people excited about working together to solve a goal. It can work wonders for the greater good of your team and project.
Step 3: Build out your detailed project schedule
You should feel comfortable enough at this point to put together a rock-solid project schedule using whatever tool works for you. (Ahem, TeamGantt works nicely for a lot of happy customers. )
Build your project plan
Any good online project planning tool will help you formalize your thoughts and lay them out in a consistent, visual format that’s easy to follow and track. Make sure tasks, durations, milestones, and dates are crystal-clear, and try to keep your project plan simple. The easier it is to read, the better!
See the steps for creating a project plan in TeamGantt
Be as flexible as possible when it comes to how your project plan is presented. There's no absolute when it comes to how to format your project plan as long as you and your team understand what goes into one.
Remember, people absorb information differently. While you might be partial to a gantt chart , others might prefer to view tasks in a list, calendar, or even a kanban board . You can make all of those variations work if you’ve taken the steps to create a solid plan.
TeamGantt gives you the ability to quickly and easily build and adjust a project plan using a simple drag and drop feature. Plus, it comes with customizable views to fit every team member’s work style. Try it out, and create a project plan for free!
If your team currently prefers spreadsheets and isn’t quite ready to use TeamGantt yet, try our free Excel gantt chart template .
Step 4: Present and confirm your plan
You’re almost finished! You’ve done your research, outlined your approach, discussed it with your team, and built your formal project plan.
Now it’s time to do your due diligence. It’s easy to throw stuff in a plan, but you have to make sure you get it right.
Run your final plan by your internal team
Your team needs to know the reality of your plan as it stands after you’ve built it out in TeamGantt. And you want to be sure they’re comfortable committing to the details. If they don’t, things will quickly fall apart!
Always review your final plan with your team before delivering it to stakeholders. Why? Because things like dates and tasks—and even assignments—will shift as you formalize the rough sketch of your plan.
Here are a few things you’ll want to discuss with your team as you review the final plan together:
- Review times
- Team work times
- Time off, meetings, and milestones
- The final deadline
- Any assumptions you’ve made
- Major changes since your last talk
There’s nothing more embarrassing than delivering a plan with an error or a promise you can’t keep. Taking a few minutes to get buy-in from your team will give everyone peace of mind about your plan.
Review your project plan with stakeholders
Once you’ve confirmed the plan with your team and have their full sign-off, you’re ready to share your project plan with stakeholders .
When delivering your project plan, make sure you provide an executive summary. This might come in the form of a project brief or project charter . A short recap of the overall methodology, resources, assumptions, deadlines, and related review times will help you convey what the plan means to the project and everyone involved.
Project plans can be daunting, so schedule time to present your project plan to your stakeholders at a high level. Here are some things you’ll want to point out about your plan during this review:
- Overall process and pacing
- Major deliverables and timing
- The time they’ll have to review deliverables
- Overall timing for task groups or phases
- How far off you are from the deadline
- Wiggle room on the final deadline
If a stakeholder is interested in the day-to-day details, feel free to walk them through the plan line by line. Otherwise, start by explaining overall sections or phases, and be sure to come back to your plan at intervals throughout the project to remind them of tasks, next steps, and overall progress.
Step 5: Execute your plan and adjust as needed
Some projects are smooth and easy to manage, and others are a complete nightmare that wake you up at 3 a.m. every other night. Thankfully, having a solid project plan is your best defense against project chaos once work gets underway.
Work your plan
Keep in mind that project plans are living documents. Projects change constantly, and someone has to stay on top of—and document—that change. Remember to:
- Update your plan regularly as work progresses and things change
- Communicate changes to your team, partners, and stakeholders
- Monitor and communicate risks as your project evolves
Learn how to manage change requests like a pro.
Ready to plan your project in TeamGantt? Follow these easy steps to build a plan that’s structured well and includes the elements you need for project success.
1. Enter your basic project details.
To create a new project plan in TeamGantt, click the New Project button in the upper right corner of the My Projects screen. Then enter your project name and start date, and select the days of the week you want to include in your plan. Click Create New Project to move on to the next step.
2. List out your project tasks and milestones.
Now the real planning fun begins! Enter all the different tasks it will take to get the job done. If there are any key meetings, deliverable deadlines, or approvals, add those as milestones in your project plan.
3. Organize tasks into subgroups.
Scrolling through one long list of tasks can be mind-numbing, even to the best of us. Break tasks down into phases or sections to ensure your project plan is easy to read and understand.
4. Add task durations and milestone dates to the project timeline.
A visual project plan makes it easy to see exactly what needs to get done by when. Make sure every task has a start and end date so nothing falls through the cracks. TeamGantt’s drag and drop feature makes this planning step quick and easy.
5. Connect related tasks with dependencies.
Adding dependencies between tasks ensures work gets done in the right order and also helps you plan for delay risks. If your plan shifts and you need to move tasks around, dependencies speed up the process.
6. Assign responsible team members to tasks.
That way there’s no confusion about who’s doing what, and your team can update and manage their daily tasks . Don’t forget to check team availability along the way to avoid overloading anyone with too much work.
7. Use the RACI chart to define task roles more clearly.
This feature takes accountability one step further by letting you assign more specific roles to each task: Responsible , Accountable , Consulted , and Informed . Learn how RACI charts work and what each role means.
8. Add hourly estimates and/or points to each task.
This makes it easy to see the lift each task involves at a glance. Including hourly estimates in your project plan also enables you to manage workloads and track overages more accurately.
9. Color-code tasks for better scannability.
You can use colors to categorize tasks by project phase, priority, department, or team member—whatever makes visual sense to you and your team.
10. Add notes to clarify tasks or spell out important details.
There’s no such thing as too much information if it means your team has what they need to deliver quality work on time. Use the Notes section of your Discussion tab to enter any pertinent details your team will find helpful.
11. Upload important documents to the project.
This ensures project files are accessible to everyone in a centralized hub. You might attach your scope document , project requirements , risk assessment matrix , or even a creative brief to guide your team to successful completion.
If you’re planning a project for the first time or taking on a totally new type of project, you might be struggling to get your plan off the ground. So let’s take a look at a couple of project management plan examples you can use to generate ideas for your own planning.
Example project plan for building a house
Building a house requires coordination of crews and materials on top of tasks and timelines. That’s why planning is especially critical in construction project management .
The video below walks you through an example of a project management plan using our free construction schedule template . It’s a simple place to start if you’re building a house and need to make a project plan quickly.
Watch our construction plan template tutorial.
Agile project plan example
You might think gantt charts and Agile projects don’t mix. But a hybrid approach enables you to plan and track Agile sprints on a traditional timeline, while maintaining a flexible workflow.
In this sample Agile project plan, we built each sprint out as its own task group, with milestones for sprint planning and deployment.
The bonus? Your team can use kanban boards in TeamGantt to manage their daily workflow.
Want to save time creating your next project plan? We created a whole library of project templates you can use to jumpstart your planning process!
Check out these free project plan templates:
- Marketing plan templates
- Design & creative project plan templates
- Event planning and management templates
- Software development project planning templates
- Construction plan templates
Plan your next project in minutes
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What Is A Project Management Plan And How To Create One
Updated: Nov 17, 2022, 11:12am
Table of Contents
What is a project management plan, 6 parts of a project management plan, before you create a plan, how to create a project management plan in 7 steps, bottom line, frequently asked questions (faqs).
A project management plan offers a blueprint to stakeholders and end-users surrounding the execution of an upcoming project. While it takes time to put it together, the process is worth it. It helps to reduce risks, create buy-in, gather your team’s expertise, align communication and ensure resource availability. This guide outlines what a project management plan is and its benefits, and then offers an easy step-by-step guide on how to create one.
A project management plan is a set of documents that outline the how, when and what-ifs of a project’s execution. It overviews the project’s value proposition, execution steps, resources, communication tools and protocols, risks, stakeholders (and their roles) and the deliverables involved in a project’s completion. Its documents include an executive summary, Gantt and team charts, risk assessment and communication- and resource-management subplans.
What Is a Project Management Plan Used For?
A project management plan serves as a blueprint or roadmap to the ultimate success of your project. It does so by aligning talent, buy-in, manpower, resources, risk management and high-quality communication around your plan. It also ensures everyone knows their responsibilities, which tasks are involved and when deadlines are so the project stays on track for quality on-time completion.
Here is a closer look at project management plan use cases:
- Buy-in . Your plan ensures all stakeholders are on board, so that they’re prepared to be productive.
- Expertise. A plan helps to ensure you have enough people to expertly own the activities needed to complete the project.
- Risk management. Putting together your plan helps you to assess the risks that may come up through the trajectory of project execution and how to prevent or mitigate them.
- Communication and collaboration. Your planning process ensures poor communication does not negatively impact the project’s outcome. It does so by getting everyone on the same page regarding communication tools, schedules, preferences and protocols.
- Milestones. As you plan your project, you ensure your team agrees on the necessary milestones to complete it successfully. Doing so ensures your team is ready to be productive instantly come project initiation and that scope creep does not impact the project negatively.
- Resource management. Through your planning process, you assess the resources needed to complete the project and their availability. Resources may include funds and raw materials, for example. Doing so ensures resource availability and that insufficient resources do not derail or stop the project altogether.
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A project management plan should include an executive summary, timeline or Gantt chart, resource management subplan, risk assessment, communication subplan and team chart. Here is an overview of each of these parts:
- Executive summary. An executive summary provides an overview of the project’s value proposition, the problem it addresses and its resolution, budget breakdown, milestones and deliverables.
- Timeline or Gantt chart. Many project management plans include a Gantt chart that shows both the dates the project begins and ends and all start and end dates for the milestones that lead to the completion of the project. It should also point out any dependent and independent activities.
- Risk assessment. A risk assessment should list all of the potential obstacles that could impact the completion of the project or the quality of its deliverables negatively. It also outlines the triggers that could cause these risks and how the risks can be mitigated or avoided altogether.
- Team chart. The team chart shows all the people who will be involved in completing the project, their roles and their communication preferences.
- Communication subplan. This subplan offers an overview of what tools will be used for communication, the communication assets and schedules that will be used to keep the project progressing and on track, communication protocols stakeholders should follow and team members’ communication preferences.
- Resource management subplan. This subplan should list what resources may be needed to complete the project. Essential resources may include raw materials, digital tools and funding. It should then offer a breakdown of what materials will be needed for each milestone, a way to ensure their availability and ways to track resources throughout project execution.
Before you begin writing your plan, take a few minutes to prepare. Doing so may involve defining what is at stake should the project not go well, identifying the milestones needed for successful completion, selecting key talent to complete your project, selecting and signing up for the tools that will make the plan creation process easy and efficient and defining the end beneficiary of your project. Below is a closer look at each of these preparation steps.
Failure Risk Assessment
Defining what would happen if the project were not completed successfully can guide you later as you motivate your execution team and formulate your plan’s and your project’s value proposition. This perspective tells all stakeholders how important their roles are.
One way to ensure you select the proper team members for plan creation and execution is to define the milestones for which they will be responsible. Once you have identified the milestones, you can identify the needed expertise and then the talent that holds that expertise.
As you write your plan, it is essential to gather expertise from the team members who will execute it. Doing so could mean the success or failure of your project. Identifying these stakeholders now means you can get them involved sooner for higher collective knowledge during the planning process.
When planning your project, you will need to use charts, graphics and reports to record the necessary information. Graphic design tools like Canva and project management software like monday.com or Wrike can help.
Beneficiary or End-user Identification
Nothing can set you up for success in project completion like understanding what the end-user or project beneficiary needs in the final deliverable. Understanding this requires an understanding of that end-user or beneficiary. Take some time to listen to their needs, wants and hopes surrounding your project before beginning to plan a project that will impact and, hopefully, delight them ultimately.
To create a project management plan, first put together a high overview of the basics of your project, including the project’s scope, schedule and budget. Next, build on those basics to write an executive summary. Then, add a project timeline, risk assessment, stakeholder chart, communication plan and resource management plan to your executive summary. Lastly, gather and incorporate stakeholders’ insights to perfect and create buy-in for your plan.
1. Identify Baselines for Your Project
Your project’s baselines should first focus on the project’s scope, then the project’s schedule and, finally, its budget. The result should be a high overview that will inform the rest of your planning process. To complete this step, answer the following questions:
- What is a summary of the project’s deliverables, including the expected features in order of priority?
- What important milestones will help us complete this project?
- What should the project not focus on? (set some scope boundaries)
- When is the project scheduled to begin?
- When should the project be complete?
- How much do we have to spend on this project? If it is a project that needs to be completed for a client, what budget do we have to spend on it while still making a set profit margin?
2. Write an Executive Summary
An executive summary should include a definition of your project, your project’s value proposition, including the problem your project addresses and its solution, milestones and their deliverables, scope limits―and the consequences for changing these limits―goals and financial breakdown. Use the answers to the questions posed in step one to put together your executive summary.
As the face of your project before stakeholders, your executive summary should be visually appealing and succinct. Columns and visuals should break it up to make it easy to read quickly. One great tool for creating an attractive and succinct summary is a Canva executive summary template. You can customize a template to match your brand and add your content, then either download your executive summary or share it in link form.
To begin, sign up for Canva for free, then use the search box titled “What will you design?” for “executive summary” and press “enter.” Click the appropriate template for your purposes and brand, then use the tools on the left-hand side of the enlarged template to customize its colors, text and images. Add pages by clicking the plus sign at the top right-hand corner of the template and proceed to add text and customizations to complete your summary.
3. Plot Your Project’s Timeline
The best way to plot your project’s timeline is with a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a visual representation of what activities you plan to begin and complete and when. These activities are usually small chunks or milestones of your completed project. They also formulate the scope of your project, helping to reduce scope creep later on. Gantt charts are often the easiest to use to plot your timeline.
It is important to note expected dependencies on your Gantt chart. A dependency happens when one activity on a timeline must be completed before team members can go on to the next one. For example, a prototype needs to be completed before a focus group analysis of the prototype can take place. Thus, these two activities are dependent. Also note independent activities that can be completed even as other activities are underway, thereby saving time.
Pro tip: An easy way to note dependencies and independent activities is via color-coding. Arrows drawn on your Gantt chart can also help to pinpoint dependencies.
While Canva does offer Gantt charts to plot your project’s timeline, there are also platforms that specialize in producing Gantt chart software . Not only can this software help you put together your Gantt chart, but it can then help you stay on track with its timeline and avoid scope creep once your project begins via task descriptions and automations. If paying for such a service isn’t in your project’s budget, you can also create a Gantt chart in Excel or Google Sheets.
Gantt chart from monday.com
4. Define Stakeholder Roles
With your project activities recorded on your timeline, define who will be responsible for each activity. Your plan serves as a guiding star to all stakeholders involved in your project, so it’s best to record responsible parties in an intuitive chart. Create a project team chart to show who will be involved in completing the project and for which activities each is responsible. For collaboration ease, also note who each person is accountable to and their contact information.
Canva offers organizational or team chart templates you can use to customize for the needs of your project. Search “organizational chart” using the search bar in your Canva account. Click the chart that best suits your project and brand needs. Then, use the design menu to upload pictures of your team members, customize colors and replace template text to offer the data your stakeholders need for easy collaboration during the life of your project.
An example of a Canva organizational chart template to be adapted to create a project team chart.
5. Perform a Risk Assessment
Your risk assessment should begin with a list of obstacles that could impact your team’s ability to complete the project on time negatively at all and with the desired quality. It should then create a plan for each risk by addressing what might trigger the risk, steps that lend to risk prevention and how to mitigate a risk should it happen. Finally, it should assign stakeholders to manage risk triggers, prevention and mitigation. Some teams use a SWOT analysis to help identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in this stage.
To dive into each risk, answer the following questions:
- What could happen that would negatively impact the project?
- At what point in the project timeline is this risk most likely to happen?
- How likely is the risk to happen?
- What events or factors would trigger this risk?
- What steps can be taken to reduce the chances of this risk taking place? How can we avoid this trigger or these triggers?
- What would be the expected outcome should the risk happen anyway?
- How could we mitigate a negative outcome should the risk take place?
- Who would be the best person to manage each risk’s triggers, prevention or mitigation?
As you assigned responsible parties for each project activity, you likely selected people who had expertise in the areas in which their assigned activities fall. For example, if you assigned the graphic design of a marketing project to a team member, that person is likely a graphic designer. Their expertise is invaluable in assessing graphic design risks and their prevention and mitigation steps. Lean on your team for this expertise, and then implement their suggestions.
6. Create Key Subplans
Two key subplans you should include in your project management plan are a resource and communications management plan. Your resource sub plan should list what resources are needed to complete your project and their availability. Your communications plan should include how your team will communicate one-on-one and team-wide.
Resource Management Plan
A resource subplan can be completed in project management software. You can create columns for estimated expenses and other needed resources broken down by milestones, such as raw products and talent. Other customizable resource reports are available within the software and automatically kept up to date. Wrike, for example, offers customizable reports where you can track resource availability and export reports to include in your plan.
An example of Wrike’s customizable resource reports
Communications Management Plan
While it may seem inconsequential compared to your risk assessment and resource plan, poor communication is the primary reason most projects experience scope gaps and project failure, according to a PMI study . Poor communication can, therefore, derail all your other planning efforts.
As such, your communications management plan should be detailed and address what, when and how information will be shared during your project. Details should focus on what needs to be communicated and at what intervals during the project execution, stakeholders’ communication preferences, a communication schedule for virtual meetings or phone calls that occur at planned intervals, who will review tasks, to whom task completions should be reported and what platforms or tools should be used for communication purposes.
Pro tip: For best results, look at the communication tools available in your project management software. Alternatively, consider what communication-tool integrations it offers. For example, most project management software offer integrations with Slack. Using available tools within your software will allow ease of collaboration and the communication visibility your team needs to stay on the same page and on track.
7. Gather and Incorporate Feedback From Stakeholders
The team you have chosen to own the activities on your project timeline are uniquely capable of doing so. As such, they are likely to have recommendations you might not think about to make your project more successful. Moreover, if their insights are incorporated into the plan, they are more likely to enthusiastically follow it. So, get your team together and go over the details of your plan. Learn from them and incorporate their insights.
In addition, present your plan to the end-user or client for whom you are executing the project. Make sure they agree to the project scope and its deliverables. Make their preferred changes now so you don’t have to make them later. Discuss what will happen if they change their minds later―extra fees, for example―so that scope creep does not impact your project’s successful execution, on-time completion or quality final deliverable negatively.
Creating a project management plan is the first critical step to ensuring a quality project execution and completion. Without it, you risk project derailment, a blown budget, an unrealized value proposition and a potentially frustrated end-user. With it, you enjoy buy-in, resource availability, budget adherence, a quality and expertly-driven final deliverable and a delighted end-user. We hope this guide sets you on a trajectory to enjoy all of these benefits.
What are the six parts of a project management plan?
At minimum, a project management plan includes an executive summary, timeline or Gantt chart, stakeholder or team chart, risk assessment, communications subplan and resource subplan.
How do I write a project management plan?
To write a project management plan, begin by identifying your project baselines, then write an executive summary, create your timeline and team charts, perform and write a risk assessment and write your communications and resource subplans. Finally, present your plan to all involved stakeholders to gather and incorporate their insights, suggestions and feedback, and then finalize agreement around your plan.
What is the main purpose of a project management plan?
A project management plan lays out the details and steps necessary to reduce confusion, create confidence and prevent obstacles and risks during project execution. It does so by providing a clear outline and value proposition of the project, assigning essential roles, outlining milestones and the final deliverable, identifying and taking steps to prevent risks, ensuring clear communication guidelines and ensuring the availability of essential resources.
What is project management methodology?
A project management methodology is a set of principles, values and processes that determine how a team will complete a project. It dictates factors such as level of planning, design and documentation; methods of communication within and outside of the project team; timelines; and modes of assessment.
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Over the last decade, Alana has served as a business operation, technology, and marketing consultant for countless businesses — from start-ups and mid-sized businesses like Fit Small Business to Fortune 500 tech firms like Adobe. She currently serves as a business consultant, operations manager, and content strategist at Doubting Thomas Research Foundations’ Afghan Liberty Project, a small non-profit organization. She graduated with an MBA in leadership from Excelsior College.
Cassie is a deputy editor, collaborating with teams around the world while living in the beautiful hills of Kentucky. She is passionate about economic development and is on the board of two non-profit organizations seeking to revitalize her former railroad town. Prior to joining the team at Forbes Advisor, Cassie was a Content Operations Manager and Copywriting Manager at Fit Small Business.
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How to Write a Comprehensive Project Management Plan [+ Examples]
By Midori Nediger , Jul 10, 2020
Have you ever been part of a project that didn’t go as planned?
It doesn’t feel good.
Wasted time, wasted resources. It’s pretty frustrating for everyone involved.
That’s why it’s so important to create a comprehensive project management plan before your project gets off the ground.
In this guide, we’ll explore how to create and design a successful project management plan.
We’ll also showcase easy-to-customize templates you can create today in our Project Management Plan Maker .
START CREATING FOR FREE
What is a project management plan?
A project management plan is a formal document that defines how a project is going to be carried out. It outlines the scope, goals, budget, timeline, and deliverables of a project, and it’s essential for keeping a project on track.
You write a project plan during the project planning stage of the project life cycle , and it must be approved by stakeholders before a project can move on the execution stage.
If some of these terms are new to you, you can get up to speed with this post on project management terms .
This means your project plan must be engaging, organized, and thorough enough to gain the support of your stakeholders.
CREATE THIS PLAN TEMPLATE
Further Reading : New to project management? Read our blog post on the 4 stages of the project life cycle .
What are the parts of a project management plan?
Before you start assembling your own plan, you should be familiar with the main components of a typical project plan .
A project management plan should include the following sections:
- Executive Summary: A short description of the contents of the report
- Project Scope & Deliverables: An outline of the boundaries of the project, and a description of how the project will be broken down into measurable deliverables
- Project Schedule: A high-level view of project tasks and milestones ( Gantt charts are handy for this)
- Project Resources: The budget, personnel, and other resources required to meet project goals
- Risk and Issue Management Plan: A list of factors that could derail the project and a plan for how issues will be identified, addressed, and controlled
- Communication Management Plan: A plan for how team and stakeholder communication will be handled over the course of the project
Basically, a project plan should tell stakeholders what needs to get done, how it will get done, and when it will get done.
That said, one size doesn’t fit all. Every project management plan must be tailored to the specific industry and circumstances of the project. You can use a project management app for smoother project planning.
For example, this marketing plan looks client facing. It is tailored to sell the client on the agency:
Whereas this commercial development plan focuses on specific objectives and a detailed timeline:
With those basics out of the way, let’s get into some tips for creating a project management plan that’s as engaging as it is professional.
Further Reading : If you’re looking to create a proposal, read our in-depth business proposal guide. Then try our job proposal templates or business proposal templates .
How do you write a project plan?
1. highlight the key elements of your project plan in an executive summary .
An executive summary is a brief description of the key contents of a project plan .
I t’s usually the first thing stakeholders will read, and it should act like a Cliff’s-notes version of the whole plan.
It might touch on a project’s value proposition, goals, deliverables, and important milestones, but it has to be concise (it is a summary, after all). First, make sure you develop a proof of concept .
In this example, an executive summary can be broken into columns to contrast the existing problem with the project solution:
CREATE THIS PRESENTATION TEMPLATE
The two-column format with clear headers help break up the information, making it extremely easy to read at a glance.
Here’s another example of a project management plan executive summary. This one visually highlights key takeaways with big fonts and helpful icons:
In this case, the highlighted facts and figures are particularly easy to scan (which is sure to make your stakeholders happy).
But your executive summary won’t always be so simple.
For larger projects, your executive summary will be longer and more detailed.
This project management plan template has a text-heavy executive summary, though the bold headers and differing background colors keep it from looking overwhelming:
It’s also a good idea to divide it up into sections, with a dedicated header for each section:
Regardless of how you organize your executive summary, it should give your stakeholders a preview of what’s to come in the rest of the project management plan.
2. Plot your project schedule visually with a Gantt chart
A carefully planned project schedule is key to the success of any project. Without one, your project will likely crumble into a mess of missed deadlines, poor team management, and scope creep.
Luckily, project planning tools like Gantt charts and project timelines make creating your project schedule easy. You can visually plot each project task, add major milestones, then look for any dependencies or conflicts that you haven’t accounted for.
For example, this Gantt chart template outlines high-level project activities over the course of an entire quarter, with tasks color-coded by team:
CREATE THIS CHART TEMPLATE
A high-level roadmap like the one above is probably sufficient for your project management plan. Every team will be able to refer back to this timeline throughout the project to make sure they’re on track.
But before project kickoff, you’ll need to dig in and break down project responsibilities by individual team member, like in this Gantt chart example:
In the later execution and monitoring phases of the project, you’ll thank yourself for creating a detailed visual roadmap that you can track and adjust as things change.
You can also use a project management tool to keep your team organized.
Further Reading: Our post featuring Gantt chart examples and more tips on how to use them for project management.
3. Clarify the structure of your project team with a team org chart
One of the hardest aspects of project planning is assembling a team and aligning them to the project vision.
And aligning your team is all about communication–communicating the project goals, communicating stakeholder requests, communicating the rationale behind big decisions…the list goes on.
This is where good project documentation is crucial! You need to create documents that your team and your stakeholders can access when they have questions or need guidance.
One easy thing to document visually is the structure of your team, with an organizational chart like this one:
In an organizational chart you should include some basic information like team hierarchy and team member contact information. That way your stakeholders have all of the information they need at their fingertips.
But in addition to that, you can indicate the high-level responsibilities of each team member and the channels of communication within the team (so your team knows exactly what they’re accountable for).
Here’s another simple organizational structure template that you can use as a starting point:
Create an organizational chart with our organizational chart maker .
4. organize project risk factors in a risk breakdown structure.
A big part of project planning is identifying the factors that are likely to derail your project, and coming up with plans and process to deal with those factors. This is generally referred to as risk management .
The first step in coming up with a risk management plan is to list all of the factors at play, which is where a risk breakdown structure comes in handy. A risk breakdown structure is a hierarchical representation of project risks, organized by category.
This risk breakdown structure template, for example, shows project risk broken down into technical risk, management risk, and external risk:
Once you’ve constructed your risk breakdown structure, you’ll be ready to do a deep dive into each risk (to assess and plan for any triggers and outcomes).
Streamline your workflow with business process management software .
5. plan ahead: create project status reports to communicate progress to stakeholders.
As I mentioned earlier, communication is fundamental in any project.
But even so, something that’s often overlooked by project managers is a communication management plan–a plan for how the project team is going to communicate with project stakeholders . Too often, project communication defaults to ad-hoc emails or last-minute meetings.
You can avoid this by planning ahead. Start with a project kickoff meeting and include a project status report template as part of your communication plan.
Here’s an example of a simple project status report that you might send to stakeholders on a weekly basis:
CREATE THIS REPORT TEMPLATE
This type of report is invaluable for communicating updates on project progress. It shows what you’ve accomplished in a clear, consistent format, which can help flag issues before they arise, build trust with your stakeholders , and makes it easy to reflect on project performance once you’ve reached your goals.
You might also want to include a broader status report for bigger updates on a monthly or quarterly basis, like this one:
The above template allows you to inform stakeholders of more major updates like new budget requirements, revised completion dates, and project performance ratings.
You can even include a visualization of up-to-date project milestones, like this example below:
Want more tips on creating visuals to enhance your communications? Read our visual communication guide for businesses .
Project management plan templates
A project management plan is probably the most important deliverable your stakeholders will receive from you (besides the project itself).
It holds all of the information that stakeholders will use to determine whether your project moves forward or gets kicked to the curb.
That’s why it’s a good idea to start with a project management plan template. Using a template can help you organize your information logically and ensure it’s engaging enough to hold your stakeholders’ attention.
Construction bid proposal template
Your construction bid proposal is probably competing against several other bidders. So, it’s important to get it right.
Start with a meticulous project overview, like in the second page of this template:
Though you may think this project will be similar to others you’ve done in the past, it’s important to nail the details.
This will also help you understand the scope of work so you can estimate costs properly and arrive at a quote that’s neither too high or low. Ontario Construction News has great advice on this process.
Simple project management plan template
This simple project management plan template that clearly lays out all of the information your stakeholders will need:
Simple project management communication plan template
A key part of project management is making sure everyone’s in the loop. A project communication plan ensures everyone knows how, where, who and when the team will communicate during the course of the project.
The key is to figure out what kind of communications is valuable to stakeholders and what is simply overwhelming and won’t lead to better decisions.
This template clearly outlines all of these factors to help manage expectations and eliminate confusion about what will get communicated and when:
Commercial development project plan template
The below project management plan template is simple and minimal, but still uses a unique layout and simple visuals to create an easy-to-read, scannable project overview.
This template is perfect for building or construction management , or any technical projects:
When picking a project plan template, look for one that’s flexible enough to accommodate any changes your stakeholders might request before they’ll approve the project. You never know what might change in the early planning stages of the project! You can also use project management tools to help you with your planning!
The takeaway: project plan best practices
- Use headers, columns, and highlights to make your executive summary easy to read
- Plot your project schedule with a Gantt chart (with tasks color-coded by department or team member)
- Use visuals like organizational charts and risk breakdown structures to communicate across your team and with stakeholders
- Pick a flexible template that you can update to align with stakeholder requests
CREATE A PROJECT PLAN
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Stay on track with a project plan that actually works
Organize your projects with project plans to keep things on track—before you even start. A project plan houses all the necessary details of your project, such as goals, tasks, scope, deadlines, and deliverables. This shows stakeholders a clear roadmap of your project, ensures you have the resources for it, and holds everyone accountable from the start. In this article, we teach you the seven steps to create your own project plan.
Project plans are essential to keeping your project organized and on track. A great project plan will help you kick off your work with all the necessary pieces—from goals and budgets to milestones and communication plans—in one place. Save yourself time (and a few headaches) by creating a work plan that will make your project a success.
What is a project plan?
If you're still unsure about what a project plan is, here's how it differs from other project elements:
Project plan vs. work plan
A project plan and a work plan are the same thing. Different teams or departments might prefer one term or another—but they both ultimately describe the same thing: a list of big-picture action steps you need to take to hit your project objectives .
Project plan vs. project charter
A project charter is an outline of your project. Mostly, you use project charters to get signoff from key stakeholders before you start. Which means your project charter comes before your project plan. A project charter is an outline of a simple project plan—it should only include your project objectives, scope, and responsibilities. Then, once your charter has been approved, you can create a project plan to provide a more in-depth blueprint of the key elements of your project.
Project plan vs. project scope
Your project scope defines the size and boundaries of your project. As part of your project plan, you should outline and share the scope of your project with all project stakeholders. If you’re ever worried about scope creep , you can refer back to your pre-defined scope within your project plan to get back on track.
Project plan vs. agile project
Agile project management is a framework to help teams break work into iterative, collaborative components . Agile frameworks are often run in conjunction with scrum and sprint methodologies. Like any project, an Agile project team can benefit from having a project plan in place before getting started with their work.
Project plan vs. work breakdown structure
Similar to a project plan, your work breakdown structure (WBS) helps you with project execution. While the project plan focuses on every aspect of your project, the WBS is focused on deliverables—breaking them down into sub-deliverables and project tasks. This helps you visualize the whole project in simple steps. Because it’s a visual format, your WBS is best viewed as a Gantt chart (or timeline), Kanban board , or calendar—especially if you’re using project management software .
Why are project plans important?
Project plans set the stage for the entire project. Without one, you’re missing the first critical step in the overall project management process . When you launch into a project without defined goals or objectives, it can lead to disorganized work, frustration, and even scope creep. A clear, written project management plan provides a baseline direction to all stakeholders, while also keeping everyone accountable. It confirms that you have the resources you need for the project before it actually begins.
A project plan also allows you, as the person in charge of leading execution, to forecast any potential challenges you could run into while the project is still in the planning stages. That way, you can ensure the project will be achievable—or course-correct if necessary. According to a study conducted by the Project Management Institute , there is a strong correlation between project planning and project success—the better your plan, the better your outcome. So, conquering the planning phase also makes for better project efficiency and results.
7 steps to write a project plan to keep you on track
To create a clear project management plan, you need a way to track all of your moving parts . No matter what type of project you’re planning, every work plan should have:
Goals and project objectives
Stakeholders and roles
Scope and budget
Milestones , deliverables , and project dependencies
Timeline and schedule
Not sure what each of these mean or should look like? Let’s dive into the details:
Step 1: Define your goals and objectives
You’re working on this project plan for a reason—likely to get you, your team, or your company to an end goal. But how will you know if you’ve reached that goal if you have no way of measuring success?
Every successful project plan should have a clear, desired outcome. Identifying your goals provides a rationale for your project plan. It also keeps everyone on the same page and focused on the results they want to achieve. Moreover, research shows that employees who know how their work is contributing to company objectives are 2X as motivated . Yet only 26% of employees have that clarity. That’s because most goal-setting happens separate from the actual work. By defining your goals within your work plan, you can connect the work your team is doing directly to the project objectives in real-time.
What's the difference between project goals and project objectives?
In general, your project goals should be higher-level than your project objectives. Your project goals should be SMART goals that help you measure project success and show how your project aligns with business objectives . The purpose of drafting project objectives, on the other hand, is to focus on the actual, specific deliverables you're going to achieve at the end of your project. Your project plan provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, so you can create a workflow that hits project objectives.
Your project plan provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, by way of your project objectives. By incorporating your goals directly into your planning documentation, you can keep your project’s North Star on hand. When you’re defining your project scope, or outlining your project schedule, check back on your goals to make sure that work is in favor of your main objectives.
Step 2: Set success metrics
Once you’ve defined your goals, make sure they’re measurable by setting key success metrics. While your goal serves as the intended result, you need success metrics to let you know whether or not you’re performing on track to achieve that result. The best way to do that is to set SMART goals . With SMART goals, you can make sure your success metrics are clear and measurable, so you can look back at the end of your project and easily tell if you hit them or not.
For example, a goal for an event might be to host an annual 3-day conference for SEO professionals on June 22nd. A success metric for that goal might be having at least 1,000 people attend your conference. It’s both clear and measurable.
Step 3: Clarify stakeholders and roles
Running a project usually means getting collaborators involved in the execution of it. In your project management plan, outline which team members will be a part of the project and what each person’s role will be. This will help you decide who is responsible for each task (something we’ll get to shortly) and let stakeholders know how you expect them to be involved.
During this process, make sure to define the various roles and responsibilities your stakeholders might have. For example, who is directly responsible for the project’s success? Are there any approvers that should be involved before anything is finalized? What cross-functional stakeholders should be included in the project plan? Are there any risk management factors you need to include?
Consider using a system, such as a RACI chart , to help determine who is driving the project forward, who will approve decisions, who will contribute to the project, and who needs to remain informed as the project progresses.
Then, once you’ve outlined all of your roles and stakeholders, make sure to include that documentation in your project plan. Once you finalize your plan, your work plan will become your cross-functional source of truth.
Step 4: Set your budget
Running a project usually costs money. Whether it’s hiring freelancers for content writing or a catering company for an event, you’ll probably be spending some cash.
Since you’ve already defined your goals and stakeholders as part of your project plan, use that information to establish your budget. For example, if this is a cross-functional project involving multiple departments, will the departments be splitting the cost of the project? If you have a specific goal metric like event attendees or new users, does your proposed budget support that endeavor?
By establishing your project budget during the project planning phase (and before the spending begins), you can get approval, more easily track progress, and make smart, economical decisions during the implementation phase of your project. Knowing your budget beforehand helps you with resource management , ensuring that you stay within the initial financial scope of the project. Planning helps you determine what parts of your project will cost what—leaving no room for surprises later on.
Step 5: Align on milestones, deliverables, and project dependencies
An important part of planning your project is setting milestones, or specific objectives that represent an achievement. Milestones don’t require a start and end date, but hitting one marks a significant accomplishment during your project. They are used to measure progress. For example, let’s say you’re working to develop a new product for your company . Setting a milestone on your project timeline for when the prototype is finalized will help you measure the progress you’ve made so far.
A project deliverable , on the other hand, is what is actually produced once you meet a milestone. In our product development example, we hit a milestone when we produced the deliverable, which was the prototype. You can also use project dependencies —tasks that you can’t start until others are finished. Dependencies ensure that work only starts once it’s ready. Continuing the example, you can create a project dependency to require approval from the project lead before prototype testing begins.
If you’re using our free project plan template , you can easily organize your project around deliverables, dependencies, and milestones. That way, everyone on the team has clear visibility into the work within your project scope, and the milestones your team will be working towards.
Step 6: Outline your timeline and schedule
In order to achieve your project goals, you and your stakeholders need clarity on your overall project timeline and schedule. Aligning on the time frame you have can help you better prioritize during strategic planning sessions.
Not all projects will have clear-cut timelines. If you're working on a large project with a few unknown dates, consider creating a project roadmap instead of a full-blown project timeline. That way, you can clarify the order of operations of various tasks without necessarily establishing exact dates.
Once you’ve covered the high-level responsibilities, it’s time to focus some energy on the details. In your work plan template , start by breaking your project into tasks, ensuring no part of the process is skipped. Bigger tasks can even be broken down into smaller subtasks, making them more manageable.
Then, take each task and subtask, and assign it a start date and end date. You’ll begin to visually see everything come together in a cohesive project timeline . Be sure to add stakeholders, mapping out who is doing what by when.
Step 7: Share your communication plan
We’ve established that most projects include multiple stakeholders. That means communication styles will vary among them. You have an opportunity to set your expectations up front for this particular project in your project plan. Having a communication plan is essential for making sure everyone understands what’s happening, how the project is progressing, and what’s going on next. And in case a roadblock comes up, you’ll already have a clear communication system in place.
As you’re developing your communication plan, consider the following questions:
How many project-related meetings do you need to have? What are their goals?
How will you manage project status updates ? Where will you share them?
What tool will you use to manage the project and communicate progress and updates?
Like the other elements of your project plan, make sure your communication plan is easily accessible within your project plan. Stakeholders and cross-functional collaborators should be able to easily find these guidelines during the planning and execution phases of your project.
Example project plan
Next, to help you understand what your project management plan should look like, here are two example plans for marketing and design projects that will guide you during your own project planning.
Project plan example: annual content calendar
Let’s say you’re the Content Lead for your company, and it’s your responsibility to create and deliver on a content marketing calendar for all the content that will be published next year. You know your first step is to build your work plan. Here’s what it might look like:
Goals and success metrics
You establish that your goal for creating and executing against your content calendar is to increase engagement by 10%. Your success metrics are the open rate and click through rate on emails, your company’s social media followers, and how your pieces of content rank on search engines.
Stakeholders and each person’s role
There will be five people involved in this project.
You, Content Lead: Develop and maintain the calendar
Brandon and Jamie, Writers: Provide outlines and copy for each piece of content
Nate, Editor: Edit and give feedback on content
Paula, Producer: Publish the content once it’s written and edited
Your budget for the project plan and a year’s worth of content is $50,000.
Milestones and deliverables
Your first milestone is to finish the content calendar, which shows all topics for the year. The deliverable is a sharable version of the calendar. Both the milestone and the deliverables should be clearly marked on your project schedule.
You’ve determined that your schedule for your content calendar project plan will go as follows:
October 15 - November 1: The research phase to find ideas for topics for content
November 2 - November 30: Establish the topics you’ll write about
December 1 - January 1: Build the calendar
January 1 - December 31: Content will be written by Brandon and Jamie, and edited by Nate, throughout the year
January 16 - December 31: Paula will begin publishing and continue to do so on a rolling basis throughout the year.
You’ll have a kick-off meeting and then monthly update meetings as part of your communication plan. Weekly status updates will be sent on Friday afternoons. All project-related communication will occur within a project management tool .
How ClassPass manages project plans from start to finish
Kerry Hoffman, Senior Project Manager of Marketing Operations at ClassPass , oversees all marketing projects undertaken by the creative, growth, and content teams. Here are her top three strategies for managing project plans:
Identify stakeholders up front: No matter the size of the project, it’s critical to know who the stakeholders are and their role in the project so you ensure you involve the right people at each stage. This will also make the review and approval process clear before the team gets to work.
Agree on how you want to communicate about your project: Establish where and when communication should take place for your project to ensure that key information is captured in the right place so everyone stays aligned.
Be adaptable and learn other people’s working styles: Projects don’t always go according to plan, but by implementing proper integration management you can keep projects running smoothly. Also, find out how project members like to work so you take that into account as you create your plan. It will help things run smoother once you begin executing.
Write your next project plan like a pro
Congratulations—you’re officially a work planning pro. With a few steps, a little bit of time, and a whole lot of organization, you’ve successfully written a project plan.
Keep yourself and your team on track, and address challenges early by using a project management tool like Asana . Work through each of the steps of your project plan with confidence, and streamline your communications with the team.
How to create a project management plan · Step 1: Identify the goal of the project · Step 2: Map out the scope · Step 3: Develop an outline or plan · Step 4: Share
Step 1: Identify and meet with stakeholders · Step 2: Set and prioritize goals · Step 3: Define deliverables · Step 4: Create the project schedule
How to Create a Realistic Project Plan in 12 Steps · 1. Collect requirements from key stakeholders. · 2. Define the scope of the project. · 3.
1. Start with a high level project plan template · 2. Then tailor it to match your project type · 3. Get input from clients, project stakeholders and team members.
The project plan, also called project management plan, answers the who, what, where, why, how and when of the project—it's more than a Gantt chart with tasks
A project management plan comprises an executive summary, Gantt chart/ timeline, stakeholder or team chart, risk assessment, communication sub-
A project management plan—also known as a project plan—is a document that outlines the process your team will use to manage the project according to scope to
A project management plan is a set of documents that outline the how, when and what-ifs of a project's execution. It overviews the project's
1. Highlight the key elements of your project plan in an executive summary · 2. Plot your project schedule visually with a Gantt chart.
7 steps to write a project plan to keep you on track · Step 1: Define your goals and objectives · Step 2: Set success metrics · Step 3: Clarify