A project plan is the foundation every project is built upon. Without a strong framework, you’re in for a rough ride: your project will never start off on the right foot, nor will it land the way you had originally intended it to.
Luckily, you can master the art of project planning. This blog will be your starting point. Learn the details you’ll need to add to your plan and how they play out in a tight project timeline - and deliver any project within time and budget.
Want to put theory into practice? We’ve made a sample project plan to set you on track. Find the download link at the end of this blog.
What are essential elements of a solid project management plan?
To build a rock-solid project plan, you need no more than 3 essential ingredients:Resources: all the things you need to make a project succeed (think human capital, equipment, software, etc.).Tasks: all the different responsibilities that make up a larger project - which to-do’s, large and small, need to be taken care of?Activities: lastly, elements like the status of tasks, time, priority, human and financial resources assignment need to be closely watched all throughout the project in order to deliver it successfully.
A project management plan is then broken up into more detailed parts. You’ll need to specify these before kick-off:
Project milestones: these are all the important stages of a project. Keeping with the construction metaphor, think of phases such as architectural design, laying the foundation, framing, installation of windows and every other step that leads up to completion of a building.
List of activities: list each and every to-do, however big or small, that’s necessary to complete a project. Drawing up a plan, contacting contractors, looking for an electrician, purchasing goods, … every project has key activities that need to be finished if you want to get the job done.
Tasks: all the small steps that lead up to the end result. Important note: a lot of tasks depend on other tasks (and people) to be completed. Therefore, you need to be able to link these to each dependent task so everyone’s kept in the loop.
Duration and timing: how long do you estimate each task or phase will take? To determine this, be sure to keep the final deadline of a project in mind. Is it realistic or do you need to stretch? How much time do you think you need for each phase of the project? This timeline helps to determine the workload. Rely on your previous work experience for a tight estimation.
Budget: what kind of money will you need to spend to take care of all the resources a project requires? Don’t fool yourself: this will always be an estimation within a certain range. Let logic and realism lead you. As time goes by and you take on more projects, your experience will automatically make your estimations more precise.
Project team: which people (based on experience and skills) do you need to complete your project? In the case of a house, think of architects, plumbers, painters, electricians and whatnot.
Progress: make sure you have a system in place to determine the progress of each project. Are you still on track, does your project team need to push themselves and how will you be tracking the efficiency of a project?
You could build a basic project plan in a spreadsheet or word processor (see below!).But if you want to have a really strong head start, here’s how an online tool with in-depth project management features can help:
- Keep a good overview of the progress of a project - in real-time
- Always have the latest information readily available
- Determine all the specs of a project, however large or small, in one central tool
- Work together transparently with a team, or even with the client
7 steps to create the perfect project plan
Now that you’ve got the tiniest details covered, it’s time to hit the ground running. What should you do first when building a great project? A project plan lists all of the tasks at hand and will give you keen focus in order to prioritise.
In addition, it allows you to have both a general overview as well as go down to the very detail. It’s not something that just sits there collecting dust but will need to be revisited plenty of times in order to keep a realistic view of a project as soon as it’s in progress.
Step #1 Document the entire scope of a project: this is where the project planning fun really starts. Begin by documenting all the essential details and determine the specific project goals, deadlines, tasks and cost.
Step #2 Break different project phases up into milestones and tasks: next up, you need to determine the timeline of a project. What are the first crucial tasks you’ll have to handle, and what’s the absolute last one your plate? Multiple related, smaller tasks can be grouped into larger milestones; breaking down projects this way into actionable, bitesize bits prevents your team from feeling overwhelmed, and makes the execution go smoothly.
Step #3 Estimate the resources you need: how many people do you need and what specific resources do you require? Make sure you list this as realistically as possible: you don’t want to splurge, nor underestimate. Both will jeopardise the timing and budget of your project.
Step #4 Collect your resources: now that you’ve calculated the resources, get the right people on board and make sure they actually have the proper tools for the job. Properly grouping and organising the various parts of the project starts here.
Step #5 Make a schedule: take all the details you’ve just determined and simply start grouping them on a timeline. Use all your tasks and milestones for each project phase and outline them in a planning.
Step #6: Link tasks to each other: as we’ve mentioned at the top, it’s indispensable to define which tasks rely on each other. Your project members, in turn, rely on the correct mapping of these dependencies to get their work done efficiently. If you can, aim for a system with automatic notifications. This takes away the need for human intervention and thus eliminates the risk of mistakes.
Step #7: Log absolutely everything: they say ‘the devil is in the details’, and they are right: the importance of documenting everything cannot be overstated. Each member of your project team should be able to check the status of a task, milestone or deliverable they're responsible for at all times. Do not forget about time tracking either. This way, you'll have a better estimate of deadlines and budgets when you deal with a similar project in the future.
Download your free project planning template
New to project management and project planning? You could just start small, and download our free project planning template below. It helps you divide your project in manageable pieces, and ask the right questions to get your project up and running. We made one for Microsoft Word.
Don’t underestimate good project planning, but don’t fear it either: it’s a matter of collecting all the nuts and bolts and putting them on a realistic timeline. Whether you’re an avid project manager or just became one by accident: the framework above works for all types of project manager or verticals. You can do it on paper, with a spreadsheet, or with specialised project management software, depending on how you work. But one thing is certain: do it right, and it will pay off in spades.