Famous author and founder of SUCCESS magazine, Orison Swett Marden, once said, “A good system shortens the road to the goal.” He couldn’t have been more correct, especially in the complex world of project management.
Managing any project is only as successful as the organization and preparation you put into it. Thanks to a wealth of project management templates available online, however, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Small projects may be smartly managed using a couple of well-chosen templates, while large scale projects may require a slew of templates robust enough to cover all aspects of the project long term.
1. Project Charter
The foundation of all project management documentation lies in the project charter, a document that clearly defines the purpose and objectives of the project, the project’s scope, roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, and other vital elements. A well established and comprehensive project charter will ensure that no high-level questions are left unanswered.
The project charter serves as the reference document during the duration of the project management process so that all those involved can access critical pieces of information necessary for keeping the project on track, such as project constraints, authorities, high-level budget figures, risks, and justifications for undertaking the project in the first place.
Project Charter Templates
Project Charter Template by Filestage
This free project charter template from Filestage keeps all the essential information in one simply stated spreadsheet. Sections include General Project Information, Roles And Responsibilities, Project Outcomes/Constraints/Risks/Contingency Plans, Schedule of Deliverables, Project Methodologies and Resources, and contact Information For All Parties Involved. Each section includes expandability for additional entries and notes.
Project Charter Template by Excellence In Financial Management
On his website, Excellence in Financial Management, Matt Evans provides a free excel project charter template. This particular template is filled in with examples, a feature that is especially useful for people new to project management. The basic headers include all of what one may expect in a project charter template and a little extra.
Project Charter Template by Memorial University
This two-page project charter document template provided by Memorial University has a much softer look while still containing sections for entering the essential information relevant to your project. Relevant points of contacts are listed first, followed by the stated need (project justification), and the project description and budget. All other relevant information follows.
2. Project Plan
A project plan is related to a project charter but in a much more detailed way. Where project charters stop, project plans begin. A well thought out project plan will take all conceptual details of the project into consideration before any actual execution begins.
A project plan is your tool for thinking the project through from start to finish, taking into consideration all factors and stakeholders such as stages, and steps within stages, needed to achieve the project goal, task scheduling, responsibilities assignment, protocols formulation within each stage of the project, quality control measures, comprehensive cost estimation, and phase by phase risk assessment.
Project Plan Templates
Project Plan Template by Filestage
Filestage’s document-based project plan used varying colors to denote different key sections necessary for an effective project plan. Fields are populated by responses to key questions intended to drive towards the essential components of each category. For example, the primary question for the Task Scheduling section is “What are the phases, tasks, and subtasks?”
Project Plan Template by ProjectManager
This nine-page project plan template is an appropriate choice for complex project planning. The table of contents appears on the second page, after the document control portion of the project plan. Document control provides a chain of custody from document owner to approvers so that all the appropriate boxes can be checked before the plan proceeds.
Project Plan Template by Atlassian
A simple and straightforward project plan template provided by Confluence provides all of the primary, most necessary components. This is an appropriate template for small or individual projects not requiring an enormous amount of detail.
The document first identifies the team members, then defines the problem space, the hypothesis, and relevant background information.
3. Project Scope
The bounds of the project are delineated within the project scope, a statement that defines scope inclusions and exclusions, or in other words, what will happen and what can’t happen. In the process of using a template to determine scope, the shape of the project boundaries will begin to form as the scope becomes more specific.
A good template will help you make your scope specific and measurable. Project stakeholders must have a tangible measure to determine what is within or outside of scope. Once you’ve identified and defined the project scope with specificity, it is ready to be approved or revised.
Project Scope Templates
Project Scope Template by MyPM
The scope statement template provided by MyPM identifies the boundaries of the project and allows space for some other detail as well. This template is an excellent choice for managers who may not see the need for a whole suite of project management documents and would prefer some to be consolidated into dual-purpose items.
Project Scope Template by NHS Education
This NHS Education template illustrates a good example of an organization-specific project scope template. Each category is accompanied by an explanation and directions for what kind of information to provide. This type of template is most suitable for a project that’s low risk and more conceptual in nature.
Project Scope Template by The State Of Colorado
This comprehensive seven-page project scope packet provided by the state of Colorado complete with table of contents shows how detailed project scopes can become. While not all the information in this particular example is necessary in project scope, the additional information makes communication and expectation maintenance easier to achieve.
4. Project Status Report
The key to communication during the iteration of a project is a well defined, but not cluttered, project status report. A project status report is a dynamic document produced or updated on a regular basis that provides critical information to stakeholders and keeps communication fluid between all team members.
A project status report serves as an indicator of progress made throughout the project, identifies hiccups along the way, and avoids missed steps via clear and updated documentation. It is one of the best ways to keep all parties involved accountable. A well-written project status reveals helpful information while avoiding extraneous, irrelevant detail. The following project report templates will help you get started.
Project Status Report Templates
Project Status Report Template by The California Department Of Technology
The comprehensive status report template created by California Department Of Technology investigates every component relevant to whether or not a particular project is on track. It asks critical questions such as “Is the project on track to achieve the objectives in the approved timeframe,” while also providing data tables to be populated with relevant supporting information.
Project Status Report Template by Ontario Local Health Integration Network
A concise, yet detailed project status report template provided by Ontario Local Health Integration Network highlights the most essential information needed to get a concrete idea of the project’s status. This easy to use template begins with a color-coded project progress estimation that ranges from “on track” to “not started”.
Project Status Report Template by Microsoft
This Microsoft Office project status report template uses color and shade to quickly highlight the essential elements of the project concerning progress status in areas such as project overview, budget overview, and risk and issue history. A good option for small business with smaller scale projects, this template is clean and straightforward.
5. Project Proposal
Often, your project requires approval or sponsorship, financial or otherwise, from stakeholders. To adequately inform key participants about your prospective project, and supply them with all the information necessary to make an intelligent decision regarding approval, a project proposal is needed.
A project proposal usually comes in a document or pdf format with a table of contents listing all sections included. A typical project proposal will consist of components discussing requirements, scope, budget, and any other pertinent information needed for stakeholders to decide on the project. Proposals can be as short as one to two pages or as long as hundreds of pages.
Project Proposal Templates
Project Proposal Template by Slidebean
A project proposal can be a polished high-level overview consisting of a few pages like this one from Slidebean, or it can be a detailed 50-page plan of exactly how you will proceed with a proposed project. Your operational environment and stakeholders will dictate the depth of the proposal. However, the more detailed it is, the better it can serve as a common reference point for all.
Project Proposal Template by Proposify
Some templates are both very polished and incredibly detailed. Thanks to user-friendly presentation software, a slew of slick looking templates are available for download. Just make sure the content you enter matches the sophistication of the styling. This proposal has clean lines and plenty of space for all the details of your proposal.
Project Proposal Template by the World Bank
This straightforward template is an example of what most government agency or other public institution project proposals look like. They aren’t as flashy as others that lean heavily on marketing, but they are easily expanded to fit the breadth of information you need to fit into the proposal.
6. Work Schedule
A work schedule is one step deeper down in the weeds of project management. Using a work schedule template allows you to plan the details of how and when team members accomplish work on the project. It enables you to visualize the flow of production while taking accumulating labor cost into perspective as well.
A focused work schedule is one that’s custom tailored for your operating environment, whether that consists of shift work, task-based labor, traditional 9 to 5 type stretches, or part-time work. It can also be dialed in precisely to allow team members assigned to multiple projects to define when they shall devote time to that specific project.
Work Schedule Templates
Work Schedule Template by WhenIWork
Work schedule templates are fast and easy to manipulate according to your exact needs. Employees can enter time according to the project they work on. Time can even be broken down by tasks within a project. This one by WhenIWork provides associated labor costs alongside hours worked and total hours for the week.
Work Schedule Template by ProjectManager
Work Schedule templates do not need to be complicated, as long as they include the information you need. This one by ProjectManager supplies fields for the employee name and task, with space to fill in hours worked on a particular task each day of the week. Hours are totaled at the end.
Work Schedule Template by Homebase
Many standard work schedules can be easily converted to a project based work schedule template by merely changing a few field titles. In this work schedule template by Homebase, replacing fields such as shift with project, or position with the task, gives you all the information you need to know on a weekly basis.
7. Work Breakdown Structure
Before you can define the intricacies of your team’s work schedule, you’ll need to develop the work breakdown structure. The work breakdown structure is a process by which the overall project is separated in descending tiers of deliverables further defined by tasks, subtasks, action items, etc.
It’s hierarchical, with the overall project listed at the top followed by a tree structure branching out to product, data, service, or combination sections, each with its own lists of deliverables. Work breakdown structures get into the specific “hows” of accomplishing the overall project goal while delineating specific areas of responsibility as it pertains to each deliverable.
Work Breakdown Structure Templates
Work Breakdown Structure Template by Creately
As you can see from this example, work breakdown structure templates are highly individualized based on the tasks being completed and the complexity of the project. They may resemble simple trees with only a few branches or more complex ones that take up the entire page. Organize your work breakdown structure how you best see fit.
Work Breakdown Structure Template by Mindjet
This template from Mindjet is an example of the creativity you can put into a work breakdown structure. This animated template expands as you need it to so you can examine each level of work breakdown in detail. Icons are used within each branch to denote certain characteristics of the work breakdown.
Work Breakdown Structure Template by Waterloo
This document style work breakdown structure template provides background information around the project before delving into the traditional breakdown chart. It also includes a dictionary for the work breakdown so that all stakeholders can interpret the data from the same or similar perspective. The chart itself is simple and relies on the dictionary for a more in-depth interpretation.
One of the integral components in calculating actual project cost is achieved through the accurate and complete record of time spent on specific project components. While traditional timecards or time entry systems allow employees to clock-in and out of work, project timeline timesheets allow each team member to breakdown their work by project, or even by task and subtask within a project.
Having this kind of transparency in labor allows project leaders to accurately assess whether or not they are allocating time effectively. It also gives them a clear idea where they are in terms of the overall budget for labor.
Timesheet Template by Hubstaff
Anyone who has access to Google Docs or can download a PDF can use this simple timesheet template from Hubstaff. It does the job well regarding breaking a team members day down by task or project so that you can get a precise idea of how much labor is being dedicated.
Timesheet Template by Vertex42
This timesheet template by Vertex42 is the monthly equivalent to the template provided by Hubstaff with a few additional details. Employees can enter projects or tasks with associated codes and track each part of their day in hourly or quarter-hourly increments for up to a month at a time. This excel spreadsheet can be customized for your specific needs.
Timesheet Template by Orangescrum
This timesheet template by Orangescrum allows the user to enter both project and task. For team members involved in multiple projects and tasks at any one given time, this timesheet template is an excellent way to keep the chaotic nature of this kind of work organized in terms of hours worked.
9. Communication Plan
One of the biggest obstacles to efficient project management is poor communication. Having a clearly defined communication plan in place assures there are clear guidelines and expectations regarding how, when, and to whom team members should communicate depending on the task or need.
Communication plans are collaborative efforts that involve all stakeholders. You’ll need to define the purpose of the communication plan, identify the roles of individuals involved such as the project lead, project sponsors, or team members, designate the primary method of communication, and detail what meetings are necessary when they will be necessary, and exactly which team members should be involved.
Communication Plan Templates
Communications Plan Template by CDC
The CDC provides one of the most comprehensive communication templates complete with a table of contents and version history. This type of communication plan allows for very detailed input regarding meetings, reporting, and regular communication, in addition to other types of communication necessary to make their project a success long term.
Communications Plan Template by Coschedule
Communications plans can also be externally facing, and speak in terms of outreach to stakeholders, no matter the number. This particular plan is presented in .ppt format, dedicating one slide per focus. If your project has an external component that’s a key part of your project, consider incorporating two communications plans and differentiate the two appropriately.
Communications Plan Template by The Digital Project Manager
Communications Plans are as specific and unique as your project. The method by which you choose to communicate, the frequency communication is accomplished, and the nature of communication will be determined by the scope of the project itself and the individuals invested in the outcome. This template from Digital Project Manager lists the types of communication and how each type shall be conducted.
10. Risk Management Plan
While surprises are bound to come up over the course of a project, managers can do what they can to anticipate potential problems via a risk management plan. A risk management plan identifies all foreseeable risks and analyzes the potential impacts of those risks. Based on these risks and their impact, managers will determine and record the planned course of action to mitigate these unexpected events as much as possible.
Risk management plans should be living documents that are reassessed on a regular basis throughout the life of the project. New risks may appear that were not previously identified and need to be added to the plan.
Risk Management Plan Templates
Risk Management Plan Template by Meliora Partners
This template was created for larger organizations. As such, it is formal in nature. Generally speaking, though, risk management plans are more formally written than some of the other documents in the project management toolkit. This particular template augments textual information with infographics for quick risk management reference.
Risk Management Plan Template by Creative Commons
This risk management plan template is written with an explanatory emphasis so that no question is left as to whether all possible risks have been assessed adequately. The wording is comprehensive and precise, which makes it an excellent choice for government agencies, other public institutions, or non-profit organizations.
Risk Management Plan Template by Government of Georgia
Another example of the formal nature of risk management plans, this template from the government of Georgia spells out in detail each component of the risk management process to include process, risk identification, risk analysis (qualitative risk analysis and quantitative risk analysis), and so on. You must assess the needs of your particular project.
11. Project Budget
Going over-budget is one of the biggest threats to successful project management. Without a clear idea of how much each project stage should cost, your estimates and more importantly, stakeholder expectations, may wildly inaccurate.
Project budgets include detail estimations of cost for every aspect of the project from start to finish. It may be broken out by phase or task but should consist of labor costs, operating costs, overhead costs, and material costs. Budgets are by no means static. They can be updated as the project progresses, as long as all appropriate stakeholders are kept abreast or are involved in the changes.
Project Budget Templates
Project Budget Template by Corporate Finance Institute
Project budget templates can get quite down in the weeds of project finance. So, a well-presented template is essential to keeping all of the data organized and easy to digest. This particular template from the Corporate Finance Institute makes use of strategic color play, bolding, and shading to display data clearly.
Project Budget Template by CABHI
Project budget templates may be full of detailed information and row after row of numbers, but the design and appearance of the template can vary greatly depending on the organization, project, and purpose. This particular template focuses on the expenditure needs of clinician and researcher teams, so much more explanation is given regarding the details.
Project Budget Template by Clicktime
Just because a good number of project budget templates are detailed in design, doesn’t mean yours has to be. If your budget is simple and your project is small, try this template on for size. It provides all the information and fields needed to fill in costs associated with your project from start to finish.
12. Gantt Charts
Gantt charts are incredibly useful tools for giving a quick visual reference of the project schedule, and how tasks are broken down in interdependent relationships. Gantt charts may vary wildly in complexity and appearance, but the basic components remain the same.
Tasks are typically listed on one axis while time intervals (defined by a project manager or project team) usually reside on the other axis. Some tasks may overlap with others, while some may not be started until other specific tasks are completed. This arrangement illustrates a dependent relationship between time and assigned tasks. They can also be used to show projected task completion vs. actual task completion.
Gantt Chart Templates
Gantt Chart Template by Orangescrum
One of the most visually appealing documents used in project management is the Gantt chart. This particular chart has an accompanying task table that serves as the input for the chart creation. Gantt charts do not have to be computerized, however. You can create a Gantt chart on a whiteboard if you’re working with a small team.
Gantt Chart Template by Demand Metric
Like most Gantt charts, this particular one created by Demand Matric features one axis listing tasks, and another axis listing increments of time. The tasks and the increments are completely up to you. You’ll also need to determine the length of time (or start date and end date) for each task to populate the chart.
Gantt Chart Template by Creately
Some Gantt chart templates feature additional detail that may be helpful to the task management process such as progress towards completion in addition to total duration. This template from Creately can be accessed online and manipulated in real time by all team members who have edit access to the template.
13. Risk Register
A risk register or “risk log” is a chart documenting all identified risks and their probability, impact, and effect throughout the project. An effective risk management plan is built upon the items listed in a risk register. Without a risk register, the chances of unexpected events with no planned response increase considerably.
Each identified risk is numbered. It is then given a description and assigned a category. Cause, probability, impact, proposed response, owner, and status are other fields that may be included in a risk register. As the project proceeds new risks can be added to the register, while the status of current risks can be changed.
Risk Register Templates
Risk Register Template by Department of Transportation, Minnesota
Organizations that use a risk register typically have a good deal of risk in varying degree to take into consideration before developing a risk management plan. This template from the Minnesota Department of Transportation provides detailed instructions for filling out the corresponding risk register fields on each tab of the spreadsheet workbook.
Risk Register Template by Leading Agile
As in project budget templates, the use of color and creative formatting, as seen in this example, can keep information more organized and easy to digest. Larger, more complicated projects may end up having very complex risk registers. But the more complete it is, the more likely potential risk can be successfully mitigated.
Risk Register Template by CDC
Most risk register templates come in the form of spreadsheets such as this one by the CDC due to the volume and detail of information that needs to be entered. Just enough description should be given to each risk along with appropriate coding so that each risk can be digested quickly and mitigated whenever the need arises.
14. Business Case
A business case is crucial for getting a proposed project in the hands of decision makers. When choices are made, they should always be in the best interest of the business given finite resources. Your argument for why your project is in the best interest of your business resides in the soundness of your business case.
Business cases are highly adaptable to the environment in which you’re working. They can be lengthy and detailed, or short and frank depending on the industry, the size of the audience, and the need for detail. But it must have a compelling argument that forces a decision maker to choose your project over a competitor.
Business Case Templates
Business Case Template by Filestage
A business case is one of the most crucial elements of any project management documentation because it is the champion of the project. As this business case example from Filestage shows, the business case is your argument why your organization with its limited resources should allocate time, money, and material to your project.
Business Case Template by CMS
A more traditional example of a business case is provided by CMS.gov. This multi-page business case is similar in appearance to a project proposal or risk management plan. However, it is more condensed and contains language that attempts to convince stakeholders that the particular project being proposed is worth valuable and finite time and resources.
Business Case Template by The Ministry of Infrastructure, Alberta, Canada
Some organizational business cases like this one are quite lengthy due to several factors: the scope of the proposed project, the project’s cost and duration, the number of stakeholders involved, and the size of the institution submitting the business case. Time and experience within your organization will tell you how detailed or concise your business case needs to be.
15. Creative Brief
In the advertising/media world a creative brief is the common two-way dictionary for both client and company to create a creative vision for a product or campaign together. It serves as a visual roadmap for the project team as they progress, referring back to it to stay true to the client’s creative vision.
Creative briefs are usually one to three pages long and highlight all of the project essentials important to the client. The better composed the creative brief, the greater the chance the client will find satisfaction with the final product. From the client perspective, creative briefs help them make a decision about where they want to go with the project at hand.
Creative Brief Templates
Creative Brief Template by Filestage
Creative briefs can be arranged and presented in any format you choose, whether that be a word document, a dynamic online presence, or a powerpoint presentation. In this creative brief example from Filestage, each aspect of the brief such as Target Audience, Market Position, Tone Of Voice, etc. has its own dedicated slide so that the creative firm and the client can focus on these components.
Creative Brief Template by Strategy Cube
Creative briefs can be highly detailed like this one from Strategy Cube depending on how much mutual visibility your project team wants to share with the client. The more your collective vision syncs up on paper, the less likely you’ll run into communication or creative snags with your client along the way.
Creative Brief Template by Milanote
This template by Milanote is a visually intriguing way to display all the aspects of a well rounded creative brief. It shows off your own creativity while communicating your client’s vision and needs in a multi-dimensional way. Creative briefs can be as thoughtful and out of the box as your project team is.
16. SMART Goals
SMART is an acronym used in many business settings including project management to define objectives. S stands for specific. Objectives should be clearly stated with specific detail and free from vagueness. M stands for measurable. Objectives are not valid unless they are measurable in some way. Otherwise, you won’t be able to tell if you have achieved them. R stands for relevant. Each objective to be directly relevant to the proposed project scope, and realistic in terms of available resources. T stands for time-bound. All objectives should be assigned a time frame by which they should be completed.
SMART Goals Templates
SMART Goals Template by Filestage
Your SMART goals document does not need to be fancy. Nor does it need to restate any information found in other project management documents. SMART goals are internal to your team, that can be referred back to as a point of reference to keep you on track and in focus (as Filestage has done it with this SMART Goals template).
SMART Goals Template by The University of Cincinnati
SMART goals are utilized in many aspects outside of project management, like this performance management example from the University of Cincinnati. Change the wording, however, and you’ll have a template that’s perfect for stated goals or milestones within the project management framework.
SMART Goals Template by UC Berkeley
How the information is represented is not nearly as important as the quality of the answers to the SMART acronym prompts. As is shown in this template from UC Berkeley, each letter of the SMART acronym has its own cell in which a detailed explanation of the smart goal is listed.
17. Project Milestones
Project milestones are the smaller incremental components that come together to create a complete project. Once all milestones are complete, the project is complete. Milestones are usually incremental in nature, and give all team members and stakeholders an idea of how the project is progressing.
Milestones differ than tasks in that they are higher level, more strategic points along the project path that give an indicator of project progress. Tasks and similar items are more day-to-day items that must be completed to get to the next milestone. A milestone is a representation of success, and are especially useful for staying on target with larger, more complicated projects.
Project Milestone Templates
Project Milestone Template by Mindtools
A milestone template like this one allows project managers to define clear milestones that can be celebrated once reached throughout the project. A project without milestones is possible, but the presence of them keeps team members motivated and helps manage large chunks of work into more sizeable pieces.
Project Milestone Template by EERE Energy
Milestone templates can be used to drill down further on deliverables by identifying not only the milestone and corresponding project phase, but also the tasks and subtasks that fall under those milestones. Milestones can be as descriptive as needed so that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of what is expected in the process.
Project Milestone Template by Demand Metric
Project milestone templates like this one from Demand Metric can also resemble Gantt charts. This particular example identifies the milestone, its status, the deliverables expected, and the date expected. It also provides a comparison of the actual date versus the expected date to help keep milestones on track.
Whether you’re a small 10 person start-up, a non-profit group looking to start a new project, a large household trying to organize your operations, or a growing company in need of robust project management solutions, taking advantage of some, if not many project management templates online can streamline your operations, open up communication, and increase your projects efficiency and probability of success.
Think about what project management components are most important to your team. It may be that all template formats from the Business case, to the risk register, to the work breakdown structure is what you need to help your project thrive. Maybe all you need is a Gantt chart and a thoughtful creative brief. Whatever you choose, use it fully to maximize your advantage.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.