So your next big project just got the green light. Good news for you, right? Time to get started on the next step: project planning. Before you dive into the project, planning it is absolutely essential to the success of your product or service – whether it’s as simple as choosing the Christmas cards you send to clients, or as complex as finding and implementing a new marketing automation software.
Project planning is ideal for any situation, regardless of setting. It can be as formal, informal, detailed, or high-level as you want it to be. Planning a campaign for a new client? Get some project planning in hand before you start managing your expectations. Updating all of your marketing materials? Proper planning will successfully guide you through this undertaking.
Project planning is the conceptual component of any project; it’s what you contemplate during the preparation process. It involves determining critical factors of a project (such as time, budget, management, and quality control) to produce the tangible component of the project. It allows you to conceptually organize your project and stay on target during production.
Project planning begins with a plan approval process. Maybe you’re the person giving the green light, or your team has just received the go-ahead from upper management. Once you have the proper approval, you’ll need to start conceptualizing your project from every perspective, not just high-level concepts. In other words, you’ll need to get into the weeds of the project and answer who, what, when, where, and how. To simplify this process, you can use a project planning software.
It’s All in the Details
Transforming the concept into a tangible entity includes:
- Defining your overall goal and the steps to achieving that goal (task list).
- Determining the nature and scope of your project, so that everyone involved has the same vision.
- Scheduling tasks.
- Appropriating management mechanisms, so every aspect of the project is delegated.
- Estimating costs for each phase of the project, and calculating adequate buffers for unforeseen events.
- Assessing standards to measure quality.
After you and your team have processed all foreseeable components of your new project, you should have a solid project plan in front of you. No two project plans are identical; each will be as unique as the project itself. The plan can be incredibly complex,or it can be as simple as a piece of documentation that’s updated as each step of the project takes place.
The amount of detail you add to any project plan depends on the importance of the project. If you just need to get a basic sketch of who you’re assigning tasks to and what their deadlines are, a project plan that features a task schedule as its primary focus will suffice. But if your project is more complex, you may want to choose a project plan template that:
- Can be completely customized.
- Allows for the addition of new compartments of data.
- Is shareable with all stakeholders on the project, both internal and external.
A project plan is a reference document that details the anticipated approach to the project. In other words, it answers all the major questions:
- What are we creating?
- Why are we creating it?
- How are we going to create it?
- When are we executing each step?
- How long will each step take?.
Project plans will save you a significant amount of time and money while you’re executing the production phase of your project. It forces you to think about all aspects of it from start to finish, including anticipating what could go wrong and identifying hidden costs. Without developing a sound project plan first, the probability of running into major snags, wasting time, and spending too much money during the production phase of your project is much higher. So it’s more effective to start by conducting proper planning.
Before you start writing your project plan, you and your stakeholders need to clarify the specific objective and scope of your project. Once you’ve clearly defined these elements, you can start gathering information. Then you should take these steps:
Meet with the Client.
One crucial component of the data-gathering stage is the client interview. To create an effective plan, you’ll need to have a crystal-clear understanding of your client’s expectations. So meet with your client, and take comprehensive notes. Get an appreciation for their level of knowledge about the product. Discuss deliverable dates and scheduled absences that may interfere with those dates. During this meeting, establish the method of communication your team and the client will be using, and how often the communication will take place.
Identify Your Team.
Once you feel you have a detailed understanding of your client’s needs and expectations, you can identify and gather all the people you need to successfully execute the project. Identify groups or departments responsible for each project phase, then identify specific people within those groups for the completion of specific tasks and subtasks.
Seek Team Input.
Seek input from your team about all of the information you’ve gathered so far, such as deliverables, client expectations, and cursory budget estimates. Based on your team’s input, you’ll be making modifications to the project plan. In fact, you’ll be making changes throughout the formulation and execution of the plan. Since project plans are dynamic, living documentation of your journey, they can change as the project’s lifecycle evolves. Once you’ve identified with all stakeholders involved and communicated with them, you can start drafting your plan.
Your draft may go through several iterations, each one digging a little further until all aspects of the plan are adequately addressed. The final version of the plan should leave no foreseeable questions unanswered.
For now, start with a piece of paper and some high-level bases to cover. Your first project plan draft will be very basic; it can be written out on a piece of paper, drawn out on a whiteboard, or entered into a word document. Start with the necessary components of your plan for the first draft, such as the goal, scope, process, deliverables, resources, limitations, dependencies, deadlines, and stakeholders.
Goal: What is the goal of the project?
Scope: What parameters are we working within to achieve the goal?
Process: Identify the process for implementing the plan: the what, who, how, when, and where.
Deliverables: Define what’s going to be delivered, according to client expectations.
Resources: Identify all the necessary resources that must be used to create and deliver the final product, including human resources.
Limitations and Dependencies: What factors will inhibit our ability to complete the project, and how do we mitigate those factors?
Deadlines: Record all deadlines, and determine whether they’re hard or soft.
Stakeholders: Record how much time the client may need to review and approve any component of the project.
Once you’ve completed your draft, you’ll need to show it to your team, and seek feedback before moving on to the final plan.
Once you have a rough draft, you may want to move your plan into project management software. Or if you prefer, you can use online templates to track your project. Whatever method you choose, make sure it’s robust enough to include every necessary detail of your project plan.
With your team, start transforming the outline into a comprehensive plan, and make sure you include all necessary details within each phase and task. Most project management teams take advantage of related software to help them fill in all the data points of a plan. Managing a project through dynamic software allows a team to continually reassess how the project is being executed in real time, while identifying gaps and weak points.
A completely formalized plan addresses all necessary project considerations, such as stakeholder input, project integration, the allocation of human resources, a communications plan, risk assessments, scheduling, cost assessment, and quality control.
Stakeholder Input: Identify the responsibilities, priorities, and conflicts, of each stakeholder.
Project Integration & Scope: Consider the entire project from a holistic viewpoint, and integrate all its pieces.
Human Resource Allocation: Identify the skills needed to complete the project and a plan for acquiring them.
Communications Plan: Identify the go-to method for communication with all stakeholders and the expected frequency of communication.
Assessing Risk, Limitations, and Dependencies: Determine how to mitigate potential risks, limitations, and dependencies.
Scheduling: All phases, tasks, and subtasks should be scheduled using start-by and complete-by dates.
Assessing Cost: Determine the overall budget and the cost controls of each resource and phase of the project.
Quality Control: Identify a method to ensure that the highest level of quality is maintained throughout the process.
Depending on the project, these components can be addressed by creating sub-plans within the formal plan, or they can be explained via entries on a project plan template. At the very least, your project plan should include:
- A schedule that identifies phases, tasks, and subtasks,
- Parties responsible for those tasks, and the start and end dates.
- Tools for project plan management that allow you to add detailed notes about each task, as needed.
3.3 Present Your Plan to Internal and External Stakeholders
Once you’ve used your chosen platform to write your project plan, distribute it to all internal stakeholders. Give them time to thoroughly read and ingest it, then meet with them to verify their understanding, incorporate their feedback, and answer any questions they may have.
Present your formalized plan to your client and seek their feedback. Answer the following questions during the process. Have their expectations been met? Do they have any upcoming events that could interfere with the timing of the project deliverables? Are they satisfied with the agreed-upon mode and frequency of communication?
Here’s how you can speed up the review and approval process for your project plan AND all of the following project deliverables.
1. Start your free Filestage trial here
Also, feel free to check out our demo file and learn more about how to use Filestage to review project files.
2. Set up your review steps in Filestage
Before you can start, you should replicate your existing review and approval process in Filestage. Set up review steps for each review instance your project plan (or project deliverables) have to go through.
Each review step can involve different reviewers. For example, your first review step could be used to review your project plan with your team while your second review step involves your client or management executives to get their approval.
3. Upload project plan (or deliverables) to Filestage
Now, you have to upload your deliverable to Filestage by simply clicking on the UPLOAD FILE button.
In our example, you would first upload the briefing during the first review step and upload your final deliverable to the second review step.
4. Invite all relevant reviewers
For each review step, invite the needed reviewers by either clicking on the Reviewers icon or directly sharing the review link.
5. Ask your reviewers to leave their feedback
Once the reviewer has been invited and is aware of what Filestage is, they may still be curious about how this new software works.
By having a comment visible on the file, reviewers can actually see the benefit of the tool prior to leaving their own feedback. Also, it’s a lot less intimidating to leave visible feedback when someone else has already left the first mark.
6. Get your project plan approved
Once your reviewers are done reviewing your project plan or deliverable, they can either request changes or approve the file.
A basic project plan will include the following components:
1. Project Goal: What product or outcome will this project provide? What are your specific goals?
2. Project Scope: What are the parameters for achieving this outcome?
3. Scheduling: Major Project Phases
- Phase 1
- Task 1
- Subtask 1
- Subtask 2
- Task 1
- Phase 2
- Task 1
- Subtask 1
- Task 2
- Task 1
4. Detail All of the Relevant Project Components
How will communication take place (internally and externally)?
What mode of communication will be used?
What are the secondary modes of communication?
How often will routine communication take place?
Quantify all resources needed to complete each phase, task, and subtask.
4.3 Risks, Assumptions, Dependencies, and Constraints
Record all project risks, assumptions, dependencies, and constraints on the project, so that all stakeholders have the same understanding of these factors while working through the project.
4.4 Cost Assessment
Outline the overall project cost, including the cost of each phase, task, and subtask.
Break down the costs into categories, such as materials, labor, and overhead.
4.5 Quality Control Plan
Identify quality standards. How will project stakeholders comply with those standards?
Seek input about the completed plan from all stakeholders (internal and external).
Design Project Plan by Simple Square
This design project plan created by Simple Square may have a simple overall look, but it’s actually very detailed. Milestones are represented by small bullet points. The level of involvement is represented by the size of each colored circle, and the level of importance is represented by the font size of the task. The timeline runs through the overlapping circles, which compartmentalizes the total project time into weeks. Each phase of the project has its own color. You can view the perspective of the designer above the timeline, and the perspective of the client below the timeline.
IT Project Plan by Project Plan Templates
Here’s one example of a high-level project plan. This Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) project plan shows each phase of the life cycle in quarters, and its expected delivery date.
Technical Project Plan by Jama Software
This example of a technical project plan uses milestones as a way to measure progress throughout the project’s implementation. Milestones are checked off of an spreadsheet-style project plan, so that all stakeholders can easily see which tasks are remaining , who’s responsible for completing them, and their deadlines.
Agile Project Plan by Smartsheet
In agile project planning, you make progress one phase at a time, instead of concurrently. The overall project is sectioned off into chunks called iterations. As one iteration is completed, it is reviewed and approved before the team moves on to the next iteration. The result of the initial iteration will dictate the nature and scope of the second iteration. Above, you can find an example.
Event Project Plan
Here’s an example of an event project plan created in an excel spreadsheet.
Different tabs represent different components of the plan, such as project parameters and details. Any spreadsheet program can be a useful tool for project plan creation, because you can populate as many tabs as you need to. While task scheduling can be featured on one tab, cost estimates may be found on another. The communication plan and risk assessments can also be found on their own tabs.
Scrum Project Plan
A specific style of Agile Project Management is the scrum project plan. Scrum plans work in a series of iterations called sprints, which indicate the completion of one segment of the project. cWith scrum management, complex projects with multiple components and stakeholders can be clearly broken down and organized. Scrum project plans work best for projects that have a tangible product as an end result.
In the tech world, scrum boards are famous for their versatility and straightforward design. Team members use sticky notes to define tasks, which are then placed in different sectors of the board to represent sprints.
The ultimate project plan is comprehensive enough to leave no question unanswered. The best plans detail all aspects of the project that should be taken into consideration.
Download our free project plan template to get started today:
After you fill in this simple template, you’ll be able to get your project underway in no time. You can add as many rows as needed, including ones that pose questions that are relevant to your specific project. Add additional spaces for tasks, resources, costs, or stakeholder information. The overall template provides an overview of the project, and should be accompanied by detailed cost assessments, risk assessments, and resource plans. Complex projects should also have task schedules.
Here’s a simple scheduling plan you can use for your next project. This task schedule template is populated with sample data, to give you an idea about how to customize it.
Hopefuly, you feel empowered to get started with your own project now. Don’t start from scratch but use our templates to speed up your project processes. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to leave a comment.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.