How to Create a Project Plan in 7 Steps
Every process, notion, thing, etc. start from something. That moment began not now, days or years ago, and things looked differently – not like they do now. Looking, for instance, at a car, we realize that at the beginning its appearance was contrasting: at first all began with an idea, then there was discussion, designer’s work, assembly operations, etc. It’s just an insignificant example that, however, perfectly clarifies the situation – everything starts from something.
Project management is not an exception. Being a complex chain of tasks and processes, it should have the first step where everything begins. This step is project plan and planning.
In this article we will discuss a plan and planning and clear up issues connected with a How to create a project plan question. Actually, we described it in 7 steps.
What is a project plan?
But let’s distinguish two notions right away. Speaking about a plan, we encounter such notion as planning. Is there any difference between them?
Project planning is the process of defining the scope, objectives and ways in general to achieve them. This process goes before a plan as it is here where everything is discussed. All crucial planning points and outputs then make up a plan.
A project plan is a formal document that contains all planning decisions, approved project scope and costs. Apart from mentioned things, its main goals are to guide control, facilitate communication between stakeholders and schedule baselines.
Creating a project plan, a manager should have a good command of key knowledge and skills from the very beginning. Knowing them, he/she will raise the bar for successful project’s implementation. It will also help to foresee and avoid unnecessary mistakes and wrong decisions as well as simply help to save time and reduce costs.
Project plan purpose
A well-prepared plan should address and consequently answer the following questions:
This question is about the reasons why a project is sponsored and the problem it addresses.
This question is about the work that is to be done to deliver products/results, etc. and deliverables themselves.
This is about involved people, their roles and responsibilities as well as the way they are supposed to be organized.
This is about project’s schedule/timeline.
How to create a good project plan?
Starting a new project plan, a manager should be aware of great amount of questions and the ways to answer and solve them. Each question can be singled out and paid attention to. But there are some common patterns where they can be referred to. So, let’s distinguish what goes into a project plan and planning and what a manager should do.
Successful project planning should start with communication with a team about goals, participants, tasks, etc. A manager should know best who will be responsible for any given task, be aware of deadlines and stay always in touch with everything that is going on in a project.
Moreover, this step of project planning should be addressed during the whole project implementation. Remember, communication is the key to successful management.
Identify stakeholders and determine goals
Sometimes there are so many stakeholders that it gets difficult to be aware of everyone. Moreover, they can be direct or indirect with greater or less impact on a project respectively. That’s why it is important to identify those who directly influence on a project plan and then seriously take their needs into account.
Who can be a stakeholder?
- A sponsor – an individual who actually funds the whole project and approves it;
- A project manager – an individual who directly makes planning with the following creation, execution and control over a project;
- Project team that creates end product. They participate in many crucial aspects like development, quality, design issues, etc. But usually they do not approve a project;
- End users who actually use end product;
- This can be a long list of people who take part in a project: risk analysts, procurement specialists, etc.
What can be done here? Conduct interviews with key stakeholders what will help to realize requirements and goals that have to be achieved. The easiest way to manage and achieve objectives (goals) is to use Smart technique for goal setting.
During interviews a manager realizes what problem is addressed by the project and why it is actually sponsored.
This is our WHY question.
Define a project scope
Obviously, the most important part of any planning. The project plan basics are pointed out and discussed here: justification, product description, acceptance criteria, objectives (deliverables), exclusions, constraints, assumptions, cost estimates and some others. All stakeholders, both direct and indirect, should come to a complete understanding and agreement during this stage. As soon as it is accomplished, all those points make up a project scope statement.
As a result, this step implies not only crucial moments to agree upon, but also it establishes good communication between stakeholders and diminishes any risks of misunderstandings that may lead to scope creep.
This is our WHAT question.
Define roles and responsibilities
When we speak about project team, a project manager’s duty is to assign tasks to everyone involved. Team members should know their roles and set of responsibilities. Of course, each task should have a definite number of participants.
This is our WHO question.
Schedule a project
This is the continuation of the previous point. As soon as a manager defines roles and responsibilities for team participants, the next step in a project plan is to set work duration for each resource with start/end dates.
This is our WHEN question.
Moreover, here managers set milestones, critical path – to say in general, this is work with timeline. Thus we are approaching the next point – what online project software to use for project scheduling.
Visualize a project plan with Gantt chart
How to plan a project timeline?
Note: some people refer to their projects only as a schedule. This concept is wrong. The schedule with its visualization is only part of planning. The entire project is much more complicated entity.
GanttPRO online project planning tool is an effective way to schedule timeline. With this app a manager is able to:
- Create tasks and assign them to team members;
- Set duration with start and end dates for each task;
- Set dependencies between events. A manager tracks all actions and knows where one event comes to an end and gives a start to the other action;
- Track progress in each task and in the whole project;
- Identify resources needed for each task;
- Define cost for each resource;
- Collaborate with team members and view all changes made by them;
- Follow milestones – any significant events that can’t be lost as they have direct impact on a plan;
- Enable critical path – the shortest period of time needed for project’s completion.
GanttPRO makes it easy to visualize important actions that make up planning process and a plan.
Project management consists of risk management – it is one of the most crucial steps for planning a project. Almost no stage in this complicated sphere can go without risks. Therefore, it is highly recommended to define what can go wrong on every step.
An experienced manager does not only assess risks, but also creates plans of how to handle them in case they occur. His/her team should also know possible reaction to any changes.
What risks can occur?
- Too optimistic expectation about time and cost;
- Unclear requirements and needs;
- Unclear roles and responsibilities;
- Changes in requirements;
- New requirements;
- Budget cuts;
- Poor communication.
Stick with it
There are no two identical projects. One can be perfect with no risks and delays; the other can be a failure even with the same sponsors, project managers and teams, costs, timelines and deliverables. Plans will change, risks will occur. But what will ease planning is a clear project scope, schedule, good team work and assessed risks – this is supposed to be in a solid and at the same time simple project management plan. Then even such challenging things can bring fun and joy.
Learn how to create Gantt chart in GanttPRO:
Do you have any experience in planning? Do you have something to add? Share with us your ideas in comments – we will appreciate it 🙂