- What is Project Plan Part 1
- Importance of Project Plans Part 2
- Questions to Ask Before Writing a Project Plan Part 3
- How Project Plans Are Constructed Part 4
- Mistakes to Avoid Part 5
- Project Plan Best Practices Part 6
What is Project Plan?
Typically, a project plan is a detailed blueprint for managers and employees to follow to help guide them through the project planning process. It should include goals, participating team members, timing, and the deliverables associated with the project.
A project plan can also represent project steps and procedures in a number of ways, one of the most popular is a Gantt Chart, where actions are organized by day, time and completion.
Why Are Project Plans Important?
Having a project plan is crucial to success. It automatically improves communication with clients and other team members. Good project plans will likely include milestones as well as the dates and times certain tasks will or should be completed. This makes it easy to correspond with clients about the progress of their project, communicate any issues, or better work with team members to accomplish tasks.
A project plan can greatly decrease stress. If a deadline or milestone needs to be altered, it is less complicated to select where the change needs to occur with an organized plan. While the deadline may need to be pushed back, a good plan will make it easy to do this and still stay on track because everything is laid out. However, one of the most important reasons a project plan is essential to and a project is that it keeps everyone involved organized. Goals and completion times have been pre-determined, so there is not a question of what needs to happen when. In turn, this makes it easy for other staff to jump on board and help or to regroup if a lapse in the timeline occurs.
Project planning involves strategy and aligning project objectives with organizational goals. This can be difficult to do if a project plan is not in the picture:
- The Project Management Institute found that only 42 percent of organizations reported having alignment with organizational strategy. Projects that do align with an organization’s strategy are completed successfully more often than projects that are misaligned.
- According to a study by Geneca, 75 percent of respondents lacked confidence in project success due to fuzzy business objectives, out-of-sync coworkers, and excessive reworks.
Both of these statistics are symptoms of poor project planning. Therefore, it is crucial for teams to focus on producing effective and efficient project plans.
Questions to Ask Before Writing a Project Plan
Creating a comprehensive project plan can be overwhelming and daunting; therefore, it is essential that managers sit down to think about the answers to specific questions before starting:
- Do we have the bandwidth?
First, leaders need to determine if they have the staff, resources, and upper management support to complete a project. If they don’t, leaders then need to increase help in those areas to give it a higher chance of success.
- How will the team gather feedback?It is a travesty to get to the end of a project and then find out that it does not meet the client’s standards. Managers need to communicate with the client and determine when they would like to see progress and provide feedback. This will help the team set dates that correspond to milestones to let the client see what has already been done.
- Are there any conflicting dates?If a project manager will have to be out of the office for a while or if there is a work event will take everyone away, then project managers need to plan around this and potentially alter the deadline if need be.
- Who has worked on a project like this in the past?It is a good idea to identify any employees who have worked on a similar project. If they have then managers can begin to fill in project task and see where there are gaps in experience and knowledge.
- Are there any immediate constraints?One of the most pertinent questions is if there is something that could immediately impede the process. Are there budget constraints? Has a company layoff just occurred? Is there a staffing change in senior management? These are all questions that will help leaders identify any immediate issues that could make an impact on a project.
How Are Project Plans Constructed, What Should Be Included?
Identify the Scope of the Project
It is easy to get off task when preparing a project plan. Therefore, it is essential that a range of duties is defined so managers can be sure that extra functions that may prevent the team from hitting a deadline are not included. This part of the plan will like include information about deliverables and the team members responsible for producing them.
Conduct Research and Incorporate Any Pertinent Information
During the lead up to the creation of the project plan, someone was likely corresponding with the client to gather all information needed. A clear and concise record of this information should be included in the project plan for easy reference. The project stakeholder’s needs, expectations, and who will be corresponding with them throughout the process should be established and included in plan documentation.
Discuss a List of Obstacles
To plan for any setbacks that could occur with the project, it is helpful if the project manager and their team discusses and records potential constraints and current unanswered questions. The person who will collect feedback, how the team will handle any timing conflicts, a plan B for any instruments or software that could break down, timings for meetings and any other necessary details should be a part of the plan.
Establish Project Goals
Leaders should then sit down with the team and hash out all project goals and objectives. What is the end result? What deliverables will be produced? Both questions should be answered in this section. Verbal conversations with staff are also a great time to answer any questions they may have and incorporate essential details that have been left out.
Talk About Milestones, Deadlines, and Deliverables
Once the deadline is established, leaders should then work backward to create milestones that correspond to that deadline. Each one should have its own deadline that keeps the team on track to finish on time. When the dates (or range of dates) are precise, they help the team understand the timeline.
Set a Work Break Down Structure
Once the deadline and corresponding milestones have been established it is then time to decide who will handle various parts of the process. The project manager can assign various tasks to each team member and record it in the plan so they know who to approach if there is a question about what was produced. Also, the interdependences and overlap of tasks should also be conveyed here.
The overall budget of the project should be discussed and added to the project plan. All team members involved should know the resources that are being allocated to them, and what limitations this could put on their ability to complete the project. Also, any external project participants like vendors need to be outlined in this as well.
Project Plan: Mistakes to Avoid
- Failing to meet with the team – Moving past the first step in the process without involving the home team can spell disaster. The strengths and weaknesses of everyone who will be involved need to be assessed, their input should be taken into account, and clear expectations should be set for everyone.
- Refusing to establish what is priority – While there is a list of everything that needs to be done for the project to succeed, there are probably a few items that hold precedence over everything else. These should be outlined in the plan, and their significance should be described in the milestones section.
- Not planning for communication mediums – How will managers communicate with their team? How will feedback be spread to all staff members? Some workers who are involved in the project might not even be in the office. Therefore, leaders need to establish mediums of communication where everyone can participate.
- Forgetting to enforce project scope – There is a reason that scope should be outlined in the project plan. Before it is all said and done a project can spread into a lot of different unforeseen areas. Leaders need to watch for this and make sure project milestones don’t get out of control with tasks that may not be necessary.
- Forgetting to recognize employees – Meeting deadlines and milestones along the way can be stressful. It is easy for momentum to wane and for employees to feel unappreciated. Leaders should make an effort to recognize the work employees are doing to meet milestones, and provide support along the way.
Project planning is not an easy feat, but if leaders keep these five mistakes in mind and actively try to avoid them, then success can more easily be reached.
Project Plan: Best Practices
Deciding to create a project plan in the first place is half the battle. It is a great foundation for project success. However, there are some best practices leaders can utilize to further polish plans.
- Create a risk response team – It is certain that things will go wrong. Someone won’t be able to finish a milestone on time, a personal emergency can arise, or more resources were used on a project than anticipated. Leaders should establish a risk response team that are trained to handle personnel, timing, or budget issues.
- Have all stakeholders sign an agreement – The project plan should include an agreement that all staff involved sign showing they understand what is expected of them and the tasks they have been assigned to.
- Always keep the designated budget and timeline in mind – If anyone proposes any changes, then leaders should see how these alterations will impact the budget or the amount of time it will take to meet the deadline. This will help put all changes into perspective.
- Plan to have a senior management advocate – It is a lot easier to get resources or support if someone on senior management is aware of the project and supports it. Leaders should keep key members of management in the loop on project progress, successes, and issues. As a result, it will be easier to talk with them about problems and how they can help. It will also keep them from finding out about potential problems from someone else.
- Document everything – Lapses in timelines, budgetary issues, problematic client feedback, etc. These are all problems that can arise, and it is helpful to document what happened and how the team responded. These details can be included in the next project plan and can provide context for a similar project so leaders will know what to look for.
There are a lot of things to keep in mind when producing a project plan. However, if leaders make input from all stakeholders a priority, include all expectations from clients, and see how milestones relate to goals, then leaders can create effective project plans.