When you have deadlines to hit and important milestones to reach, the most important thing you can do is create a plan. Building a solid plan is the best way to measure your progress and communicate a schedule with other people. Few places reap the benefits of planning as much as project planning. Creating and updating a project plan is, without a doubt, the best way to organize a project and communicate goals with a team. This article will outline what a project plan is and walk through the steps to build one.
What Is a Project Plan?
A project plan is a diagram that visualizes a project’s goals, timeline, outcomes, and success metrics. Along with this information, it can include the following variables:
- Individual tasks
- Specific, isolated sprints
- Workflow structure
- Collaboration sessions
- Resource allotment
Throughout the project cycle, a project plan holds the context for all work completed, how it relates to the overall goals, and the timeline you’re working within. This plan will determine how you prioritize work and resources to complete the project on time. This document will also be used as a reference point for all stakeholders and project members and will also include a solid list of deliverables that your project will include.
Why Is a Project Plan Important?
Without a clear plan of action, many teams are susceptible to scope creep. We define scope creep as “Scope creep is a term that refers to the expansion of scope throughout the course of a project, usually resulting in negative consequences.” As you proceed through a project, if the goalposts start shifting, it can have significant consequences for the course of your project.
Creating a detailed, carefully managed project plan helps avoid scope creep altogether and, in necessary scenarios, can allow you to accommodate and reprioritize based on new requirements. According to the Project Management Institute, 49% of projects experienced scope creep. This means a lot of wasted time and energy during the project management cycle; something that can be dutifully avoided by careful project planning.
A good project plan can even affect future outcomes for your team. When using a project plan, you can easily see where roadblocks and challenges might arise and plan ahead for them. This means that in the future, you can reference old project plans to locate any inefficiencies and plan ahead to help avoid them.
Creating a project plan can streamline the communication and prioritization process during project management and ensure your project will deliver the desired value. It’s this dependability and clarity that makes project planning so important.
How to Build a Project Plan Template
Because every project has a different scope and unique requirements, all project plans will be a little different. Because of this, some teams are reluctant to use them repetitively because they need to be created multiple times. By taking a systematic approach, you can create a project plan that details a careful execution strategy while also scaling to different kinds of projects. Here are the main steps to consider when building a project plan template.
Step 1: Create a Project Snapshot
The first step in creating a project plan will be building a “project snapshot.” This will be a document that entails the major touchpoints for the project, including:
- Key Metrics
This snapshot will encompass everything that is critical for the project’s success and makes it easy to communicate the details of the projects to any key stakeholders. At a glance, anyone can view the project snapshot and gain a simple understanding of what the project entails and how the completed version will look.
Aside from stakeholder communication, the project snapshot also provides an executive summary to project managers to remind them of the overall goals, tasks, and roadblocks for a given project. Keeping these goals in mind is important, so the project doesn’t lose focus en route to completion.
If you need help identifying which stakeholders are important, check out our guide to stakeholder mapping.
Step 2: Define Responsibilities & Stakeholders
Before going in-depth on a project plan, it’s crucial to identify all of the key players. Some of the common roles within a project plan are:
- Team member
- Team leader
- Project manager
- Project sponsor
Defining responsibilities is vital because it will mold how people interact with the project plan. You will influence the project differently if you’re a team member, leader, or stakeholder. It’s important to establish these roles early to set expectations, create clear goals, and formulate a plan of action.
Step 3: Outline the Scope & Structure
After defining the key roles within the project plan, you need to outline the scope of the project and the project management methodology that will be used. These details will be key throughout and will build the project’s structure for everyone to follow.
We won’t go too far into detail here, but there are many different methodologies you can use. The Agile methodology is one of the most popular project management strategies at the moment, but there are others that can be effective as well. If you want to read a comparison of the four most popular, you can check out our comparative guide here.
Formalizing project scope is another crucial part of the planning process because it communicates the overall requirements of the project to everyone involved. When determining project scope, a MoSCoW analysis is one of the most helpful templates to use. It outlines the elements that need to be included, should be included, and specifically outlines what won’t be included. By formalizing all these areas, the MoSCoW analysis can be one of the best tools to eliminate scope creep in the project planning cycle.
Step 4: Begin Mapping Resources
After determining the project’s scope and who will be involved, you will need to start mapping resource allocation. Resources don’t just mean money; it refers to the amount of time, energy, and knowledge available for each task. Traditionally a project manager will direct the resource management for a project, and they will need to allocate resources carefully to avoid burnout, overload, or scope creep.
Adjusting workflows is a vital part of resource management. This process entails creating a healthy ratio of employees on projects, ensuring tasks are well spaced to allow for smooth transitions, and ensuring teams have enough time to complete tasks in full. All of these items must work synchronously to be effective and should line up to map the entire course of the project,
Step 5: Clarify Deliverables, Timeline, and Priorities
The deliverables, timeline, and priorities are the final touches to creating a comprehensive project plan. The priorities of the project are extremely important because they signify what needs to get done first to get the ball rolling. They also help communicate the project’s timeline and deliverables because they outline the priorities throughout the project cycle.
The deliverables are also critical and relate to the goal alignment of the project. Each deliverable should build towards specific value-driven goals of the project, and they will encompass the final product.
Obviously, the timeline is also a huge factor and should be partially handled during the resource management phase. Here, however, the timeline needs to get very specific, mapping exactly how long the project will take, how much time is allotted to each task, and how every team will proceed throughout the sprint. Once all of these items come together, you’re ready to begin collaborating on your project plan.
Step 6: Collaborate
The final and most important step in the project planning cycle is visual collaboration. After you finish creating the draft of your project plan, you need to collaborate with your team to ensure everything looks right, there weren’t any miscommunications about the needs or availability, and everyone has an aligned vision of how to achieve success in the project. If there is any challenge around alignment, visualizing this plan on an online whiteboard gives people the proper forum to question, dispute, or revise any part of the plan they disagree with. By collaborating on the project plan before starting, you give people an opportunity to view the plan in its entirety and verify everything looks good before committing to its completion.
Project planning isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely essential to complete a project successfully. Hopefully, this article helped outline what’s required to create a solid project plan, and if you want to learn more about how to create a unique project plan on Fresco, try our free online whiteboard tool today!