We are continuing our column on the different approaches that will help you improve your project management practices. Today, we are going to focus on project planning the heart of the project life cycle.

What is a project plan?

A Project plan is a document that covers every aspect of the project and its management. It gives general information about the nature of the project, and shows how it will be managed, executed and controlled. 

It includes details on what needs to be done to complete the project. It will give you visibility over how the project is going to unravel and includes factors to ensure you deliver your project successfully, while managing time, costs and changes.

It serves as a guide for project managers and their teams to bring them from the implementation phase to the closure phases of a project.

Why use a project plan? 

Planning can be tricky.  Because VUCA impacts the way project management is carried out, your projects will most likely be subject to frequent, rapid and significant challenges that are going to disrupt your plans and day-to-day activities.

According to the PMI, a project plan is widely thought to be an important contributor to project success.  

"Planning and analysis are very important and the more there is in a project, the more successful the project will be (Wang & Gibson, 2008; Dvir, Raz, & Shenhar, 2003). Time spent on these activities will reduce risk and increase project success. 

It's essential to have a project plan because it will allow project managers to be very clear about what they are doing and what everyone should be doing. It's the first thing any project manager should do when undertaking a new project. Many project managers fail to see the value in creating a project plan, it can help you save a lot of time, money and help you with any project related issues. 

According to the PMI, a lack of planning will in turn contribute towards unsuccessful projects whereas efficient planning leads to successful projects by clearly defining and outlining the steps it will take to deliver the project. 

Hamilton and Gibson (1996) found that the top one third of projects from a planning completeness perspective had an 82% chance of meeting those goals, whereas only 66% of projects in the lower third did (a difference of 16%).

By having a project plan, you will become proactive in the way you handle changes, issues and disruptions. The project manager will be able to use the information in the project plan to control and maintain the direction of the project. 

Why Project Planning Matters

By now, you should have a pretty good idea why project planning and creating a project plan are necessary steps in the project management process. But let's also look at it from the point of view of different stakeholders.

Clients care about project plans

Good communication is critical to any project.

Clients might not have any experience related to project management which is why it's crucial to communicate the information that's in the project plan. 

Clients want to know exactly what they're in for when they start a project. By sharing this information, you're giving your clients access to their project in complete transparency. This will improve your relationships, build trust and create a collaborative environment. 

It's important for you to be able to answer the major project management questions any client can ask such as:

  • When is the project going to be delivered?
  • How will the project be delivered?
  • What will be delivered?
  • How much will it cost?

Before the start of any project, a project manager has to present their project plan to their clients, if their client approves it, this means the project plan is in line with their needs.

Project managers care about project plans

As a project manager you need to know the ins and outs of the project.

You have to have all the details in order to successfully bring the project from the implementation phase to the closure phase. You'll need that project plan to make sure it's on track and make sure it's still meeting the initial budget and timeline you and your client agreed on. 

Not having a project plan you can stick to means you will most probably incur additional costs because your project was not delivered on time or lose business because your team didn't deliver what was agreed on in the first place. 

All other stakeholders care about project plans

A project plan will also provide clarity for all stakeholders. 

Stakeholders are all the people who are related in any way to your project. Both their satisfaction and motivation are essential to ensure its success.

Most of the time, several stakeholders are involved at each step of the project: they think about it, bring capital, support it and/or even execute it. These stakeholders can foster change or, on the contrary, slow the project down to a crawl and endanger its delivery.

Whether they stay active for the whole duration of the project or just during specific stages, the stakeholders' needs must be fully considered by the project team and the project manager. It is essential to know and understand their expectations to avoid conflicts at any costs.

How to Prepare your Project Plan

Before creating your project plan, there are a couple of things you have to do first. 

Step 1: Identify Stakeholders

The first step is to identify the stakeholders in your project and establish their needs.  It's not always easy to determine who's involved, which is why we have provided you with a stakeholder analysis matrix, that will help speed up this process. 

Then, you have make a list of all of their needs and prioritise each of them. 

Here are some examples of stakeholders:

  • The customer;
  • The project team;
  • The supplier;
  • Anyone that would be impacted by the change.

Step 2: Establish Goals

Now that you've established their needs and prioritised them, the next step is to create a list of measurable goals.They are the business objectives the project is going to accomplish. 

You can use the SMART principle to help you out. Remember, your project objectives must be measurable and contain key performance indicators that will be used later on to assess the success of your project. 

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Step 3: Define your deliverables

The next step is to figure out how the project is going to meet these goals. You have to specify how the project is going to deliver each goal. This is called a deliverable which is "something produced or provided as a result of a process"You will be able to define your deliverables thanks to a WBS aka Work Breakdown Schedule.

"A Work breakdown structure describes the deliverables needed to complete the project, i.e. the “what” of the project. It doesn’t include timelines or resources. The goal of the WBS is to give the project team a hyper-focused idea of what they need to achieve."

Here is an example of a WBS describing the deliverables needed to complete the project:

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Click here to learn how to create a WBS.

Step 4: Define your tasks

Now that you have your list of deliverables, the next step is to define a series of tasks that must be completed to accomplish each deliverable. So, create a list of all the tasks that are going to accomplish each deliverable. 

How To Create A Project Plan?

Now that you understand the purpose a project plan and completed these four simple steps, here’s how to actually create one. 

This project plan template will give you a head start ( you can always adapt it to your needs).

Project Plan Template