The creation of an accurate project plan, no matter what type of project you are working on, is something that should not be underestimated.
Starting a project without a project plan that has been thoroughly considered in all aspects is like going on a trip without a map: maybe you will also reach your destination, but the waste of time (and money) will be inevitable.
A project without a well drafted and structured plan can, in fact, lead to problems of scope creep, budget and missed deadlines.
You should therefore work closely with your team and build a good project plan before you start the work itself. You will need to set expectations and decide how to achieve them, and this is the method that will guide us to success.
How to write a project plan in 5 steps
What we want to achieve with these articles is a path to follow, an approach thanks to which you can understand and follow simple and systematic guidelines that will help you in your work.
1) Define the project
Whatever is the project you are going to work on, the beginning is always the same: define what you want to achieve.
However, doing so does not simply mean writing general concepts such as: “I want to open a new pizzeria”, there are six key elements to be taken into account when defining the project:
- Objectives: what are you trying to accomplish with the project? Here we consider both external elements – profits, market share, customer satisfaction – and internal elements – infrastructure improvement, process optimization, employee retention. The extra tip, is to use the SMART guidelines at this step.
- Scope: regardless of how carefully you plan, the project will almost certainly be subject to changes that need to be addressed. Instead of trying to identify everything within the scope of the project, it might be easier to identify what is definitely out of reach. This is also a good opportunity to determine who will be responsible for approving/denying any changes to the scope.
- Success standards: What will determine the outcome or failure of this project? In this step, you must consider the objectives. Common standards are the projects delivered on time and within the project budget, the end product that meets a certain level of quality and the solution of a specific business problem.
- Final products: Here we list the essential results of the project in as much detail as possible.
- Requirements: Determine what you need – resources, staff, budget, time – to achieve the project objectives and produce positive results.
- Program: Use a work breakdown structure to determine what needs to be delivered and when, then use it to determine the basic schedule, project milestones and deadlines.
2) Identify risks, preconditions and constraints
Identifying potential risks, dangers and setbacks before they occur can help the project manager navigate through “rough waters” when they inevitably occur.
At this stage, designating a team member to be responsible for risk management can be key.
Depending on the size of the project, this individual may be either the project manager or another team member.
The important factor is that someone must clearly be responsible for monitoring all risks that have been identified.
3) Planning people for the project
This step is another key one in the project plan, in fact, the management of the project is largely the management of the people who work there.
Planning the project means identifying and documenting the following:
- Client: who will receive the final product? Is it an internal or external customer?
- Stakeholders or interested parties: these are the people or groups interested in the successful completion of the project.
- Roles and responsibilities: determine the organizational hierarchy for the project. Who gets the last word on decisions? Who is accountable for communication with the client? Who oversees the budget? Who is responsible for the actual work?
4) List project resources
In the first step, a series of high level requirements needed to successfully complete the project were identified, after which the human resources needed to perform and manage the work were identified.
Now it is time to focus on the specific resources needed to get to work:
- Technology (computers, software, mobile devices)
5) Set up a communication plan for the project
By now you will have a clearly defined project with a program, budget and resources. So it’s time to get to work, right? Wrong! Actually one very important step is still missing: a communication plan.
Poor communication is one of the main reasons for a project’s failure.
This is because everything that has been seen before – meeting deadlines, sticking to the budget, etc.. – depends on team members communicating with each other, the project manager, stakeholders and clients.
A good project communication plan should include:
- Communication goals: what is the goal of a certain message?
- Audience group: who should be included in communications? For example, it may not be necessary to include the organization’s director in regular project updates, but they should be consulted at all times if the project exceeds their budget.
- Key communication content: When communicating with the project team and/or stakeholders, what information should be included each time?
- Communication method and frequency: how will communications be delivered and how often? Via e-mail or another collaboration tool? Determine this information at the beginning of the project and remain consistent with it.
How to create accurate project plans: Bottom line
Ultimately, if a project manager notices that their projects are prone to lose control, exceed budget, miss deadlines, or fail to deliver a final product successfully, it is very likely that the poor planning is at least partially – if not totally – responsible.
Clearly defining the project, identifying risks, assembling the team, gathering resources and drawing up a communication plan following our suggestions will therefore make a big difference.