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How to write a killer project plan in 6 simple steps

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    Project plans are often viewed as something that is good in theory but not in practice. Why? It probably has a lot to do with how they are created—without useful preparation and stakeholder follow-through, they can quickly be abandoned.

    The most effective project plans are built to pivot around unforeseen changes. By having a project plan in place, you’ll be able to recognize and respond to unplanned changes before they get out of hand.

    This 6-step, high-level guide will help you write a project plan and provide recommendations for project management software that will make each stage of the process simpler.

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    What is a project plan?

    Your project plan is a formal document that outlines an entire project’s goals and objectives, specific tasks, and what success looks like.

    In addition to setting the purpose of your project, it should include other materials and deliverables relevant to the project, such as:

    • Timelines and Gantt charts for key milestones
    • Communication plans
    • Work breakdown structure—especially if you have multiple team members working on different or simultaneous tasks (in that case, you may also need a Project Planner)
    • Resources need to complete the project, like project management tools, cash, freelancers, and more.

    In short, your project plan serves as a central hub to define, organize, prioritize, and assign activities and resources throughout your project’s life cycle.

    Why are project plans important?

    Over half of all projects experience something called scope creep. This is where the team ends up doing more work than originally planned. Much of this can be avoided by accounting for unexpected holdups or changes in circumstances within your project plan. By mapping this out clearly, it will also be easy to pinpoint where in the project’s cycle problems arose, so you can be better prepared for future projects.

    If you look at the numbers related to project management, it’s easy to understand where a project management plan could have a positive impact—50% of projects aren’t completed on time, and 45% of projects are over budget. A project plan can help to curtail wily overspending and late turnaround by identifying these issues early.

    Project success statistics

    A project plan can help to curtail wily overspending and late turnaround by identifying these issues early.

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    How to create a project plan in 6 steps

    There are no hard-and-fast rules for a project plan. However, we recommend you use the following six questions as a springboard for creating one.

    1. Should you start with an executive summary?

    The executive summary goes at the beginning of your project plan and should summarize the key points of the project plan. It should restate the purpose of the project plan, highlight the major points of the plan, and describe any results, conclusions, or recommendations from the project.

    Even though it is at the beginning of your project plan, it’s something you will write last, as you’ll be pulling out the main points from the rest of your plan.

    It should be no longer than a page, offering a brief overview of:

    • The project objectives and goals
    • Your chosen project methodology/framework
    • The final deliverables and acceptance criteria
    • Key scope risks and countermeasures
    • Summary of milestones
    • An overview of the project timeline and schedule-based risks
    • Resource and spending estimates

    The summary serves as a snapshot of your project and makes it easy for key stakeholders who aren’t actively involved in the mechanics of the project to understand the project..For project managers, the executive summary serves as a quick reminder of the key project goal, scope, expectations, and limitations. Since a third of projects don’t meet their original goals, it’s important that project managers review the project plan regularly to stay on track or monitor changes.

    2. What’s the scope of the project?

    There are few things worse than starting on a project only for it to balloon. By defining a project’s scope, you set the boundaries for a project’s start and end dates as well as expectations about deliverables and who approves requests—and what merits approval— throughout a project.

    Defining scope also involves outlining the potential risks associated with meeting these expectations and providing countermeasures to mitigate these risks. It should be clearly stated exactly who’s accountable for tracking these risks.

    This step will help you prevent scope creep, or how a project’s requirements tend to increase over a project lifecycle. Organizations complain that half of all their projects experience scope creep, yet only 27% of organizations go to the effort of creating a scoping document every time.

    3. How will you structure your project?

    There are several frameworks you could use to guide your project and this will affect your workflow.

    For example, if you’re using the waterfall framework, you’ll be planning everything in advance, working through each stage of development sequentially, and specialized task owners executing their work at a defined time.

    Whichever framework you choose, this section of your project plan should show how you plan to organize and assign deliverables and accountability.

    Remember that creating too many dependencies within your project structure can negatively impact success, so try to work out ways that teams can work autonomously to achieve deliverables in a timely manner. It’s also good to consider how many approvers are needed to maintain order but also to prevent bottlenecks.

    Above all else, it’s important to incorporate set times for team knowledge-sharing, so your projects can be more successful. Make a note of the communication structures you’ll use to encourage collaboration.

    4. What resources do you have available?

    Define the resources you have available for this project:

    • Team
    • Time
    • Budget
    • Technology
    • Physical resources

    You need to be precise when you’re assessing what you’ll need, otherwise you’re baking a cake with all the wrong ingredients. A resource manager or project manager can lead the charge on this.

    As an example, when teams have the right highly skilled people, projects are 30% more likely to succeed. Yet, a third of people don’t believe their teams have all the right skills for the project—a recipe for failure.

    It’s no good saying you can make do with two software developers, only to realize you’ll miss every deadline because they’re overloaded. If you want to effectively allocate your resources to meet expectations, you’ll need to be realistic about resource limitations.

    This may, for example, mean adjusting timescales if you’re short on staff or increasing your budget if you need more specialist equipment.

    5. What does your timeline look like?

    Organizations that implement time frames into project plans are 52% more likely to succeed. Despite this, 80% of projects don’t always set baseline schedules. That’s probably why 43% of organizations say they rarely or never complete successful projects on time.

    In this sense, it’s wise to add a project schedule section to your project plan. This part of your plan should set expectations on when you’ll deliver and how you’ll stick to your project timeline or calendar.

    Your project schedule will look a little different depending on which framework you choose.

    The tasks that you have a ‘Work in Progress’ (WIP) will depend on your team’s capacity. In this section, you should set your maximum number of WIPs you can have in each column at each time.

    In the case of a blog-writing project, you might have ten writers but only two editors. You’ll need to limit how many blogs get passed through to editors so they don’t get overwhelmed within your set time frame.

    6. How will you manage changes?

    Despite your best project planning efforts, you can’t always see every obstacle or diversion ahead of time.

    That’s why organizations put change control in their top 3 project challenges. If you don’t solidify a change management plan, your team will be clueless on what to do when unplanned change hits.

    A dynamic change management plan will outline the steps to follow and the person to turn to when unforeseen changes occur.

    That way, your project is far more nimble—it’s able to bend without breaking.

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    5 project planning templates to help you write a good project plan

    monday.com templates can be lifesavers when it comes to visualizing each section of your project plan, and they make it easy to get started. Try these 5 project plan templates to make your project planning process a little more straightforward.

    1. Structure your project

    Looking for a general project plan template? This Project Overview Dashboard is particularly helpful if you’re using the Waterfall framework.

    monday.com project overview dashboard

    Using this highly visual template by monday.com, you can structure your subprojects by set time periods and allocate accountable personnel to each phase.

    Prioritize each project and add a timeline to show when deliverables are expected.

    2. Plan out your resources

    Resource management is a breeze with this easy-to-use template from monday.com.

    monday.com resource management

    Use this dashboard to organize all your project resources—from your technological tools to your specialist staff members.

    You can allocate resources to individuals and tack on timescales so your staff knows what resources they’re responsible for in which phase. Adding a location makes it easy for teams to know where to hand over resources as they transition from one phase to the next—and they can check this on our mobile app.

    3. Calculate your project budget

    It’s far easier to plan a budget when you can see all your costs in one place.

    That’s why this Project Cost Management Template from monday.com is so incredibly handy.

    monday.com Project Cost Management Template

    Add each subproject and plan out projected costs, allocating totals to each department. You can use the document to estimate the budget you’ll need and to record your approved project budget. You can then use our dashboards or reports to see the information in a different, more colorful way.

    4. Sketch out your project schedule

    Plan out your schedules with this Project Timeline Template.

    monday.com Project Timeline Template

    While this dashboard isn’t really suitable if you’re working with the Kanban framework, it’s ideal for those operating under Waterfall or Scrum frameworks.

    For Waterfall projects, add in your milestones, attach a timeline, and allocate a set number of workdays to complete the tasks for each milestone.

    Tag the team leader for each phase so project managers know which milestones they’re responsible for.

    During project execution, teams can use the status bar to track progress. They can also add updates to each milestone by clicking on each item, which encourages inter-team collaboration.

    For Scrum projects, you can organize the dashboard by Sprints, adding in the specific tasks as they’re decided.

    5. Work out potential project risks

    Visualize all your project scope and schedule risks in this Program Risk Register Template.

    monday.com Program Risk Register Template

    There’s nothing better than a vivid color-coding system to highlight which items are a seriously risky business. Use color-coded status bars to illustrate risk status, risk probability, and risk impact for your project scope and schedule.

    You can even categorize risks, add a risk owner, and suggest mitigation strategies. That way other project team members know what to do if these risks start to blossom into real glitches.

    Optimize your project management plan with the right tool

    Project plans are an essential part of your team’s success.

    While they are detail-oriented and complex, creating one and managing it shouldn’t be a struggle. Use monday.com’s pre-built planning templates to help you break down each section of the plan as you go and monitor everything in real-time.

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