What is a project plan?
If you’re asking, then you’re probably staring down a mountain of work or a complex problem that you are not entirely sure how to tackle.
Navigating without a project plan is akin to wandering around in the dark. Your team will feel disconnected and unsure of their priorities. Simultaneously, deliverables will feel unclear, and management will plan on a day-to-day basis instead of weeks or months ahead.
You’re basically on the defense every day, reacting to what the team and stakeholders throw at you. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a proper project plan, you can always be on the offense.
Whether you’re new to project management or a seasoned veteran, we’re here to help you make the most of your project planning needs. In this article, we’ll provide a complete answer, address some common follow-up questions, and provide tips to help get your project plan off the ground.
What is a project plan?
A project plan clearly outlines all work in a project and which team members will be assigned tasks.
The Standard for Project Management and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) says that a complete project plan contains:
- Scope management
- Requirements management
- Schedule management
- Financial management
- Quality management
- Resource management
- Stakeholder management
- Communications management
- Project change management
- Risk management
Professional project plans will also typically include a statement of work, project schedule, risk plan, and a work breakdown structure (WBS).
With monday.com, you can leap into framing our your project plan with one of our project management templates:
The project planning template is pre-made to help you:
- Determine your problem and its organizational impact
- Define goals and objectives
- Outline project performance desires
- Set major project milestones
- Identify key stakeholder groups
- Run a cost-benefit analysis
Besides the effective and easy-to-use project plan template, monday.com also provides real-time project oversight and goal visualization so that you can easily make data-driven decisions from real project insights.
Built-in collaboration features make it easy for project managers, project sponsors, and team members to stay in alignment regarding the project scope, project roadmap, and project timeline.
What are some common mistakes people make when creating a project plan?
A major misconception is that agile project management doesn’t need a project plan, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
By definition, agile is constantly in flux, since it doesn’t follow a linear path. However, that doesn’t mean an agreed-upon foundation and baseline strategy shouldn’t exist before launching your strategy.
Agile requires a reimagining to encompass a project plan that is more of a living breathing methodology. One that defines and documents the project vision, assigns team members, provides high-level budget estimates, and creates project scope.
Ultimately, the main difference is that agile projects do high-level planning and only plan for the initial sprint.
Even the most complex project plans should be able to answer the following questions:
- Why is this project sponsored?
- What are the project’s deliverables?
- Who is involved with the project, and what are their responsibilities?
- When is the project’s estimated completion date, and what are its milestones?
What are the steps to creating a project plan?
Proper planning isn’t particularly difficult, but it does take time. It’s also not a one-time task that you can set and forget. A project plan is a living, breathing thing that is continuously in flux and needs refining, so it stays on trajectory.
A successful project plan is one full of transparency, and the best way to ensure that your team feels invested is to share it as you create it. Building a project plan in a silo won’t do anyone any good.
The steps below will act as your guide:
Step 1: identify the key stakeholders and get their buy-in
A stakeholder is often the company and its leaders, your customers, and the team working on the project alongside you. On some projects, a stakeholder can also be someone from the community or an individual that’ll be affected by the project’s completion.
Your project’s primary stakeholders require satisfaction, or you’ll encounter roadblocks and micromanagement every step of the way. To avoid that, you’ll want to determine their overall strategy and where this project fits into their long-term goals.
It’s best to include them in the process from the beginning, share your vision, and make them believe in your team’s ability to deliver.
Step 2: define the project’s goals, scope, budget, and timeline
Here’s where you answer questions like…
- What do the end results look like?
- What are the deliverables?
- What resources are required?
Essentially, you’re creating a project roadmap that provides a strategic overview of your project’s major elements. It will likely include objectives, deliverables, milestones, resources, and a reasonable project timeline.
Where a project roadmap differs from a project plan is that a roadmap represents a high-level strategic view only. The project plan has greater detail and shows the day-to-day tasks everyone’s working on. It’s at this step that you’ll also discuss project scope and budget planning.
Step 3: construct a detailed project schedule
You’ve got a rough project timeline, and now it’s time to schedule out the project from front to back.
The project planning process should ensure that there’s plenty of flexibility built-in. For instance, if a project task takes 3 hours on average, then allot 4 hours, so there’s room to breathe if priorities shift midway.
One of the key components to creating a detailed project schedule is the ability to prioritize tasks.
Task prioritization comes in a variety of forms, from developing a WBS to deciding on a logic framework. Using hard logic is highly advisable, so all your tasks follow a linear path. Hard logic simply means there are valid links between activities and that you’re doing them in the right order.
Step 4: define roles and divvy out responsibilities
Who’s responsible for what? It’s an important question. One you can only answer by defining roles, setting responsibilities, and creating clear ownership for key tasks.
Ideally, your project team will know the essential details of your project plan, key milestones, and a deliverable schedule. Take bandwidth into consideration as well, since your project team is often concurrently working on other projects.
As you define roles, it’s also a great idea to discuss what communication channels are in place and how everyone is expected to use them.
Step 5: craft a contingency plan
What do you do when things aren’t going as planned?
No, don’t panic.
Instead, ask how you and the project team can identify problems as they arise.
Every project will throw you a few curveballs, which is why building contingency plans, giving yourself wiggle room in the schedule, and planning for potential setbacks are so crucial.
Everything from upcoming vacations to market conditions and resource constraints should be on the table. The more transparent a potential risk is, and the more clear your communication plan is, the more likely you’ll handle them effectively.
“What is a project plan?” isn’t your only question, so we’re answering a couple more:
Any first-class project management plan is going to feel a bit confusing at first. It’s full of moving pieces and somewhat complicated terminology. We’re going to help you make sense of it:
What questions does a project plan answer?
The answers are seemingly endless, but some of the major answers you’ll get are:
- What’s the current status of the project?
- What are the activities in each phase?
- What are the activity’s start and end dates?
- Are we under budget, over budget, or right on track?
- When can the stakeholders expect delivery?
- What exactly is the deliverable?
- How will it be delivered?
What’s the best project planning software?
Hands down, it’s monday.com.
Are you surprised we gave ourselves the crown?
Don’t be, Capterra has us at the top of their list too.
monday.com stands above the competition for a lot of reasons:
- The dashboards are highly customizable with dozens of custom column types. The automations make the day-to-day tasks and reporting easy as ever.
- Onboarding is insanely easy thanks to the sleek user-interface (UI) and simple drag-and-drop navigation that make navigating super simple.
- Transparency is at the heart of everything, thanks to in-app messaging, tagging, and real-time dashboards.
- 8 unique data visualizations, including the option for a Gantt chart or Kanban board that let you transform your data to fit your reporting needs.
When creating project plans, the last thing you want is some clunky software that takes hours or even days to learn. monday.com has hundreds of templates and 24/7 support, so you’re not wasting any precious time.
As we conclude, it’s important to remember that the project plan is only as strong as your team’s communication. Don’t rest the success of your project plan on spreadsheets and email. Instead, invest in your project plan’s success with monday.com.