How to Write a Project Plan in 9 Simple Steps

Updated Nov 8, 2022.
project-plan

Before you commence any project, you need to create a project plan. Jumping into your project without a project plan with the hope of figuring out things along the way will not guarantee you the best results. You will enjoy much greater success by creating a project plan first. 

A project plan is a crucial element in the project initiation phase, the first phase of the project management life cycle. Without a project plan, your project and team will roam in multiple directions, spend more time, exhaust more resources, and ultimately fail to achieve the client’s intended goals. 

Proceeding without a project plan is one of the reasons why projects fail. However, it is not enough to have a project plan, following it up is also critical. 

In this article, you will learn the 9 high-level steps for writing a project plan and the best project management tool for optimizing your project planning. 

Let’s get started.

What is Project Planning?

Project planning is the procedure of setting the project scope, objective, and how to get a particular project done within a required timeframe. The project planning process will result in a project management plan. This is a very necessary stage in the project management life cycle

Good project planning will ensure your project runs smoothly, every step goes in the right way, and the resources for each task are always available. 

In project planning, project constraints such as costs, scope, and time are talked about. This will help to identify risks in the plan, help you monitor the team’s performance, and take the required steps to enhance it. All these make project planning important. 

Planning lets project managers bring all pieces of the project together and make it possible. A project manager has to set project objectives, identify necessary deliverables, and take steps to plan and schedule all tasks for the project.

What is a Project Plan?

A project plan, also known as a project management plan, is a document that explains how the project will be carried out, monitored, and controlled. It shows the procedure on how the team will manage the project and meet the required objectives.  

The main reason for a project plan is to identify the steps and resources it will take to carry out a project with a given budget and time. This project plan will serve as a document of reference for the team, the company, and stakeholders.  

Creating and approving the project plan at the initial stage of project planning is essential. Updating the project plan as you carry out the project helps you to solve issues arising and also improve the project.

The project plan is the backbone of every project. It answers the question of who, where, why, how, and which of the project. 

Project Plan Infographic
Source: Snowdengroup

Why Are Project Plans Important?

Project plans are essential for project success. If you want to manage multiple projects successfully, you need to set up a good project plan to coordinate your tasks and manage your time and budget.

  • Boost Project Performance and Success Rates: Many projects fail due to unclear objectives and targets, and poorly defined roles and responsibilities for the project team. With project planning, you avoid the many problems that lead to problem failure, thereby boosting the performance of your project.
  • Avoid Scope Creep: When you set up a project plan before you launch your project, you ensure your project runs well and avoid situations like scope creep. A scope creep, also known as requirement creep or kitchen sink syndrome is a situation where new plans, features, tasks, or deliverables get added after you start the project, resulting in losses and frustrations. 
  • Effective Communication: One of the top reasons why projects fail is miscommunication between the project team. A good project plan makes space for unexpected changes and ensures there are no miscommunications between the team and stakeholders. 
  • Identify Problems and Solutions: The project plan will also make you identify possible areas where problems may occur during the project and possible solutions. Some of the possible problems a project plan can help you identify are time management issues, over-budgeting, and extra costs. A project plan can prevent all these by identifying the problems early.

Project Planning: How to Write a Good Project Plan

1. Write the Executive Summary

The executive summary is written at the initial stage of your project plan and summarizes the main points of the project plan. It gives a short recap on what the project is all about, highlights the key points of the plan, resources, deadlines, describes how the result will be, how it will be concluded, and recommendations from the project.   

One of the purposes of an executive summary is to show transparency of the project to the team leaders, collaborators, and stakeholders. 

An executive summary is like an elevator pitch for a team that cannot explain in more detail what the project is all about. This is the summary of all the important things in your project. 

You give brief details of other important information they need to know in the executive summary before they even get the chance to see your project plan.  

An executive summary should be a brief of:

  • The goals and objectives of the project
  • The framework of the project
  • The project deliverables
  • The project scope risks and solutions
  • Brief of milestones
  • Resources and estimates of cost
  • An overview of the project

This snapshot will give the stakeholder who is not actively involved in the project a big picture view of the project and the key points without the need to dive into details. 

The executive summary also serves as a reference tool for project managers to remind them of the key goals and objectives, scope, and expectations.

Executive Summary Template
Source: TechnoPM

2. Identify All Stakeholders

Every project has stakeholders. These are people who are interested in the project. A project manager should be able to identify who the stakeholders are for the project. 

There are several stakeholders for a project but not all of them will have every detail of the project. The key project stakeholders include:

  • The end-users of the product
  • The organization and its leaders
  • The team working on the project
  • Your customer

Meeting with these key project stakeholders is very important to get a better understanding of what the project manager should be doing and what to expect at the final stage of the project.

3. Define Roles and Responsibilities

Define the type of skills and competencies that are necessary for running the project successfully. You will have to make a list to define roles and assign certain responsibilities to stakeholders.

Note that a role is not the same as a person. A person can have multiple roles and this will add extra work hours to the schedule of the person. Multiple people can have identical roles. Your project might need multiple software engineers.

There will be a lot of roles depending on your project needs. When defining roles and responsibilities for your project, ensure you include customer and vendor relations roles. 

4. Define the Project Scope, Budget, and Timeline

There are three essential concepts of a project plan you need to know: the project scope, the budget, and the timeline of your project.

Project Scope

The project scope is a detailed explanation of all the aspects of a project. This includes all associated activities, timelines, resources, deliverables, and project boundaries. A good project scope states the stakeholders, assumptions, and procedures, and also what the project is all about, what to add, and what not to add. 

All the necessary information is documented in a scope statement. A scope statement is a document that entails all the necessary information a stakeholder needs to understand what the project is all about, why the project started, and the goal of the project.

The project scope tells us what to do and what not to do. With the information gathered from the customers and the goal of the project discussed by the team, it states the objectives of the project. Project scope management is one of the project management knowledge areas you need to know about.

Project Scope Management Processes
Source: Simplilearn

Budget

A project list shows you the key elements, areas, or parts of your project, and how to complete it. To have a successful project, you need to have a list of resources which includes human capital, material, equipment, and also money. You need to have an estimate of what all these things will cost before deciding on the budget. 

Estimating your project costs is essential when creating a project plan. You can create a cost baseline since you have estimated your cost. This will be the guide for your project budget. 

The budget will show a detailed estimate of all the costs associated with the project from project initiation to completion. 

Large commercial projects’ budgets are always long. Such projects have a lot of costs connected with them which include operating costs, labor costs, material costs, and other miscellaneous costs which will all be accounted for. Always update your budget regularly during the project’s life cycle.

Timeline

A project timeline is a list of activities arranged in chronological order. This allows the project manager to view the whole project in one place. A project timeline shows an overview of the project’s initial stage down to the end of the project. 

You can see when a task is to start and when it will be done. It shows all the steps you need to take and the time estimate under which you can complete the project.

5. Set and Prioritize Project Goals

By prioritizing your task and setting project goals before starting a project, your project will surely come out successful. There will always be changes in the course of the project and it is necessary to adapt to the changes.

Project goals are the result you need to achieve when carrying out a project while objectives are the actions you must execute to achieve your goals. When setting up your project plan, you should be certain that you will be able to complete your objectives.

6. Define Deliverables

A single project can have a lot of deliverables. Deliverables can be the objectives of the project, can be goods and services, tasks, or procedures. It can also include documents that show the signature which signifies the commencement of the project and also the closure.   

A project consists of steps, sub-projects, activities, and lots of tasks, and each of these can have a deliverable. For a project to succeed, the first thing is to know what your final deliverable is, and how to complete the project to meet the expectation of your stakeholder.

7. Create a Detailed Project Schedule

A project schedule is a prearranged list that organizes projects, resources, tasks initial date, and due date in a well-arranged sequence so that the project can be accomplished on time. The ideal stage to create a project schedule is at the planning stage.

A detailed project schedule includes:

  • A project timeline with the dates each task will start, end dates, and milestones which is the progress where the project has gotten to.
  • The tasks required to complete the project objectives
  • The cost and resources attached to each task
  • The team members required to work on each task

You can create project schedules with project scheduling software. This software has necessary features that will allow project managers to organize, monitor, and track the progress of the task, cost allocated to each task, and resources in real-time. 

Project scheduling software allows the project manager to update the schedule when the need arises and allocate more resources.

Project schedules are necessary for creating a project plan. A project schedule is like a map that will guide the team throughout the project until it is achieved. While creating a project schedule, you need to include the following:

  • Task start and end dates
  • The deliverables
  • Project calendar
  • Task duration
  • Project timeline
  • Budgets
  • Availability of resources
  • Schedule risk analysis

Steps When Creating a Project Schedule

When creating a schedule, you can make use of a project schedule template. Doing this will provide you with examples of the different ways your schedule can look like. 

A project schedule template may not give you all the features you want. You may have to customize it to get a project suitable for your project needs. 

There are different examples of project schedule templates that can fit your use and there are also different project scheduling styles and project management tools that are associated with the scheduling process. 

Every project has its plan, resources, scope, and all other things needed to create a schedule management plan. A project management software can link the schedule into other project management tools like dashboards and reports to watch the progress and manage the work process.

When creating a project schedule, you have to follow some steps. Missing out on any of these steps will affect your project’s outcome.

  • Create a scheduling plan for your project
  • Clearly state who has authority over the schedule
  • Determine when project activities and tasks will begin and end
  • Figure out task dependencies
  • Arrange the activities and tasks in sequence to create a project calendar
  • Estimate resources required and the availability of those resources
  • Determine the days of activities and tasks
  • Build a project schedule
  • Monitor and control the project schedule throughout the project life cycle

8. Identify and Evaluate Project Risks

A risk is an uncertain event that may arise during your project life cycle. Identifying risks in a project and looking for a solution to it during the planning stage is essential. It is best to identify these risks to your problems early rather than let them hit the project unexpectedly. 

Hold a meeting to give insight about the risk to your project stakeholders and team. Risk can affect the project if not attended to. Also, it can affect the procedures, technology, people, and resources.

Risks are not issues. There are positive risks, not every risk is an issue to the project. Issues are things you know might happen and you must deal with them. For example, a spike in the demand for products before the holidays.  

You may not be able to identify risks on time. A risk can be a major product that arrives late. You have to be prepared for things like these because they are bound to happen.

The areas of risk in the product include:

  • The project scope
  • Resources
  • Project delay
  • Failures in technology
  • Communication error

There will always be one certain event or the other arising from the project but trying to identify the risk ahead of time will save you from project failure.

Risk Assessment for Projects

You need to prepare a risk assessment to have a better understanding of the risks you are likely to face and their consequences.

  • Step 1: Identify the Risks that May Arise. You need to create a list of every likely risk and the chance of overcoming them. If you are focused on just the threat, you might miss the opportunity to deliver your project. Your project team can come together to give insight on a particular problem or opportunity that may arise during the project planning process.
  • Step 2: Determine the Probability. A team member might fall sick and might affect the smooth running of the project. What are the odds that this may occur? There are certain things you need to put into consideration when assessing the risk of a project. You need to plan for whatever risk that might come up. Rate each risk you determine with high, medium, or low probability. 
  • Step 3: Determine the Effect. You should determine what will happen to your project if a risk occurs. Would your project be completed? Will the delay of one task affect the entire project? You need to create an impact analysis document to determine the rate at which the risk can affect your project’s result. You need to rate them according to the impact they may bear.

9. Draft a Project Communication Plan

A project plan is ineffective if you can not communicate it clearly to your project team and stakeholders. You need to create a solid communication medium because it is very crucial in achieving your project goal.

Drafting a communication plan that will be effective for the smooth running of your project is necessary. You need to know what your team member needs, determine who are the key players and the information that should be available to them, and create a schedule that will meet the needs of all the members associated with the project.

1. Determine Your Communication Needs

The size and scope of your project will determine your communication plan. Share information necessary for the phase of the project and your audience. There should be continuous communication through the course of the pre-production stage of the project. Communication between clients will reduce after approval of the project. 

2. Determine the Communication Goals for Your Team

Team building is necessary for the smooth running of the project. Quick and precise feedback from stakeholders is necessary. These are communication goals you need to set and achieve for good results. It is very necessary to note your goals when creating a schedule for a successful plan  

3. Create a Name for the Project and a List of Objectives

You need to have a list of objectives and have a name for the project. Checking for scope creep is important to ensure you are not wasting time and you are also giving the right update on the project. The information you are sharing must be the same as the project goals. 

4. Determine the Key Stakeholders, Clients, and Team Members

Create a list for everyone associated with the project by name and title. Ensure to note the information you are giving out to each individual and the mode in which you are sending the information.

5. Merge All the Information into a Single Document

This document contains your communication plan that you will share with the team associated with the project. 

Project Communication Plan Methodology
Source: ResearchGate

Simple Project Plan Examples

If you are writing a project plan for the first time or for a specific use case you are not familiar with, you might struggle to create one that best suits that need. A simple solution is to use simple project plan examples for inspiration.

1. Construction Project Plan

Building a house or any structure requires coordination of the building team and materials. Planning is critical for building a successful structure.

Construction Project Plan
Source: InstaGantt

2. Agile Project Plan

Agile is arguably one of the most popular project management frameworks for planning, managing, and executing projects. You can plan and track Agile sprints with Gantt charts or use Kanban boards to manage your daily workflow.  

Agile Project Plan
Source: Smartsheet

3. Marketing Project Plan

Planning is integral to the success of any marketing project. Knowing how to write a good marketing project plan is not the easiest of tasks. You can simplify the process and swiftly move from the planning stage to the execution stage with templates. 

Marketing Project Plan
Source: TemplateLab

4. Design & Creative Project Plan

When creativity starts to flow, you can easily get tempted to run along with the project without creating or following a project plan. If you move along this line, you can put the entire project at the risk of problems including project failure.

To simplify project planning for your design and creative projects, you can use design and creative project plan templates.

Design & Creative Project Plan
Source: Asana

5. Event Planning and Management Project Plan

As an event planner, there are lots of details you have to do such as planning and organizing the event and ensuring the event runs according to plan on the D-day. 

Whether you are organizing a small event or a large conference, event planning and project management project plan templates is just what you need to stay organized.

6. Software Development Project Plan

When you get a software development project to do, the first step is not to start executing the project but to create a project plan. Software development project plan templates help software developers and project managers to deliver successful projects for their clients.

Software Project Plan Template
Source: Smartsheet

Optimize Project Planning with the Right Project Management Tool

Project plans are essential for successful projects. A successful project management plan refers to the organization and coordination of all the activities, tasks, and resources involved in the project. 

Although project plans may be complex and detail-oriented, the medium you use to create and track your project plans can make the process easier to create and follow. 

Using spreadsheets to create your project plans can be tedious and inefficient. A better alternative is to use project management tools.

Visual project management software can simplify your project planning and help you break down every section of your project plan for easy monitoring in real-time. These project management software provide project planning templates you can customize to create excellent project management plans for your specific needs.

Optimizing project planning with the right project management tool provides transparency across all the phases of your project management life cycle. Apart from this, you also enjoy rich project management features that help you manage your projects efficiently. 

Good project management tools facilitate effective communication with all stakeholders involved in the project, help you perform tasks quickly, manage all your projects from one central dashboard, track key metrics, and generate reports on-demand.

You can overcome many of the project management challenges you face by combining a good project plan with an efficient project management software tool.

Here are some of the best use cases of leading project management tools with project planning features. 

After finding one or more suitable project management software tools for your project planning needs, try out the free versions or trial plans first. These free plans will show you practically how their features work and let you know if you are making the right choice or not with costing you a dime.

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Martin Luenendonk

Editor at FounderJar

Martin loves entrepreneurship and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs by validating the business idea, finding scalable customer acquisition channels, and building a data-driven organization. During his time working in investment banking, tech startups, and industry-leading companies he gained extensive knowledge in using different software tools to optimize business processes.

This insights and his love for researching SaaS products enables him to provide in-depth, fact-based software reviews to enable software buyers make better decisions.