Organizations worldwide collectively lose $1 million every 20 seconds due to poor project management practices (Business Wire, 2018). And one solution that has been found to have a great impact on curbing this and ensuring project success is planning (Magassouba and Al-Thunibat, 2020). Having a project plan allows you to have a roadmap that details the sequence of activities and methodologies that will be used to facilitate the execution and completion of a project. So, it is critical for professionals to know how to write a project plan.
Writing a project plan, or more appropriately known in the industry as the project management plan, entails a lot of research and communication with stakeholders. As the first point of reference in project management, this should be easily understood even by someone who has no prior knowledge of a project. Moreover, the plan should present the context and scope of a project, including the activities that would lead to its completion.
This guide will identify the essential components of a project management plan and provide a guide on how to write a project plan. The discussion also covers the importance as well as the advantages of writing a project plan.
A project plan is a formal and dynamic document that describes the execution, monitoring, and control of a project. It is a guide that contains a series of steps that describes how to achieve a specific set of goals for a particular project. It could also detail the specific activities to be assigned to team members in order to complete a project.
Aside from the abovementioned, the project plan should evolve with the progress of a project. Meaning, it must be continually updated to reflect the various changes and adjustments based on decisions made by stakeholders.
The Association for Project Management (2021) identifies project planning and review as the top factor that influences project success, which also includes goals and objectives, effective governance, competent project teams, and commitment to project success.
Planning is the most critical step in project management. This preliminary activity helps define the goals and scope of a project and identifies the needed resources to get the project done. In determining milestones, the timeline and schedule are properly laid out.
The ability to determine these factors early on has been proven important during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the unclear economic conditions and time horizons, the crisis has made project planning more challenging. The high degree of uncertainty requires organizations to create new approaches in planning and performance management (Agrawal et al., 2020).
In their paper “Assessing the Influence of Project Success Factors (PSFs) on Project Performance among Organizations,” Magassouba and Al-Thunibat (2020) underscored the importance of having a project plan to the project outcome. Published in the Global Journal of Management and Business Research, the authors “found a positive impact of PSFs, namely, project planning and top management support on project success. The empirical review concludes that project planning and top management support have a significant influence on successful projects. The findings are significant in providing more detailed information regarding the concept of successful project management.”
A good project plan provides a clearly stated project context. The document should also define the objectives, scope, as well as constraints. Other essential elements include dependencies and impacts, issues and risks, methodologies and strategies, the corresponding controls, communications management plan, schedule of deliverables, and performance measurement system. The person reading the project plan should be able to understand the purpose of the project, and how it relates to the whole organization.
Source: PMI Pulse 2020
Writing a project plan enables the team to have an organized approach to project management. To undertake a project without a written project plan could lead to inefficiencies, which can be harmful to the entire organization and its stakeholders. For instance, in 2018 alone, 48% of projects were not completed on time due to poor management (Business Wire, 2018). Aside from having a clear guide to navigating the project, there are other benefits to having a well-written project plan, such as:
Since the project plan contains a clear and detailed description of each stage of the project, this ensures that all team members are working on the same page and towards the same goal.
The main purpose of a project plan is to promote efficiency so as not to waste valuable resources. Having a written project plan reminds the team of important milestones, as well as the day-to-day activities that need to be accomplished.
In writing the project plan, you will need to identify any event or circumstance that might negatively affect the project. This enables the team to anticipate those events and have concrete steps to tackle the challenges. The project plan enumerates backup work structures that can be automatically mobilized once needed.
Before you can sit down and write the project plan, you have to gather all the necessary information by conducting research and consulting with all the stakeholders, and also with your team members. You should have identified the why, what, who, and when of the project. Knowing the answers to the following questions will provide clarity as you write the project plan.
Asking these questions will identify the main goal and the scope of the project, the required resources, the management and control system for the tasks identified, and the timeline for the entire project. In writing the project plan, you also need to determine the structure. Because a project plan has many elements, there is a tendency for the document to stretch well over a hundred pages. This is the reason why having a clear outline is important as it would give you the chance to evaluate if the topics are arranged in a logical order. This will also ensure that your readers can easily navigate the document.
If you try searching on the web for instructions on how to write a project plan, templates abound, with various structures and designs to boot. In writing your project plan, however, you will also be able to develop your own templates. At first, you may find it difficult to gauge the appropriate level of detail that you have to include in the document. Keep in mind the expectations of your audience to determine the relevant information that you need to include in the project plan. Avoid adding unnecessary information. Cross-referencing is recommended to keep each section short and concise.
Once you have all the answers to these questions, then you can proceed with writing the project plan.
This part of the project plan identifies the scope by providing a scope statement. Clearly define what the project is, and what it is not. Most documents put the scope on a table format to facilitate easy reference. Knowing the scope of the project will keep team members focused. It is important for team members and stakeholders to have a clear understanding of the scope of the project to manage expectations.
The next step is to make a list of all deliverables, the description of each activity, and the corresponding delivery date. For this purpose, you may use the Gantt Chart. Break down major activities into smaller tasks. Breaking down the project into smaller and more manageable deliverables will facilitate the allocation of resources to different parts of the project while at the same time maximizing the skills of team members. Keep in mind that more than the schedule, your ultimate objective is for all team members to have a clear understanding of the tasks that make up the project.
Identify the milestones by dividing the project into simpler and more achievable segments. Treat each milestone as a separate project, just ensure that they are closely tied to the project timeline, the tasks, and the goal. Include in your timeline specific points by which to generate a status report for all ongoing activities. This will help you measure the progress of the project and adjust the timeline as needed.
Identify all the people involved in the project, describe how they are connected to the project, their specific roles and responsibilities, and add all important information to serve as a reference to all team members. In sequencing the activities, schedule as many things as possible in parallel to shorten the project completion time and save on resources.
Plot the sequence as well as dependencies to provide team members with a clear roadmap. One method to maximize resources is to identify the key persons that know how to get specific tasks done, those that have the skill level that fits each activity in the project plan. Depending on the scope and level of complexity of the project, determine the areas that require high-level, mid-level, or entry-level skills.
In doing this, you will be able to determine the sequence of activities based on the skill levels of team members. Your timeline will be realistic because you have an estimate of how long each activity would take and how much each activity would cost. Do not forget to check the individual schedules of the team members to avoid unexpected delays.
Source: PMI Pulse 2020
This part includes manpower requirements with the corresponding roles and responsibilities. Identify the project management software that the team will use, the corresponding equipment, and additional space if needed. It is important to include all stakeholders, both internal and external.
For each deliverable, milestone, or task, identify the required budget and resources. Providing a rough estimate would suffice as you will be able to refine the figures later on when you get the feedback of the stakeholders. Again, presenting these details—resource, milestone or task, and resource allotment—in a table format will facilitate easier reference.
Check if you have all the needed resources available, otherwise, identify ways to source them.
Every project plan should include a section that identifies possible risks that team members might encounter. These risks can be technical, management, or other external factors. A good project plan lists down the possible risks in each of these areas and provides steps to respond to each situation. To do this, you may look at historical data, or ask the stakeholders to identify possible roadblocks.
Once you have your data and determine the potential risks and problems you may encounter, you should develop a contingency plan. Preparedness will ensure that the team is ready to overcome any challenges, with minimal disruption to the entire project operations.
The risk management section of the project plan should describe the steps on how risks will be identified, analyzed, monitored, controlled, and reported. This section should also include the name of the persons assigned to manage risks and their corresponding responsibilities should project roadblocks be encountered.
Once you have the project management plan ready, review the document one last time to ensure that you are submitting a concise and logical plan. The entire project plan should be aligned with the identified objectives and the project scope. It would be helpful to include an integrated scope-schedule-cost baseline for the project, which will serve as a control tool in measuring and managing performance. These baselines can be established through status reports within project management software applications. Also, include a document revision history to keep a record of changes in the document.
The following are simple project plan examples. Depending on the nature of your project, you may add or omit some parts of the project plan. A simple project plan consists of the project overview, the project timeframe, and the list of team members with corresponding responsibilities.
The project overview should give the reader an idea of the purpose of the project.
The project scope should clearly identify which activities are included and excluded in the project.
The project timeline should clearly convey the key deliverables and the corresponding due dates.
This is a sample list of the roles and responsibilities of each team member. In this example, only the main task is displayed. Project plans should include complete details of each main activity, which can be integrated into the Gantt Chart.
Learning how to write a project plan may be a daunting task, but as discussed in this article, the role of a project plan is crucial to the success of any project. By identifying the specific goals of a project and the corresponding boundaries, you and your team can make your activities more targeted and focused. The specific roles and responsibilities of team members contribute towards maximizing resources and minimizing costs.
The clarity provided by a project plan helps each team member to stay focused on tasks, and identify possible risks along the way. Just as there are many methods of project management, there is a wealth of project management plan templates and apps that you can use online, choose one that fits your project requirements. When you take the time to write down the crucial details of your project, you will have already started the path to successful completion.