6 steps to writing the perfect project plan

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Here’s an important detail about any project’s plans — they won’t necessarily prevent things from going wrong. Even the most elaborate project plan can fall apart. All it takes is a stroke of bad luck or an unforeseen crisis and you are off course.

So why write project plans?

It’s simple: the real value of a project plan lies in its ability to detect high-level deviations as they occur. With a project plan in place, you’ll be able to identify and respond to unplanned changes before they get out of control.In addition, a well-written project management plan sets out project expectations.

That way, you, your customers, your team, and any other key stakeholders will remain aligned throughout the project lifecycle. Want to better understand how to get started? Follow this step-by-step guide on how to write a project plan and the best project management tools to use to simplify each step of the process.

What is a project plan?

First of all, don’t confuse the project plan with the project schedule. Scheduling is just one aspect of your plan. Your project plan is a formal document that describes the entire project. It’s like a Sherpa leading his project up the mountain—he points out the way forward and who’s in control.

A project plan will define the goal of your project, along with the milestones needed to achieve it. According to most management methodologies, it must consider the resources that will be used, the planned schedule and the deliveries of each stage.

In short, your project plan defines, organizes, prioritizes, and assigns activities and resources throughout the project.For those who want to implement more agile project management structures, this project plan template may seem a little rigid.But really, it only exists to act as a guide that keeps you on the right path.

More than half of all projects experience scope creep. It is at this point that the team ends up working more than originally planned.Basically, by outlining your expectations and intentions for the project’s goals, deadlines, and budgets, you can identify the moments when things start to go wrong.

50% of projects are not completed on time and 45% end up over budget.

A project plan can help reduce overspending and missed deadlines by identifying these issues early.

How to create a project plan easily

There are no hard and fast rules for a project plan. It can be simple or complex, depending on your needs. Some organizations create a simple project plan on a whiteboard or cover it briefly in 1 or 2 pages. Others go into all the details of how the project will be executed. If you want to create a comprehensive project plan that covers all angles, answer these 6 questions:

1. Is it necessary to start with an executive summary?

The executive summary should be at the beginning of your project plan, summarizing the entire document. Although it’s at the beginning, it’s a good idea to write it last so you can extract the main points from your plan.It should be no more than one page, offering a brief overview of the following items:

  • Project’s goal
  • Methodology / chosen project structure
  • Final deliveries and acceptance criteria
  • Key scope risks and countermeasures
  • Summary of milestones
  • An overview of the project timeline and the risks associated with the schedule
  • Estimates of resources and expenses

The table of contents serves as a snapshot of your project.

With it, stakeholders who are not actively involved in the mechanics of the project can easily understand how the project will work. For project managers, the executive summary serves as a quick reminder of the main objective, scope, expectations, and limitations of the project.

Since a third of projects don’t achieve their original goals, it’s important that project managers review the plan regularly so they can stay on track or monitor changes. The executive summary helps them do this quickly, without having to read it all over again.

2. What is the project scope?

There are few things worse than starting a project only to see it swell.

Project scope sets boundaries. It defines when the project starts and ends, along with expectations for its deliverables. You need to ensure that everyone involved is aligned on what is included within the scope of the project and what is not.

You will also need to delve into the acceptance criteria for deliverables. This means specifying who approves the results and what the process is for those approvals. Always remember to be prepared. Outline the potential risks associated with meeting these expectations s and establish countermeasures to mitigate them. Define exactly who is responsible for tracking these risks. Organizations complain that half all of their projects have scope distortion, but only 27% care about creating a scope document.

Learn from these failures — create a comprehensive scope for each project.