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Create a project plan: How to lay the foundation for your project success



SUMMARY


The project plan (also called the project management plan) is practically the foundation of every project. The document bundles all the plans that are necessary for successful project implementation. It is a roadmap that the project manager draws up at the beginning of the process and which - depending on the requirements - can be more or less detailed.



CONTENT

  • What is a project plan?

  • Why you should create a project plan

  • 7 guiding questions for creating a project plan

  • Which tools can you use to create a project plan?

  • Conclusion


WHAT IS A PROJECT PLAN?


Every project should be implemented on the basis of a project plan. However, there is no consensus in project management practice about which documents are actually meant by this term. Very different planning tools are often referred to as project plans:


  • Work breakdown structure: It provides a breakdown of the tasks to be completed into sub-projects and work packages.

  • Project schedule: It defines the time schedule of the project - with start and end dates for individual work packages.

  • Project management plan: It combines the work breakdown structure, project schedule and all other necessary project documents


The PMBOK Guide (Project Management Body of Knowledge), an internationally used guideline for project management, now only uses the term "project management plan" instead of the previously used term "project plan" to avoid confusion of terms.


The project management plan includes different numbers of documents depending on the scope of the project. However, the following documents should be included as a minimum:


  • Work breakdown structure

  • Project schedule

  • Cost plan

  • Resource plan


For more complex projects, additional plans can be added - for example, for risk management, quality management and configuration management.



WHY YOU SHOULD CREATE A PROJECT PLAN


Creating a project plan in advance is recommended for projects of almost any size. This is because when you create a project plan, you automatically deal with the question of how you can achieve the project goal as risk-free as possible in the shortest possible time and with the fewest possible resources. In addition, you anticipate possible problems during the planning phase and come up with possible solutions. This allows you to react quickly if problems actually arise during implementation.


The document can also be used to inform clients and project partners. With a written plan, they get an overview of the individual work steps and can check whether the plan takes all their wishes into account. If this is not the case, you can still adjust the planning in time before the actual project implementation has begun.


As a rule, a project plan is approved in advance by the project partners and thus serves as a binding basis for further action. Accordingly, it must be prepared at the beginning of the planning phase.


The written plan also serves as a working tool for the project manager, helping him or her not to lose focus during the project and to meet deadlines and budgets.


The plan should be so detailed that the project manager could easily hand over his or her job to a new project manager with this document. However, in order for the new project manager to get a quick overview, it should not be packed with too much secondary information. The rule of thumb is: as detailed as necessary, as short as possible.



7 GUIDING QUESTIONS FOR DRAWING UP A PROJECT PLAN


It is not necessary for every project to create numerous different parts of documentation. For smaller projects, it is often sufficient to record answers to the following 7 guiding questions in advance:


  1. Where do you stand in the project: What is the initial situation and what information do you possibly still need in order to be able to assess it comprehensively?

  2. What is the market benefit of the project and when can the return on investment (ROI) be expected?

  3. What is the intended project outcome: What is the main purpose of the project? What should be the end result?

  4. Who is involved in the project: Who are the stakeholders? Who should be active in the project team and what roles should each team member play?

  5. How do you want to structure the project: What tasks need to be completed? How can the project be divided into work packages and sub-projects? What risks exist in the individual areas and how can these risks be mitigated?

  6. By when should the project goal be achieved? By when must the individual project phases be completed so that the project can be managed within the planned time frame?

  7. How much may the project cost: What resources are available and how should they be distributed among the individual work packages?


If you want to create individual plans for the various sub-aspects of your project, you can use our templates, which we provide, for example, for the work breakdown structure and the project schedule.


The most frequently used instruments for presenting a project schedule include the network plan, the milestone plan and the Gantt chart.



WHAT TOOLS CAN YOU USE TO CREATE A PROJECT PLAN?


A simple project plan that only briefly answers the guiding questions above can easily be created without complex software using a table in Excel or any other spreadsheet software.


For more extensive planning, you can use special project management software such as MS Project or online tools such as Smartsheet, Trello or Wrike to create the individual documents.



CONCLUSION

A good project plan does not necessarily have to be extensive. What is decisive for its quality is that it covers the most important aspects of project planning and provides orientation as to when which project phases need to start.


To ensure that implementation goes as smoothly as possible, a kick-off meeting with the project team should take place in advance. As the project manager, use this meeting to convey the essential project information to each team member, define responsibilities and jointly select methods and tools for implementation. Because the best project plan is of no use if it is not implemented in a meaningful way.

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