A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Project Plan

With all the stakeholders, processes, and deadlines that impact project management, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and lose sight of the objectives — unless you have a project plan. Without a project plan, it’s difficult to answer even basic questions like how much each phase of a project will cost, how long it will take, and what the exact deliverables are. With a project plan, all these key factors are determined in advance to streamline processes, making projects efficient and cost-effective.

A project plan must account for all the parties involved and their individual and collective concerns. It also tackles some of the major areas of project management like risk management, project scope, and scheduling. Whether you’re familiar with these concepts or just getting started, read on to learn about the fundamentals of a project plan, what it entails, and the best way to go about it.

What is a project plan?

A project plan documents and defines a project’s objective, scope, and implementation strategy. It provides all the logistics about who’s working on which step of a project, where, how, and when things will be finished while detailing what the project is about and why.

The various project planning steps cover the different phases the project will encompass and serve as a roadmap for getting them done. They provide an overview of the project and include the particulars for managing risk, communication, resources, quality assurance, and other pertinent factors.

This part of the project planning process should involve several different stakeholders, including those who finance the different phases of the project as well as those who’ll be using or benefiting from it once it’s finished. Employees who perform the different project planning steps should be involved, in addition to any employees whose daily operations are affected by the work to complete a project.

Why is a project plan important?

Project plans provide transparency and accountability about the important aspects of a project, from its cost to its due date. Additionally, there are several risks organizations incur if they don’t use a project plan outline before starting this work, just as there are several benefits to using one before beginning projects.

Risks include things like scope creep, in which the scope of the project increases after it begins. Scope creep makes it difficult to finish projects, maintain schedules, and adhere to defined budgets.

Escalating costs is another real risk of not using a project plan. If you don’t determine in advance how much funding you need for training new hires, it’s easy for costs to spiral. Without a project plan, a business runs the risk of not realizing interdependencies. For example, it’s important to see how dedicating IT to building new software might affect its ability to help business users. 

Benefits of a project plan include:

  • Forecasting: Planning each phase of a project lets managers identify who’s best for which tasks and what resources they need to fulfill them. For example, construction firms can determine which personnel is needed for which jobs and what equipment they’ll need so they can work on multiple sites or jobs at a time.
  • Milestones: The project planning process includes establishing milestones and specific times in which they’ll be achieved. If a company begins a virtual desktop project to support remote work, for example, milestones would include exactly when the cloud infrastructure, architecture, and IT configurations would be in place to finish this project.
  • Updates: Listing all the steps in a project management plan is ideal for monitoring each of these activities and providing updates to stakeholders about progress. For instance, if companies are undergoing a digital transformation project to automate key human resource tasks like new employee recruitment, selection, and onboarding, project plans provide a blueprint about what should be happening to update parties about progress.
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Essential elements of a project plan

A professional project management plan includes detailed information so organizations can realize benefits and mitigate risks. The most important elements of a project plan include:

  • Project phases: Articulating a project’s many phases provides structure and order to the project. Each stage is a major part of the project that stakeholders can look at to see what needs to happen for them to go forward to the next stage or completion.
  • Activities: Activities are the specific jobs that must be done to move a project through its various phases. It’s necessary to plan in advance what each task requires. Specifying the different jobs in a project planning process provides detailed insight into what is needed to accomplish the project’s goals.
  • Activity interdependencies: It is crucial to assess and plan for interdependencies among various jobs in project phases. The project leader must account for interdependencies when sequencing, scheduling, and finishing tasks to efficiently complete them efficiently. Some activities require more resources or take more time than others, so it’s critical to know how one task will affect the others.
  • Beginning and ending dates: Outlining when specific activities will start and end is crucial for expending these activities, paying the appropriate parties or vendors, and determining realistic deadlines for completing projects. It’s also useful for updating stakeholders about progress.
  • Milestones: Milestones provide discrete, time-sensitive goals toward which the project team can work. These provide “low hanging fruit” for demonstrating to stakeholders that things are moving forward as expected. They also are a way to acknowledge small victories that help to boost morale, interest, and project engagement.

How to create a project plan?

There are several steps to creating a high-level project plan in order to get projects scheduled, implemented, and finished in a timely manner. The most vital steps include:

1. Creating definitions

Create the definitions for key factors like scope, deliverables, stakeholders, requirements, quality metrics, and success criteria. Supporting documents — such as a statement of work and project charter — are helpful for ascertaining this information. This should be a time-consuming part of the plan because you don’t want to overlook anything. For example, it’s important to see how an IT project will impact all those involved with it, including stakeholders like business users and upper-level management supporting it.

2. Formalize the project team

Next, you’ll want to organize the various team members to support the plan’s scope and the various phases involved. Give team members responsibilities according to their respective roles. For example, you can organize the participants in an artificial intelligence project according to the end users, stakeholders, data scientists, IT teams, data engineers, and so forth. Most importantly, explain exactly what they’ll do in the project. 

3. Risk assessment

This part of the project management plan involves the identification of any risks to which the organization may be exposed as part of this project. Remember to create deliverables for specific people who will monitor each individual risk. For example, when evaluating the risks of moving important HR processes to the cloud, have team members evaluate how each phase of the process affects HR, finance, other business units, and the organization itself to ensure things like data security are preserved.

4. Resource identification

This project planning step focuses on listing the various resources required for a project. These resources directly related to cost. In fact, after listing different resources like contractors, infrastructure, salaries, and tools for a project to downsize office space, for example, it’s then necessary to give an estimate of the cost of each of these concerns.

5. Additional logistics

This is one of the final parts of the project plan because it ties together any loose ends. Specifically, it creates a plan for outlining the budget (both overall and for individual phases), determining how different participants will communicate, and finalizing the specific schedule for each aspect of the project. There should be defined mechanisms for how data governance personnel communicate with HR when shifting sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) to the cloud, for example.   

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Techniques for managing successful project plans

There are different techniques people use to create productive project plans. Some of these involve specific resources or documents, while others are based on subject matter expertise.

Work breakdown structure

A work breakdown structure document is an effective tool for separating the overall project into its different stages and activities, as well as for assigning work packages, subprojects, and deliverables. When automating accounting or HR processes with Robotic Process Automation, for example, a work breakdown structure would indicate what exactly these departments (in addition to IT teams, data governance and compliance personnel, and upper-level management) need to do to make this work.

Feasibility study

Another technique for optimizing the value from project plans is to begin with a feasibility study, which is a means of determining the potential benefits and drawbacks of a project to see if it should move forward. By evaluating factors like cost, time-to-value, change management, and others, companies can understand if a project like upgrading their IT infrastructure with cloud-native approaches is truly beneficial.

Regular meetings

Regular meetings are important for keeping everyone involved in a project’s progress and ensuring things stay on schedule. It’s a good idea to commence work on the project — the implementation or execution phase — with a project-wide meeting to create enthusiasm for it and inform everyone of key goals. There should also be regular meetings for status reports and updates.

Top 5 questions for creating a project plan

The top five project questions are helpful for creating the key definitions early on in formulating project plans. Those include:

WHYTo understand the project’s justification and goals
WHATTo assess its activities and deliverables
WHOTo outline stakeholders involved
HOWTo uncover the overall process, phases, and subphases
WHENTo establish dependencies and deadlines

For example, asking these questions about investing in a new data governance solution to comply with PII regulations will provide important information on which to base the project plan.

How business process management can help

Business process management (BPM) software can elevate and optimize all aspects of the project planning process, from initial brainstorming to implementation. It delivers a number of benefits to help organizations improve these steps, including:

  • Automation: No-code BPM software can automate many of the crucial project planning steps and put them into action. Specifically, they can automate aspects of allocating resources, developing schedules, estimating costs, and managing teams. Using them is more effective than using manual approaches for these tasks, especially for large projects.
  • Monitoring: BPM solutions utilize reporting and dashboarding tools with drill down capabilities to understand — in a single view — both high level and nuanced details of the latest project developments. There are also modules for monitoring cost and resource consumption.
  • Collaboration: No-code BPM software supports collaborations, whether on-site or distributed in remote locations. It enables teams to communicate, see how things are going for specific activities or phases of a project, and work together no matter how separate their jobs in a project might be.
  • Saving time: Businesses can save a significant amount of time implementing projects when they use BPM software. From scheduling, to plotting dependencies among tasks, these no-code tools allow businesses to focus on meaningful action that helps move projects to completion.

How to create a project plan with Pipefy

When you use no-code BPM software from Pipefy for project management, you’ll meet deadlines and stay on schedule, without wasting time on manual and repetitive tasks. 

Standardize tasks, automate work, receive requests for new projects, and visualize them from end-to-end without the hassle of toggling between tools. And, if your project has connections with other projects or processes, centralize all of them in a portal, and add categories, documents, and links, so stakeholders have everything they need on a single page.

With Pipefy, you can: 

  • Set due dates and SLAs for each phase of the project. Deadlines are visible and everyone stays on track.
  • Include conditional and mandatory fields, send automatic email notifications, and attach new files every step of the way.
  • Use a Kanban or calendar view to see the whole project and tackle bottlenecks before they become a problem.
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