Best Practices

Project Planning: How to Create a Project Plan (Example Included)

Jonathan Friedman
March 13, 2021
Project Planning: How to Create a Project Plan (Example Included)

Are you looking to better understanding project planning or how to create a project plan? Or, are you looking for a project plan example?

Then you've come to the right place.

Did you know that only two percent of companies can say they complete one hundred percent of their projects on time and under budget? And that the majority of those surveyed said the number one reason was poor project planning.

If you've ever had problems completing projects on time, then you can understand why this statement is true. Unfortunately, poor estimates leading to missed deadlines are all too familiar in today's business environment. 

But don't worry, we've got you covered, so you never again have to call a client, or your boss, to ask for more time or money to complete your next project.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about project management and plan your next project for ultimate success properly.

Below is everything we will cover. Feel free to skip ahead.

What is project planning?

At its base, project planning breaks down large projects into a more manageable size and scope. The project planner is tasked with breaking down a large undertaking and ensuring that your company completes that project on time and within budget. 

It doesn't matter whether your next project involves building a large skyscraper or pulling off a nonprofit fundraiser for protected animals. Project planning encompasses any project, large or small, so that you can provide a better deliverable to your client or for your company. 

Yes, working in an agile environment is essential, and you need to be open to change. However, if you want to meet your deadlines and deliver quality products, you need a plan. 

Some plans can be intricate and as detailed as you want. But at the core, what you need to map out before you can get started on your next project includes: 

You need to know precisely what will be delivered and by what date. You need to know your budget and who will be working with you on your team. If you don't take the time to establish your plan before you start, you will find yourself working too many late nights and then explaining to the client why you need more time and more money again. 

Who needs project planning?

If you've ever started a project and never completed it, then you need to implement the process of project planning. And if you've ever delivered a product or service to a client late, then you need project planning. 

Likewise, if you continually find your team going over budget and beyond the scope on most projects, then project planning is a must for you. Your client comes to you with an idea, and you know that you're more than capable of creating it, so you sign on. 

But have you fully fleshed out the entire scope of the plan? Have you determined the total amount of time needed and verified on your schedule that you and your team have the capacity to add to this new project? 

If not, then you're not utilizing the power of project planning. If you're struggling to hit deadlines or stay within budget, then you need better project management. 

Benefits of creating a project plan

If you want to meet your clients' high expectations and deliver quality projects on time, you need quality planning. Your plan gives you structure, so your team understands what needs to be done and when. 

There are some clear benefits to project planning. Here we outline four of them. 

1. Ensures strategic alignment

Project planning ensures that each project you start is in alignment with your overall strategy. Just because something is a good idea doesn't mean you have to do it or do it this quarter. 

Additionally, resource allocation can be tricky. And if you're not careful, you'll find your team members pulled away at crucial times to help put out the latest fire. A quality plan means that your team can stay on target with your overall strategy and not worry about over-allocation. 

Before you jump into your next big idea, take some time to step back and analyze whether it aligns with your overall mission and strategy. If not, shelve it for later or refer it to another department or agency. 

2. Provides clear objectives

Think back to the last project you completed that went over budget or pushed the deadline. Did you start with a clear outline of your objectives? Did you and your client or team sit down before the project began and ensured everyone was on the same page for the final deliverable? 

Quality project management ensures that everyone understands the objectives of the overall project and each stage or task. When the goals are clear to everyone, your team can stay focused and on task so you can ensure timely delivery to your client. 

3. Verifiable quality control

Just as your objectives ensure that everyone knows what to do, your team can ensure that a quality product is created with a quality plan. Think back to the last time you delivered a product to a client, and they didn't like it, or it wasn't what they had in mind. 

This is likely due to poor planning in the beginning and lack of communication throughout the project. A quality project manager will take the time to sit down with the client before the project begins to ensure that the final deliverable is exactly what they wanted in the first place. 

Additionally, with proper oversight from a trained PM, you can ensure that every step is completed to your company and your team's expected level. Don't wait until the end to test your product before delivering it to your client. Instead, bake the time you need right into your plan so you can ensure the proper quality controls are met at each phase and stage of the project. 

4. Keeps your project within scope

It happens to everyone. You think you know what the client wants and that you have the time to complete it. However, the fact is that the majority of projects do go over budget and stretch far beyond the original timeline. 

Every plan must address these three vitally component pieces of the puzzle before you start. Have a realistic schedule in place that includes time for setbacks or unexpected interruptions.

Establish regular milestones and ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them and by when. This is especially important if you're working with a multidisciplinary team to juggle two managers throughout this project. Ensure they can adequately devote the amount of time you'll need from them in addition to their normal core activities. 

Additionally, create a realistic budget so that you don't find yourself continually spending more than you anticipated and always eating away at your profits. This is not the time to get overambitious and over-commit your team. It would be best if you were realistic in your planning, or you will continually find yourself going over the original scope of the project. 

What are the stages of project planning? 

Project management means giving your team a blueprint they can follow as they complete each project. It means creating a simple path they can take to ensure reaching the end goal.

Throughout the process of planning your next project, you will naturally work through several phases. Some of the best PMs will have different numbers of these phases, or stages, of each project. The number doesn't matter as much as ensuring that you complete each one and don't skip any steps. 

Most PMs will break any large project down into five general phases. These phases can come in many different forms and with other titles. However, generally, they fall into the following five stages. 

1. Someone has an idea

The first phase of any project always starts with an idea. Either your client comes to you with a new idea, or someone within your organization makes a suggestion. Before jumping in with both feet, take the time to gather some facts. 

Not every idea is a great one or needs to be done right now. If you determine it's a great idea, but you don't currently have the resources (either human capital or financial), then shelve the idea for a later time. 

When you take the time to determine the feasibility of completing each project on time and under budget, you'll find that you complete more of your projects than ever before. 

2. You create a plan

The lack of planning out your project can make even the most talented teams feel like they're aiming for a moving target. It can also cause even the most seasoned PM to react impulsively to every fire rather than proactively planning for each contingency. 

Many successful PMs plan out the most detailed plans in a simple spreadsheet or Google Doc. However, the majority of planners find that a quality project planning software can give them the competitive edge to finish each of their projects on time and under budget. 

This is the phase where you'll determine the scope of the project. Additionally, you'll evaluate the milestones necessary to reach the end goal on time. 

You will also do a risk assessment to determine what obstacles your team might face during the project. Doing this will help you to either avoid these obstacles or navigate through them more smoothly. 

3. Your team carries out the plan

This is probably the phase most people think about when they hear the term project planning. However, without a proper plan, you will find yourself struggling to finish most of your projects adequately. Successful completion of any project always starts with a successful plan or roadmap.

If your plan is a roadmap, then this phase is your road trip. And when your team follows the map to their destination. Based on how well you've drawn up the roadmap, ensure that your team can reach the finish line unscathed. 

The execution phase is when your team will meet the milestones you created in the previous phase. This is when deliverables are sent to the client for approval or feedback. This is also the phase in which you will hold regular meetings, assign tasks and resources, as well as update or modify your plan as needed. 

To do all of this successfully, you will need to track and monitor your overall progress. A quality PM software can help you do this efficiently. Every great project manager has an excellent tracking program to help reach their end goals. 

4. Progress is monitored and controlled

Throughout the execution phase, you can run into roadblocks and obstacles. You will need to change some deadlines or reassign tasks. Each time you do this, you don't want to send another email that will get lost in someone's inbox. 

And monitoring your team's progress through a software program can also show you when things start to lag. You can quickly notice the delay and work with your team to solve whatever problem is causing it. 

Instead, use PM software that can help you monitor and control progress as well as quality assurance. This will help you look professional and proficient in front of your client. It will also help you work better with your team as they will be able to quickly see the dashboard where the project stands and what is expected of them next. 

Additionally, when you're choosing a software program to plan your project, be sure to choose one that allows you to run robust reports. These can give you the edge you need to see how your team is progressing. 

5. Wrap up and delivery to the client

Don't just finish up your project and hand it over to your client or CEO. Instead, you have to close your project correctly to ensure that it isn't sent back with questions or complaints. And you can also learn from the execution of the project so that you and your team can improve on the next one. 

As you deliver the final product, you will need to include some hand-holding process to show your client how to use it. Whether you created their next fantastic website or designed their next big product to launch to their audience, you need to have an onboarding plan.

This will ensure that you won't be fielding calls for weeks to come with endless questions. It will also show your client how professional you are and want to work with you again. 

Lastly, you and your team must have a wrap-up meeting to cover what went well during the project you should do next time. Also, take time to dive deep into what went wrong and how you can change things for next time. Each time you have these closing meetings, learn from your successes and your mistakes so that as your company moves forward, you can get better and more efficient over the long run.  

Project plan example

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, project planning is vital for all sizes of projects. It doesn't matter if your team has been tasked with building the next skyscraper downtown or merely putting together an event to raise money for a homeless shelter.

Any large project that encompasses several steps and requires several stakeholders can benefit from a quality plan. A perfect project plan example is building a house. You don't jump straight from having the idea of creating a house to picking out the curtains. 

You must first outline a plan and determine your timeline and budget. Do you need shelter before the winter comes in two months? Or will you be building the home of your dreams that will be several thousand square feet and require a much longer timeline? 

These two projects will have very different timelines and budgets. Determine this now before you ever break ground. Next, you need to have blueprints drawn up.

You will then need to submit your blueprints to some local legislature and ensure you get the proper permits for your house. Finally, you've reached the step of breaking ground and pouring the foundation. 

However, as you move along with construction, you need to manage the many moving pieces. You can't schedule the contractors to hang drywall before the building inspector has checked all your electrical, plumbing, and HVAC lines.

This example of project planning shows why quality planning is so crucial. Building a house is just one example of how having a plan before you start is essential. So, before you jump into your next project, take the time to sit down and work through each of the five phases.  

How to create a project plan 

Now that you can see why you need a plan and how each project has distinct phases it must follow, you might be wondering how to create one. Don't spend time staring at a blank screen. Follow these seven simple steps to delivering quality results every time. 

How to create a project plan

1. Identify your end goals

Before you can create the roadmap for your team to follow, you must establish where the finish line is. This is why identifying your end goal is the first step to creating the perfect project plan. 

You must take the time to clarify your goals and outline your objectives before you begin each project. This must be in writing and visible for everyone on your team throughout the project. 

When someone is unsure how their part fits into the bigger picture, this will show them the result and how they're contributing. 

2. Determine your stakeholders

This step can seem intimidating, especially if you're not sure who your stakeholders should be. The most important thing to remember is that at this point, you're brainstorming, so there's no wrong answer. Your list of stakeholders will include anybody affected by this project so that it can get quite long.  

And you don't want to forget anybody. This is because then you risk running into a stalemate halfway through the project. Especially if there is somebody you're reliant on, but they weren't aware they were integral to your project, so they didn't plan their schedule accordingly.

There are three general groups of stakeholders within each project. These usually include the project manager, the team members, and of course, your clients or customer. Outside of those main groups, brainstorm anyone in an ancillary department who will also play a role. 

You will likely have team members from several departments within your organization. And it can become confusing to everyone knowing whom to report to about which tasks. Outline this in the beginning to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. 

Everyone must know whom they report to and when they're expected to communicate their progress. This is key to ensuring the timely delivery of each task and assignment throughout the project. 

3. Assign roles and responsibilities

Once you've determined your stakeholders, you must assign everyone on your team their roles and responsibilities. To do this, you must identify who is responsible for each step along with your roadmap to finishing your project. This ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding who will complete each task and when. 

Don't leave anything to chance or guessing games. This is vital to ensuring that your project finishes on time. It also gives your team a better experience as they can better plan their agenda. 

The majority of your team will also have other tasks they need to complete for your company's usual core responsibilities. If you don't want to find your tasks for your project sidelined due to conflicts of interest, then give everyone an outline of their role within the project and their responsibilities. 

4. Define your scope and budget

The project's scope can be thought of as the boundaries within which every stakeholder agrees to stay. This is vital to avoid scope creep, which every project manager has experienced at least once. 

Poor communication and undefined requirements are the most usual causes for scope creep. Avoid these from the onset by working closely with your client to ensure they understand what will be delivered at the end of the project.

Clearly outline the exact boundaries for what they can expect so you can avoid that dreaded statement at the end that they didn't get what they wanted. Also, schedule regular meetings throughout the project to share each milestone to see the progress and make suggestions along the way. 

Expect some changes and be open to these suggestions. This way, when you deliver the final project, your client is getting exactly what they wanted. This will help eliminate revisions and going over budget and beyond the timeline. 

Once you've defined your project's scope, you'll need to determine how you'll fund it. This is key so that you don't continually run over budget on all your projects. Your clients won't like this, and the executives in your organization won't understand. 

So, take the time to adequately determine a reasonable budget that accounts for every possible contingency. To do this, you must identify any constraints you might run up against, such as lack of staff. If you need to outsource or work with team members from other departments, identify this now before you have to justify to other upper management why their staff members were required to work extra hours. 

Once you've established your budget, don't leave anything to chance. Track this meticulously so that you can account for everything spent.

This will also help you to better estimate for future projects as well. An excellent PM software program will help you do this efficiently and conscientiously. 

5. Create a schedule or timeline

Your roadmap is a high-level visual of where your team is going. However, along the way, you need to have milestones set so that everyone knows if they're on track or not. 

You must create a detailed list of due dates and the deliverable for the entire project. This will allow you to quickly see if you're on track to deliver the final result on time or not. 

Each milestone should be challenging but not overwhelming so that your team doesn't give up before they start. Additionally, you shouldn't schedule each milestone to follow the one before immediately. 

Give your team time to adjust as they learn from each deliverable and receive feedback from the customer. If each of your dependencies is too close, then a simple adjustment or delay can cause everything to fall behind. Whereas if you leave some buffer time between each dependency, you allow your team to adjust as needed. 

A good software program will allow you to enter your timeline and schedule each milestone along the way to the completion of your project. 

6. Schedule regular meetings and check-in for timeline

Keep all communication in one central location. Leave those long email threads behind with seamless communication in your PM software tool. This will allow your team to quickly see who is working on what and how they're doing. 

Meetings can be tricky and cumbersome, especially for cross-functional teams with other meetings for their departments. Consider how crucial each meeting is before you set it. 

Then outline an agenda and stick to it. Don't let other topics creep into each meeting, causing them to drag longer than they need to. Stick to the subject and get your team back to work as quickly as possible. 

Stand-up meetings ensure that everyone understands each meeting will be quick and concise. 

7. Deliver final project

The final delivery will account for quality control testing and last-minute requests from the client. Work with your team and your client through this last step to ensure that everyone leaves this project with a satisfying feeling of a job well done. 

Ensure your client understands how to implement the process or use the product when you deliver it. Offer ongoing training and support to avoid too many unnecessary phone calls or emails asking for help. During this last closing phase, as mentioned above, it's vital to give excellent customer service, which you can do in advance with onboarding and follow-up meetings with your client or end-user.  

Finally, you must also have closure with the rest of your stakeholders. So, schedule a closing meeting with your team. Go over what went well along with what didn't and learn from any mistakes so that next time you can avoid them entirely. 

These final steps will ensure that you and your team provide your clients with extra customer care and give them the excellent experience they deserve. Additionally, it allows your team to learn from each project and take those lessons to the next one. This will give you a competitive edge and build a reputation for delivering quality results on time and on budget. 

Run an efficient and effective project plan every time

Never again miss a deadline by following these steps outlined in this article. The project plan example earlier shows why project planning is so beneficial. Your team will be grateful to have a blueprint they can follow as they work together to build your next project.

And your clients will come back for repeat business when they see the quality products delivered on time and that meets their every hope and expectation. 

If you're ready to take your projects to the next level and provide exceptional results to your clients every time, then consider using TrueNxus for all your PM needs. You can try it for free today.