Project Smart ~ Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Calendar iconNot recorded
Adobe PDF icon

Project Planning a Step by Step Guide

~ By Duncan Haughey

Businessman finding the solution to a maze

The key to a successful project is in the planning. Creating a project plan is the first thing you should do when undertaking any project.

Often project planning is ignored in favour of getting on with the work. However, many people fail to realise the value of a project plan for saving time, money and many problems.

This article looks at a simple, practical approach to project planning. On completion of this guide, you should have a sound project planning approach that you can use for future projects.

Step 1: Project Goals

A project is successful when it has met the needs of the stakeholders. A stakeholder is anybody directly, or indirectly impacted by the project.

As a first step, it is important to identify the stakeholders in your project. It is not always easy to determine the stakeholders of a project, particularly those impacted indirectly. Examples of stakeholders are:

  • The project sponsor
  • The customer who receives the deliverables
  • The users of the project output
  • The project manager and project team

Once you understand who the stakeholders are, the next step is to find out their needs. The best way to do this is by conducting stakeholder interviews. Take time during the interviews to draw out the requirements that create real benefits. Sometimes stakeholders will talk about needs that aren't relevant and don't deliver benefits. These can be recorded and set as a low priority.

The next step, once you have conducted all the interviews and have a comprehensive list of needs is to prioritise them. From the prioritised list, create a set of easily measurable goals. A good technique for doing this is to review them against the SMART principle. This way, the achievement of the goal will be easy to identify.

Once you have established a clear set of goals, they should be recorded in the project plan. It can be useful also to include the needs and expectations of your stakeholders.

Now you have completed the most difficult part of the planning process; it's time to move on and look at the project deliverables.

Step 2: Project Deliverables

Using the goals you have defined in step 1, create a list of things the project needs to deliver to meet those goals. Specify when and how to deliver each item.

Add the deliverables to the project plan with an estimated delivery date. You will establish more accurate delivery dates during the scheduling phase, which is next.

Step 3: Project Schedule

Create a list of tasks that need to be carried out for each deliverable identified in step 2. For each task determine the following:

  • The amount of effort (hours or days) required for completing the task
  • The resource who will carry out the task

Once you have established the amount of effort for each task, you can work out the effort required for each deliverable, and an accurate delivery date. Update your deliverables section with the more precise delivery dates.

At this point in the planning, you could choose to use a software package such as Microsoft Project to create your project schedule. Alternatively, use one of the many free templates available. Input all of the deliverables, tasks, durations and the resources who will complete each task.

A common problem discovered at this point is when you have an imposed delivery deadline from the sponsor that is not realistic based on your estimates. If you discover this is the case, you must contact the sponsor immediately. The options you have in this situation are:

  • Renegotiate the deadline (project delay)
  • Employ additional resources (increased cost)
  • Reduce the scope of the project (less delivered)

Use the project schedule to justify pursuing one of these options.

Step 4: Supporting Plans

This section deals with the plans you should create as part of the planning process. These can be included directly in the plan.

Human Resource Plan

Identify, by name, the individuals and organisations with a leading role in the project. For each, describe their roles and responsibilities on the project.

Next, specify the number and type of people needed to carry out the project. For each resource detail start dates, the estimated duration and the method you will use for obtaining them.

Create a single sheet containing this information.

Communications Plan

Create a document showing who is to be kept informed about the project and how they will receive the information. The most common mechanism is a weekly or monthly status report, describing how the project is performing, milestones achieved and the work you've planned for the next period.

Risk Management Plan

Risk management is an important part of project management. Although often overlooked, it is important to identify as many risks to your project as possible and be prepared if something bad happens.

Here are some examples of common project risks:

  • Time and cost estimate too optimistic
  • Customer review and feedback cycle too slow
  • Unexpected budget cuts
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities
  • No stakeholder input obtained
  • Not clearly understanding stakeholder needs
  • Stakeholders changing requirements after the project has started
  • Stakeholders adding new requirements after the project has started
  • Poor communication resulting in misunderstandings, quality problems and rework
  • Lack of resource commitment

Risks can be tracked using a simple risk log. Add each risk you have identified to your risk log; write down what you will do in the event it occurs, and what you will do to prevent it from happening. Review your risk log on a regular basis, adding new risks as they occur during the life of the project. Remember, if you ignore risks, they don't go away.

Congratulations. Having followed all the steps above, you should have a good project plan. Don't forget to update your plan as the project makes progress, and continually measure progress against the plan.


Enjoyed this article? Now read 21 Ways to Excel at Project Management


Comments (6)

Topic: Project Planning a Step by Step Guide
4/5 (10)
Gravatar
Full StarFull StarFull StarEmpty StarEmpty Star
12th April 2016 6:50am
Chris O'Halloran (Brisbane) says...
It's also worth noting that a project plan is not a schedule, I often hear people refer to their Gantt chart as a project plan, which is not correct. Considering that a project will only ever be as good as its preceding project plan, it's important to do these well.
Gravatar
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
7th January 2016 11:46am
Bernard Bobore (Papua New Guinea) says...
I was chosen to be a project manager for a small project, which was about to operate in my small town and I didn't  know what to do. After going through the Internet I came to your site, I was very impressed when following your simple guide. Now I have some ideas on what to do.
Gravatar
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
6th October 2015 2:35am
U (London) says...
Thanks a lot for this article - also referred to it in preparing for a job interview. Got the job offer about an hour later!
Gravatar
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
12th September 2015 7:01am
Pakamile Mzukwa (Cape Town) says...
I study disaster management and I have just been asked to create a project plan for my assignment and I have used this plan. It hasn't been marked as yet, but I feel so good about my assignment. I will deffinately nail it. Thank you.
Gravatar
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
29th September 2015 5:01pm
Kinga (Wrexham) says...
Hi Pakamile Mzukwa, Did you get your marks yet? I have just been asked to do a project management plan based on a case study provided, but I am not sure where to start...
Gravatar
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
8th April 2015 12:02am
Melani Lewes (Birmingham) says...
I was required to do a project plan presentation for a job interview. I have never done a project plan before in my life. After Googling, finding your site and following your simple, easy to understand, step by step guide I did the presentation and got my dream job! Thank you.

Add a comment



(never displayed)



 
1500
Enter the last letter of the word satellite.
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Top 10 Qualities of a Project Manager

Project manager characteristics and qualities concept on a white background

What qualities are most important for a project leader to be effective? Over the past few years, the people at ESI International have looked in to what makes an effective project leader.

How to Deliver Project Status

Close-up of a businessman's hand with a gilded pen writing a document

This article recommendations how to deliver project status to management and the project team that you will hopefully find to be very effective.

Project Planning Essentials

Tablet computer with project manager app and documents with Gantt and financial charts

Planning a project requires putting a series of tasks in order and determining dependencies between them. In practice it's never so straightforward.

The 8-Step Guide to Creating a Quality Project Schedule

Businessman with a Gantt chart

Successful projects start with a good, quality project schedule. After reading this article, you will have a sound approach to creating schedules.

PROJECT SMART is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels improve their performance. We provide an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly exclusive updates, we keep you in touch with the latest project management thinking.

WE ARE CONNECTED ~ Follow us on social media to get regular updates and opinion on what's happening in the world of project management.


Latest Comments

Idris Sabo Inuwa commented on…
SMART Goals
- Tue 14 June 12:49pm

Jacie Thompson commented on…
Project Scheduling And Resource Levelling
- Tue 14 June 12:28am

Safdar commented on…
RAID Log
- Wed 8 June 3:14pm

Latest tweets

General Project Management • Re: Project and Process Tailoring for the PMP Exam https://t.co/PWGX9uMnUt #pm #projectsmart about 2 days ago

General Project Management • Re: Survey about IT PM methodologies for my bachelor's thesis https://t.co/652zR7UZJf #pm #projectsmart about 2 days ago

General Project Management • Re: Masters Survey-Need your participation. Just 5 minutes https://t.co/QWtO5ifzcw #pm #projectsmart about 5 days ago