Projects are a complicated business; there’s a lot of logistics, elements, and moving parts involved in the process. So, if you want your project to move forward successfully, you need to set yourself up for that success—and that means writing a project plan.
“A project plan is an action plan outlining how…[to] accomplish project goals,” says Jami Yazdani, certified Project Management Professional (PMP), project coach, and project management consultant, and founder of Yazdani Consulting and Facilitation. Project plans are like a map; they clearly outline how to get from where you are now (the beginning of the project) to where you want to go (the successful completion of the project)—and writing a project plan is that absolute must for any new, complex project you have in the pipeline.
But how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s take a look at the ins and outs of writing a project plan—all in six simple steps:
Why Are Project Plans Important?
First things first. Before jumping into how to write a project plan, it’s helpful to discover why project plans are so important to begin with.
The main reason project plans are an absolute must is that they allow you to visualize your entire project, from beginning to end—and develop a clear strategy to get from point A to point B.
“Project plans help us strategize a path to project success, allowing us to consider the factors that will impact our project, from stakeholders to budget to schedule delays, and plan how to maximize or mitigate these factors,” says Yazdani.
Project plans also help to get everyone involved on the same page, setting clear expectations around what needs to be accomplished, when, and by who. “Project plans create a framework for measuring project progress and success,” says Yazdani. “Project plans set clear expectations for...stakeholders by outlining exactly what...will [be accomplished] and when it will be delivered.”
A well-written project plan can also help to clarify how each individual team member’s contributions play into the larger scope of the project—which can help generate buy-in and drive engagement, both of which are critical to a project’s success.
“Project plans provide...teams with purpose and direction,” says Yazdani. “Transparent project plans show team members how their individual tasks and responsibilities contribute to the overall success of the project, encouraging engagement and collaboration.”
How To Write A Project Plan
Clearly, project plans are a must-have element for any successful project. But what are the steps to writing one?
1. Establish Project Scope And Metrics
The first step to writing a project plan is defining what, exactly, your project is—including the project’s purpose, parameters, and goals. “Clearly define your project’s scope or overall purpose,” says Yazdani. “Confirm any project parameters or constraints, like budget, resource availability, and timeline,” says Yazdani.
Taking the time to define your project scope is important; it will help to ensure that the rest of your project plan moves your project in the direction you want it to go. But just as important as defining your project scope and purpose is defining what metrics you’re going to use to make sure you’re on track as the project progresses.
“Establish how you will measure success,” says Yazdani. “Are there metrics, performance criteria, or quality standards you need to meet?”
Clearly defining what your project is, the project’s overall purpose, and how you’re going to measure success lays the foundation for the rest of your project plan—so make sure you take the time to define each of these elements from the get-go.
2. Identify Key Stakeholders
Once you’ve defined your project scope, purpose, and metrics, it’s time to get clear on who you need to bring the project to life—or, in other words, identify the key stakeholders of the project.
“List individuals or groups who will be impacted by the project,” says Yazdani.
In addition to identifying who needs to be involved in the project, you’ll also want to think about how they’ll need to be involved—and at what level. For example, let’s say you’re managing a cross-functional project to launch a new marketing campaign that includes team members from your marketing, design, and sales departments.
When identifying your key stakeholders, you might create different lists based on responsibility or level of involvement with the project—for example, decision-makers (who will need to provide input at each step of the project), managers (who will be overseeing employees within their department), and creative talent (who will be actually creating the deliverables for the campaign), from each department.
Getting clear on who needs to be involved in the project—and how they’re going to be involved—will help guide the rest of the project plan writing process (particularly when it comes to creating and assigning tasks).
3. Outline Deliverables
As mentioned, defining your project’s purpose is the first step in writing a project plan. But defining a project’s purpose is more conceptual; in order to make sure your project fulfills its purpose (and that you achieve what you set out to achieve), you have to take things a step further—and move from the conceptual to the tangible.
Or, in other words, you need to outline all your project’s deliverables—the real, tangible outcomes that your project needs to produce in order to be considered a success. That way, you have
“What will you create, build, design, produce, accomplish or deliver?,” says Yazdani. “Clearly outline your project’s concrete and tangible deliverables or outcomes.”
Defining the concrete items you need your project to deliver will help you reverse-engineer the things that need to happen to bring those items to life—which is a must before moving onto the next step.
4. Develop Tasks
Once you’ve clearly defined your project deliverables, you can drill down those deliverables into actionable tasks—tasks you can then assign to your team.
“Let your deliverables guide the work of the project,” says Yazdani. “Break down each deliverable into smaller and smaller components until you get to an actionable task.”
Once you’ve broken down all of your deliverables into manageable, assignable tasks, it’s also important to pay attention to how each of those tasks interact with each other; that way, you can plan, assign, and add deadlines accordingly.
“Highlight any dependencies between tasks, such as tasks that can’t be started until another task is complete,” says Yazdani. “List any resources you will need to accomplish these tasks.”
5. Assign Tasks And Deadlines
Once you’ve written out all of your tasks, it’s time to assign those tasks out to your team—along with deadlines as to when each task needs to be completed.
While you want to make sure your project moves forward at a steady pace, you also want to make sure your tasks and deadlines are keeping your teams motivated and engaged. So, when writing your project plan, make sure to “set realistic and achievable deadlines for completing tasks and deliverables,” says Yazdani. “Highlight dates that are inflexible and factor in task dependencies. Add in milestones or checkpoints to monitor progress and celebrate successes.”
Once you map out all of your tasks and deadlines, you should have a clear picture of how and when your project is going to come together—and the initial writing process is just about finished.
But that doesn’t mean your project plan is complete! There’s one more key step to the process.
6. Share, Gather Feedback, And Adjust The Project Plan As Necessary
While steps 1 through 5 may make up your initial writing process, if you want your project plan to be as strong and complete as it can be, it’s important to share it with your team—and get their input on how they think it can be improved.
“Share the plan with your project team and key stakeholders, gathering feedback to make adjustments and improvements,” says Yazdani.
After you gather your team’s feedback—and make any necessary adjustments based on that feedback—you can consider your project plan written (hurray!).
But as your project progresses, things may change or evolve—so it’s important to stay flexible and make changes and adjustments as needed.
“Expect to update your plan as you gather more information, encounter changing requirements and delays, and learn from feedback and mistakes,” says Yazdani. “By using your project plan to guide your activities and measure progress, you’ll be able to refine and improve your plan as you move through the project, tweaking tasks and deadlines as deliverables are developed.”
Tips For Writing Effective Project Plans
Need some more inspiration? Here are a few tips to ensure that your project plans are as strong and effective as they can possibly be:
Use Other Project Plans For Inspiration
Writing a project plan takes time and effort. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for every new project! Instead, look to other successful project plans for inspiration—and use those as a guide when writing the plan for your project.
“Review templates and plans for similar projects, or for other projects within your organization or industry, to get ideas for structuring and drafting your own plan,” says Yazdani.
Get Your Team Involved In The Process
You may be in charge of spearheading the project. But that doesn’t mean that you have to—or even that you should—write the project plan alone.
“Collaborate with your project team and key stakeholders on crafting a project plan,” says Yazdani. “Input into the project plan supports buy-in to project goals and encourages continued engagement throughout the project.”
Don’t Let The Perfect Be The Enemy Of The Good
You may be tempted to write (and rewrite) your project plan until you’ve got every detail mapped out perfectly. But spending too much time trying to get everything “perfect” can actually hold up the project. So don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good—and instead of getting caught up in getting everything perfect from the get-go, stay willing and flexible to adjust your project plan as you move forward.
“Focus on outcomes, not plan perfection,” says Yazdani. “While it would be awesome for the first draft of our plan to require no changes while also inspiring our team and ensuring project success, our goal shouldn’t be a perfect plan. Our goal is a plan that allows us to successfully deliver on project goals. Responsiveness to changing needs and a shifting environment is more important than plan perfection.”
Follow These Steps For Project Plan Success
Writing a project plan, especially if you’re new to the process, can feel overwhelming. But now that you know the exact steps to write one, you have everything you need to create a strong, cohesive plan from the ground up—and watch your project thrive as a result.
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