Simple tips to creating a project plan

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

Often, getting on with the work is favored over project planning. Frequently, the value of a project plan (and how it saves time and money and helps avoid many problems) is not realized.

So how is a project plan created?

Step 1 Stakeholders

First, it is important to identify the stakeholders in your project.  A stakeholder is anybody directly or indirectly impacted by the project.  It is not always easy to identify the stakeholders of a project, particularly those impacted indirectly.

Step 2 Needs of Stakeholders

Once you understand who the stakeholders are, the next step is to establish their needs. The best way to do this is by conducting stakeholder interviews.

Step 3 Prioritize

The next step once you have conducted all the interviews and have a comprehensive list of needs is to prioritize them. From the prioritized list create a set of goals that can be easily measured.

Step 4 Project Deliverables

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

Add the deliverables to the project plan with an estimated delivery date. Delivery dates that are more accurate will be established during the scheduling phase.

Step 5 Project Schedule

Create a list of tasks that need to be carried out for each deliverable identified in Step 2. For each task identify: the amount of effort (hours or days) required to complete the task; and the resource that will carry out the task. Then, the effort required for each deliverable and an accurate delivery date can be used to update the deliverables section of the project plan.

A common problem discovered at this point is when a project has an imposed delivery deadline from the sponsor that is not realistic based on your estimates. If you discover that 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 6 Supporting Plans

This section deals with 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 organizations with  leading roles in the project. Describe the roles and responsibilities on the project for each.
  • Next, describe the number and type of people needed to carry out the project. For each resource detail start dates, estimated duration and the method you will use for obtaining them.
  • Communications Plan: Create a document showing who needs to be kept informed about the project and how they will receive the information. The most common mechanism is a weekly/monthly progress report, describing how the project is performing, milestones achieved and work 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 estimates too optimistic
  • Customer review and feedback cycle too slow
  • Unexpected budget cuts
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities
  • Stakeholder input is not sought or their needs are not properly understood
  • 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 and write down what you will do in the event it occurs and what you will do to prevent it from occurring. Review your risk log on a regular basis adding new risks as they occur during the life of the project. Remember, when risks are ignored they don’t go away.

Just as the project plan is successful, the project is successful when the needs of the stakeholders have been met.