What is Project Planning?
This may seem like an overly simple or overly complex question, depending on how
your company has been operating to date. Project planning can involve a host of
logistical elements, personnel issues, budgeting and deadlines to manage. So many
moving parts that if there is not some sort of plan, failure is almost guaranteed.
Project plans are like maps; you are at point A and you need to get to point B
where your finished product or service is located. What is the best route to travel
to accomplish those goals? If you left on your trip with no map, you might eventually
get to where you needed to be. But it might take longer; cost more in money, time and
resources; and possibly even land you in Richmond, Indiana when you meant to go to
Richmond, Virginia. So, let’s explore project planning and how to create effect plans
that will get you where you want to go.
What are the important items that must be included in a project plan? The key to
creating an effective plan is clarity. Clarity of purpose, task, time and budget.
These six items will help establish that clarity.
Project Scope and Metrics
What is the project? What are the goals? The project’s overall purpose is
the first step to making sure everyone is on the same page. This is also the
time to identify any constraints like budget, timeline or resource (personnel
and equipment) availability.
The important part of this is ensuring that all members of the team are moving
in the same direction. You don’t want to get months into a project to build a
rocket only to find your team is building a bobsled!
The last piece of why this is important is to know how to measure your success.
If you don’t start with a goal, how will you know if you’ve reached it? Having
metrics or performance criteria will let you and the team know how the project
produced against expectations.
Identify Key Stakeholders
Key stakeholders refer to anyone or any group who will be impacted by your project.
These will be valuable resources in your project’s success.
Once you determine who, you’ll also need to establish how these stakeholders will
be involved. If you are working on a project that will involve several parts of an
organization, some may be involved daily and some just to give input and approvals
on an occasional basis. Understanding who those stakeholders are and how they will
be involved and impact the success of your project will require maintaining these
This may seem similar to defining the project scope but it is a more complex part of
the plan. Defining the deliverables involves determining exactly what it is this project
is going to produce. The real, tangible results that need to be delivered in order for
this project to be considered successful. A cooperative understanding of these deliverables
will further ensure uniform progress by your team and ultimately a proper outcome for
Depending on the project, there may be multiple goals and objectives or one big one.
There may be certain parts of the project that need to be completed at specific dates
along the project timeline. All of these need to be identified in order that all
stakeholders’ needs will be met with the final product.
Determining the deliverables allows the next phase which is developing specific tasks.
Breaking those deliverables into smaller, easier to accomplish jobs will make the overall
project seem less overwhelming. And it will allow you to match tasks with resources---both
personnel and equipment—that are best suited for them.
When assigning tasks, you can look for areas where tasks have similar needs or deadlines,
overlapping skillsets or dependencies. That way you can schedule and streamline tasks accordingly.
Once the task list has been developed, you can begin the process of assigning tasks to the
members of the project team. Tasks should be assigned based on the skills of the team members
and the deadlines of those tasks.
One of the best reasons to match the right tasks with the right person is that it keeps team
members engaged and motived in the project. No one wants to do mundane tasks or assignments
for which they are not qualified. If a person likes their work, if they feel it is meaningful
to the project as a whole, then they will give it their best.
The other outcome of assigning tasks is to meet with the whole team and outline which
deadlines are hard and fast; when the project deliverables need to be finished so that
everyone is moving forward at the same speed.
Share, Gather Feedback and Adjust as Necessary
Even if a Project Manager does items 1-5 perfectly, there is no way a plan won’t change as
it goes. Start by sharing the project plan with your team and stakeholders. Their initial
feedback might shed some light on things you hadn’t thought of (hopefully not)!
Then when you’ve incorporated all their feedback can you consider the project plan truly
finished and written.
That doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. As the project moves along, things will come up.
Customer needs may change, resources may change and this will influence the plan in a
variety of ways. Be prepared to adjust the plan as time goes on and the project comes to life.
The good news is you don’t have to start from square one every time. There are existing templates
you can use as a basis for your initial draft and build out specifics that you need. And once you’ve
done one, make that your template for creating new project plans in the future.