A project plan or project implementation plan is a key strategic document that keeps teams on track throughout a project, indicating how a project is expected to run along with who’s responsible for what. It’s an extremely valuable planning tool — one that can be the difference between project success and project failure.
It’s also a fairly comprehensive document, and if you’ve never built one before, the concept can feel a bit overwhelming.
In this post, we’ll give you a five-step plan for building and implementing a project plan. First, we’ll walk you through what a project implementation plan looks like, why you should create one for every project, and what each plan should include.
What is a project implementation plan?
A project implementation plan is a document that defines how a project will be executed. Implementation plans outline the project's goals, scope, and purpose, as well as listing the resources (including team members) necessary for a successful project.
Project implementation plans are sometimes called “strategic plans” because they lay out the strategy proposed for a project. But we like the longer name because it conveys more than just strategy: It suggests a process going into action, and it answers the question of how a team will arrive at a goal.
A project implementation plan serves as a critical reference point throughout the project's lifecycle, ensuring everyone is on the same page and everything is on the right track. It's a vital document for guiding decision-making, mitigating risks, and ultimately ensuring the successful completion of the project from start to finish.
Why every project should start with an implementation plan
Why start each project with an implementation plan? Simple: because you want the project to succeed, and you want an objective way to know if it succeeded.
Starting each project with an implementation plan accomplishes quite a bit for most teams and businesses, primarily because it creates a shared sense of vision and understanding and points toward a clearly defined goal.
Most teams realize these four benefits (and plenty more) when they create a thorough and functional project implementation plan:
It creates an actionable roadmap of the scope of work
Projects run the gamut from extremely simple to lengthy and complex. The more complicated and interconnected the project, the greater the chance for confusion.
Whatever the level of complexity, chaos ensues when team members aren’t clear on what to do, when to do it, or why they’re doing it.
A project implementation plan is the antidote to this kind of chaos because it shows all parties what the path forward looks like (the roadmap) — as well as what is and isn’t on that path (the scope of work).
It makes goals and communication transparent to all stakeholders
When all parties understand the goals of a project, you lessen confusion around those goals. There may still be disagreement on how to best achieve a goal, but there’s no confusion about what the team is aiming to accomplish.
Also, a central, accessible document containing all relevant aspects of a project creates a single source of truth for teams, managers, executives, vendors, customers, and more. When anyone and everyone associated with a project is working from the same playbook, teams and businesses enjoy clearer, more focused, and more transparent communication.
It holds your team members accountable
Around 70% of businesses report having at least one failed project in the last year. We’ve all been part of a project where no one seemed accountable for problems or even total project failure. Of course, no one likes taking the blame and finding a scapegoat isn’t always terribly productive. Still, if you have a team member or business unit that’s consistently failing to deliver, you want to know.
A strong project implementation plan makes clear who’s responsible for what within a project. It gives project managers and team leads a stronger understanding of task accountability, helping to hold team members accountable for their work.
And most of the time, better accountability comes with better results!
It helps your entire team stay on the same page
You’ll never completely eliminate scope creep (something that occurred within more than a third of projects in 2021), nor should you. Parameters for various deliverables or even the entire project can and do change over the course of a project, and sometimes a change in scope is clearly the right decision.
But not all scope creep is good. Especially with longer or more complex projects, it’s common for team members to lose focus on the top-level goals — not to mention the specific steps needed to reach those goals.
This loss of focus is preventable, though, as is the scope creep that grows from it. A project implementation plan keeps the big-picture goals and the steps required to meet them in focus. When a change in scope is warranted, it should be documented within or alongside the implementation plan.
Essential components of a great implementation plan
Most well-designed implementation plans contain these essential items, though it’s important to note that implementation plans vary widely, just like the projects they’re attached to.
These elements comprise a solid foundation for your next implementation plan. Start with these, but feel free to add additional elements that make sense for your industry or project type.
1) Scope statement
The scope statement outlines the scope of the project — essentially, what work will be performed in the project (and what work would be considered out of scope).
2) Project milestones, goals, and key objectives
Project goals are the high-level outcomes the project aims to achieve. Key objectives are the steps or intermediate outcomes that will occur throughout the project in support of the project goals. Project milestones are the points of measurement along the way, usually significant or tangible in some way.
Examples of milestones across a few industry contexts include wireframe completed, beta launch, copy drafted, or the completion of a phase, segment, or function that’s part of the whole.
3) Detailed resource plan
A project’s resource plan indicates which human resources are involved along with their time or workload commitment. You should also include materials and equipment (typically, only what’s beyond the standard stuff every employee already has) needed for successful project completion.
4) Estimated implementation timeline
A key element of any implementation plan is a concrete timeframe for the project (and its implementation). These dates are rarely perfect at the outset of a project, but they provide a goal to work toward and give stakeholders some context for what they’re signing off on.
Most project teams use project management software for creating project timelines, often in the form of a Gantt chart.
5) Implementation plan milestones
Your implementation plan may benefit from its own set of internal milestones, separate from the broader project milestones. These internal milestones are more useful on highly complex projects with multiple levels of approval and numerous departments supplying information.
Implementation plan milestones could look like these: initial stakeholder information gathered, plan drafted, plan discussed and feedback incorporated, final sign-off by all stakeholders.
6) Implementation plan KPIs & metrics
Your key performance indicators (KPIs) or other metrics reveal how well the team is accomplishing the implementation plan. Establish measurable indicators, state what they are within the plan itself, and then track them over the course of the project.
Here, a quality project management tool is essential if you want to succeed with measurements that span the length of a project.
5 easy steps to create your project implementation plan
Now you know what needs to go into your project implementation plan — but how do you actually create one and get the implementation process started?
We know this process can seem daunting at first, and it does take some upfront work. But the process doesn’t have to be as complicated as it seems. Follow these five easy steps to create an implementation plan that helps keep your project and your team on track. Then, as future projects arise, use these questions as a template of sorts to create a quality implementation and management plan for each one.
Teamwork.com’s project management template is an easy way to start building your plan today.
1) Define your goals and milestones
Before you can create a plan for how to get where you want to go, you need to spend some time deciding where you want to go.
So, before you start building out any other part of a project implementation or action plan, start by devoting time to the what and the where:
What are you trying to accomplish? (Project-level goals)
What needs to happen to reach those goals? (Project objectives)
What are the intermediate steps or milestones that demonstrate progress along the path toward the project’s goals? (Project milestones)
Once you establish goals, objectives, and milestones — and achieve buy-in from key stakeholders and project team members on those goals and milestones — you’re ready to proceed to step two.
2) Conduct research by interviewing, surveying, or observing
Research is one key element of a successful implementation plan. In many project contexts, this research looks like interviewing or surveying various stakeholders, subject matter experts, department leaders, and so on — gathering the information necessary to build your implementation strategy.
Sometimes observation is a key strategy as well: Watching what another team (or vendor or external organization) does or has done on a similar project can provide valuable insights.
3) Brainstorm and map out potential risks
Every project has inherent potential risks. Some of these can be foreseen, while others seem to come out of nowhere. Take the pandemic as one example of the latter category. Yes, businesses should have business continuity and disaster management policies in place, but few — if any — businesses had a concrete plan of action lined up for a global pandemic.
So, there are risks you can’t plan for and could never predict. But there are plenty of risks that, with a little bit of brainstorming and planning, should be easy to discover. These are the ones you need to target as you perform a risk assessment.
Map out the known risks, along with potential impacts and mitigation strategies for each one. Some risks are entirely avoidable so long as you take appropriate risk management actions. Others may not be completely preventable, but having a plan in place will greatly reduce their impact.
4) Assign and delegate essential tasks
Every good implementation plan will include a work plan or action plan that lists out the tasks within the project to a certain level of granularity. These tasks eventually get plugged into a calendar or schedule of some sort, often within project planning software suites like Teamwork.com.
No matter what method or platform you’re using, at this stage, you need to map out or schedule these tasks. As a part of this step, make sure you assign and delegate tasks to specific resources (or, at minimum, specific departments or work groups).
This step is key to successful project execution, as it assigns responsibility and accountability for every task included in the plan, bringing clarity to who’s doing what and when.
5) Finalize your plan and allocate resources
Next up is allocating resources. You already assigned tasks to people (or departments) in the previous step, so what do we mean here that’s any different?
Put simply, there’s a difference between putting on paper that “Sam will handle task 35” (assigning tasks) and actually making sure that Sam has the capacity to handle task 35 (allocating resources).
In step 4, all you really did was determine who’s doing what. Now, during resource allocation, you make sure that your assignment plan is achievable. Resource allocation means assigning tasks to resources that are actually available. In other words, you need to make sure task 35 doesn’t land on Sam’s desk the same day as 10 other tasks.
Last, once everything else about your plan has been crafted, vetted, and approved, it’s time to finalize the plan. Usually, this involves sending out the completed plan for a final round of approvals.
Once approved, the project implementation plan becomes a single source of truth for the team and other stakeholders. So make sure to store the plan in a central, accessible location. (Teamwork.com is a great place for this, if you ask us!)
Create an effective project plan with Teamwork.com
Creating a project implementation plan requires careful planning and attention to innumerable details, but the results are worth the investment. Increase your project success rate, productivity, morale, and more by keeping teams focused on the right shared outcomes.
We’ve hinted at this a few times already, but project implementation planning (along with all the other documents and documentation you need to prepare to get a project off the ground) is infinitely easier when you use the right tools.
Teamwork.com is a powerful all-in-one platform for client work — including complete operations control and project management — that gives you a central location to store project data, robust yet flexible templates, and visibility into current and past project data. Teamwork.com can cut down on the detail work and keep your information organized in a digestible, more user-friendly way, ultimately empowering you and your teams to achieve better work for your clients, be more profitable, and stay on track.