The importance of planning can’t be overstated for busy teams today.

You can’t afford to go into a project blindly if you actually want it to succeed. 

Besides, you can't even get a task off the ground without a project proposal for your stakeholders to sign off on. That's exactly where a foolproof project proposal is a game-changer.

The more prepared your team is from the planning phase, the more likely you are to reach your company’s goals quickly and seamlessly.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to create a project proposal that’ll win over your colleagues and get your projects going ASAP.

Comprehensive project planning software to see the big picture

Comprehensive project planning software to see the big picture

Break down your projects into workable and acheivable portions with project planning software from Teamwork.

What is a project proposal (and why are they so important)?

A project proposal represents the skeleton of a potential project, including background information, goals, roles, and resources. The purpose of a proposal is three-fold:

  1. Organize your strategy in a timely manner. A brief, straightforward project proposal outline can be put together quickly and is likewise easy for folks outside your team to understand.

  2. Highlight why your project is necessary. By conducting research and putting your plan into context, it’s instantly more tangible and pressing.

  3. Win over stakeholders (think: colleagues, managers, or clients). If you need to convince your higher-ups or clients that your project is worth pursuing, a well-crafted plan is the perfect starting point.

Additionally, a project proposal forces you to organize your thoughts and articulate your project in plain English. Although an initiative might make perfect sense in your head, you’d be surprised at how many details remain unclear to outsiders until you put ‘em on paper.

Fact: recent research notes that poor planning and project management correlate with two-thirds of projects failing altogether. Beyond not winning buy-in from stakeholders, inefficient planning is a proven time and money sink. 

Also, consider data from the Hive that a staggering 50% of projects don’t achieve what they were originally set out to do. Proposals define the scope of your projects so they’re less likely to go off the rails.

The Hive Infographic on why project fail example

Another upside of putting together a project proposal is that they’re time-efficient. Rather than spend months hashing out your game plan, an outline encourages you to state “just the facts” for the sake of getting your project moving. 

What are the essential pieces of an effective project proposal?

The process of putting together a proposal is a balancing act.

That is, you need to emphasize the most-known details for your stakeholders without overwhelming them. Below is a project proposal outline that you can adapt for yourself, totally customizable with handy bullet points you can plugin yourself.

1. Project summary

First thing’s first: provide a big-picture breakdown of your project, including what you’re looking to accomplish and how. You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty here, but rather establish a compelling problem and a solution for addressing it. 

Your project summary should be punchy and urgent, not something your managers can afford to just glaze over. Think of it as your elevator pitch.

Language matters here and you need to be economical with your words. For example, “We’re losing customers rapidly...” is a much more striking statement than “We run the risk of losing more customers in the future…” A bit of creativity (and maybe some hyperbole) goes a long way!

In short, you need some sort of hook. Approach your summary with confidence and advocate for yourself and why your project matters.

  • [A one-sentence summary of the problem facing your team]

  • [A one-sentence summary of your project and desired outcomes]

  • [A one-sentence summary of your proposed solution]

2. Purpose and background information

Follow up your introduction by detailing why your project is necessary. This is where you’ll really drive home your problem(s) and/or opportunities in greater detail. 

Here’s a place to bring in impactful research and statistics to support your project. If possible, try to highlight specific numbers and firsthand data. Doing so makes your project seem more tangible. 

For example, “We’re dealing with a troubling [x]% turnover rate…” or “This marketing initiative presents an opportunity to close [y] leads per month, a massive improvement on [z].”

If nothing else, numbers are easy to understand at a glance. They likewise prove that you’ve done your homework and aren’t pursuing a project “just because.”

  • “The purpose of this project is to achieve [outcome]...”

  • "Historically, we’ve struggled with [problem/pain point]...”

  • “Based on [results/data], our team is confident that…”

3. Proposed solution

You’ve brought up a pressing problem or opportunity, now lay it up with an actionable solution. Here you’ll highlight what you’re going to do in simple terms. 

This section should piggyback on the previous two, circling back to the goal you’ve established and the background information provided.

“Based on [problem/opportunity], our proposal is to take action by..."

  • [x]

  • [y]

  • [z]

4. Scope of work

This is the big one. Here you’re breaking down goals, roles, deliverables, and budget.

In other words, the who and how of your project. Chances are you’ll be responsible for a separate, more in-depth scope of work document to supplement your project when (not if!) it gets approved. As a result, don’t dump too much information on your stakeholders.

Basics and bullet points are fair game for communicating your team’s duties and action items.

Necessary roles

  • [Name/Role], [summary of purpose in the project]

  • [Name/Role], [summary of purpose in the project]

  • Etc.

Budget

  • [Deliverable, estimated cost, why it’s necessary]

  • [Deliverable, estimated cost, why it’s necessary]

  • etc.

Goals and KPIs

  • [Goal/associated KPI/action item]

  • [Goal/associated KPI/action item]

  • Etc.

5. Schedule and timeline

This is where you’ll explain how long your project will take and when it will be complete.

You’re obviously not a fortune teller, so don’t totally rack your brain about having a 100% accurate date in mind. That said, you should provide some sort of ballpark figure that isn’t based on guesswork.

For longer-term projects, we recommend establishing milestones as part of your schedule. 

  • “Within/by [x] days, we will…”

  • “We estimate that the project will be completed by [x date] based on…”

  • Milestones for this project include [x], [y], and [z]

6. Authorization and conclusion

The last piece of your project proposal! This is where you’ll spell out who needs to sign off so that your initiative moves forward. Where it’s a single person or a team, list ‘em here. 

  • [Stakeholder x]

  • [Stakeholder y]

  • [Stakeholder z]

Quick tips for writing an effective project proposal outline

To wrap things up, let’s review some basic pointers for putting together your project proposal and actually presenting it.

Prepare and plan for objections from the get-go

Listen: if getting approval for projects were so simple, we wouldn’t need these thought-out proposals in the first place. 

Be prepared for folks to say “no” and raise objections, particularly when it comes to your budget or timeline. Given that so many projects do go over budget, objections and questions are totally understandable. This might include:

  • The cost of your project. Make sure you’ve explored your options in terms of resources and deliverables, including alternatives and their respective pricing (think: tools, licenses, contractors, etc).

  • How “realistic” your project is. This is where a well-crafted project proposal really shines. By spelling out an actual timeline, goals/KPIs, and people to carry out your action items, you instantly make your project seem more, well, real.

  • “This isn’t a good time.” Again, a strong hook and sense of urgency really do the trick here.

Talk among your team and brainstorm answers for all of the above. There might be additional objections that you don’t think of yourself, so hashing them out definitely helps.

How prepared and confident you are dealing with objections really boils down to how much homework you do, which actually leads us to our next point.

Back up your project proposal with data

We can’t stress this enough. The more firsthand numbers (think: marketing data, internal productivity stats) you have on hand, the better. Third-party research is fine but isn’t guaranteed to be as impactful.

Presenting data does the double duty of selling both your project and the fact that you’ve come prepared. As a side note, just don’t drown your stakeholders in numbers. The more numbers you add on, the less your most important stats are remembered.

Add detail with Tasks

Add detail with Tasks

Break down creative projects to a granular level using Teamwork’s flexible task management capabilities. Task Lists, Tasks, and Subtasks, let you assign work, add due dates, project tags, set priorities, or even collaborate with your team and clients directly from a task using comments.

Be direct and get to the point!

Your project proposal doesn’t need to be a novel, nor should it be. 

Each line of your proposal represents precious real estate. Much like you’re probably on a tight schedule, so are your stakeholders. 

Look at putting your proposal together as an exercise in both planning and persuasion.  State the facts, use bullet points, and don’t get lost in the details. 

You don’t have to answer each and every question related to your project: if people have questions, they’ll ask.

And again, your project proposal isn’t the be-all, end-all documentation for your project anyway. It’s simply the basis for getting the ball rolling.

Ready to put our project proposal into action?

Planning is key to getting any project off the ground and hopefully, the outline above can make the process easier for you and your team.

If you haven’t already, make sure to snag our free template to get started! Also, don’t forget that Teamwork can help your team organize your projects, proposals, and everything in-between when it comes to collaboration.

Try Teamwork free for 30 days to get started.