“What are you working on?” Wait, what happened with our budget? Why’s this late again?”
Sound familiar? Most of the time, poor planning is the root of your project management headaches.
But if you stick to a work plan, the status of your projects doesn’t have to be a wild guess. This is especially true when you’re juggling multiple, long-term projects with a bunch of different stakeholders.
Thing is, poor planning still ranks among the top challenges of PMs today.
You need a roadmap to stay on time and under budget, sure. But how do you know if your project planning is on-point?
In this guide, we’ll highlight how to create and roll out a work plan that actually, well, works.
What is a work plan, anyway?
A work plan is a high-level document that breaks down a project’s goals, objectives, and priority of tasks from start to finish.
The key elements of any given work plan include:
Goal(s): The broad, big-picture mission of your project.
Objectives: The outcomes you hope to achieve based on your goals.
Tactics: Actions or tools you’ll implement to hit your objectives.
KPIs: The metrics and data points used to measure the effectiveness of your tactics.
Roles: The teammates and stakeholders responsible for project tasks.
Timeline: Dates, deadlines, and project milestones to keep everything on time.
Requiring approval from stakeholders and referenced throughout by participants, your work plan is your go-to project blueprint.
Your work plan is crucial not only for any documentation but also for answering the “what,” “why,” “when,” and "how” of any given project before it gets underway.
Okay, but what makes a work plan unique?
Project planning is a no-brainer. So what makes a project plan unique versus, say, a work breakdown structure? For starters:
Work plans aren’t (typically) the responsibility of a single person.
Details in a work plan are higher-level rather than granular.
Work plans are a project document everyone involved can reference.
Also, based on size and scope, note that not every project requires an explicit work plan. Larger, complex projects with multiple stakeholders, tasks, or milestones should have one.
On the flip side, if a project has one stakeholder and only a few tasks that don't differentiate, consider if a thorough work plan is necessary. Here are some of the telltale signs you need a work plan:
1. You’re dealing with a long-term project (think: multiple months)
The more steps involved in a project, the greater the need for a roadmap. Planning is central to saving time and ensuring that deadlines don’t whiz by.
2. You’re working with a variety of stakeholders, departments, and/or team members
Your time is valuable, but the same is true of your colleagues’ schedules. If you’re working with a dozen people on a project, every hour counts and you quite literally can’t afford to waste time.
3. You’re in charge of a high-stakes project (think: big $$$ and make-or-break outcomes)
Piggybacking on the point above, projects with major financial backing or crucial client outcomes need to be put under the microscope. Work plans encourage you to do exactly that.
Why work plans matter so much (and why you can’t rush yours)
Crafting a plan is arguably as important as the steps of the project itself.
Does doing so require a bit of legwork? Absolutely.
But consider the benefits of building a thoughtful plan for yourself and your teammates:
Earn quicker and more confident buy-in from stakeholders
It's crucial to secure the budget through resource planning to make your project a success. That said, it’s a way to prove to stakeholders that you’ve done your homework. Detailed plans create a sense of confidence for everyone involved as they cover every “what-if” and “what’s next.”
Reduce waste and boost efficiency (by saving time, cash, and resources)
Waste is the not-so-silent killer of any given project. Work plans reduce the potential for budget overrun, wasted time by assessing risks and assigning timely action items to keep projects moving, or just any general scope creep.
Better accountability (in case the project goes sideways)
A work plan ensures that there’s skin in the game for both your colleagues, clients, and higher-ups alike. If something does go wrong, you can always point back to your plan and the fact that it was approved.
Empower your team to spend their time more efficiently
If nothing else, a work plan makes your coworkers’ lives easier. Well-crafted work plans specify tasks, eliminate needless bottlenecks, and ultimately tell your teammates exactly what needs to be done. This reduces the endless guessing and back-and-forth that often leads to burnout. Ensuring resource allocation into your work plan is essential for succeces.
How to craft an effective and actionable work plan (in five steps)
Now, onto the good stuff! Here are the five steps needed to put together a foolproof work plan template that covers all of your bases:
1. Break down your broad goals and specific objectives
In short, what’s the purpose of your project and how are you going to get there?
[Broad goal] will be achieved [specific objective(s)].
In the context of a work plan, goal-setting means highlighting big-picture goals and tying them to specific KPIs. For example:
“Improve our customer experience by actively increasing our NPS by [x]% over [y timeframe].
Boost search visibility by increasing our organic traffic by [x]% over [y timeframe].
Create greater brand awareness by raising our [marketing channel] engagement by [x%] and follower count by [y followers] in [z timeframe].
Ideally, your goals and objectives can be broken down into a sentence or two. This is for the sake of simplicity and keeping your teammates and stakeholders’ eyes on the prize.
Also, It’s important to confirm with other collaborators that your objectives are achievable.
2. Outline your action items and must-do tasks
Here you’ll decide the steps necessary for your teammates to actually achieve the goals and objectives above. These tasks might include:
Conducting research and analysis
Reaching out to clients and customers for information or quotes
Creating, editing, and designing project deliverables (copy, graphics, blogs, landing pages)
Setting up meetings, check-ins, or onboarding sessions
Purchasing software or other tools
For example, a project related to increasing traffic might run a content marketing campaign, invest in a new SEO, or conduct a revamp of their blog (or all three).
Either way, your project requirements need to be crystal clear. You don’t necessarily need to tie these action items to specific deliverables in your work plan just yet. Focus on the higher-level details first.
3. Determine roles required to put your project into motion
Who’s going to sign off on your project? And who’s best-suited to tackle the tasks above
Key roles that are highlighted in any given work plan include:
Managers, clients, and higher-ups responsible for the project and/or task approval
Teammates working on the project internally
Outside collaborators (think: freelancers, contractors, consultants)
Again, these factors may change based on scheduling, availability, or your budget. This speaks to the dynamic nature of a work plan.
4. Establish a realistic timeline and schedule (based on all of the above)
Sticking to a project timeline is an obvious must-do. This includes:
For a work plan, your schedule doesn’t need to be set in stone: it’ll likely evolve as the planning and project itself progress.
And that’s fine! The goal of your schedule is threefold:
Keep your project moving forward once it’s approved
Provide an opportunity for participants to confirm that your timeline is realistic
Set expectations for your stakeholders (how long the project will take, when they’ll need to be involved, and what their level of commitment should be)
5. Agree upon a communication and check-in cadence
Unclear instructions and expectations. Unanswered questions. No-shows and non-replies. All of the above can crush a project even among the most talented teams.
Communication is make-or-break prior to and during the implementation of a work plan. To reduce misunderstandings and keep your projects on track, make sure to outline:
Where you’ll team will discuss and document their work
How (and how often) you’ll communicate progress
Timing and expectations for meetings, check-ins, and updates
We can’t stress it enough: open and timely communication is essential. Project managers aren’t mind-readers and each step of the work plan requires input. When in doubt, talk to your team.
How to implement your work plan with a project management tool
Let’s say you have the key details of your work plan together. You’re ready to rock’n’roll.
Nice! But now what?
Actually putting your plan into action might seem like an organizational roadblock. Spreadsheets are “meh.” Endless emails are a nightmare. Stuff can even get lost in Slack.
There’s a reason why modern teams today rely on project management software to get things done. With the right tools, you can define, control, and consolidate all of your tasks and comms in a single platform. Nothing gets lost, nobody is left in the dark.
To wrap things up, we’ll show you how to initiate your work plan with a tool like Teamwork.
Fill in your key project details to keep your team focused and on-task
Having your goals, objectives, and tasks front-and-center is a huge plus.
Doing so keeps your team on task and likewise helps you understand the timing and progress of your project at a glance. It’s a win-win. Again, your work plan is something that everyone should be able to refer back to.
With Teamwork, you have a project control center that gives you a bird’s eye view of any given project. And that's exactly what the Project Health Report shows you.
Assign roles, timelines, and priorities to your project tasks
Project management tools make it a cinch to manage the “who’s who” of your projects.
For example, Teamwork lets you assign specific roles, teams, and departments to any given project task. Having specific action items outlined reduces scope creep, as does the built-in time logging to ensure an appropriate amount of time is spent on each task (hint: not too much, not too little).
Communicate deadlines and progress with teammates
Speaking of time, Teamwork provides multiple ways to manage your calendar and schedule. Built-in due dates encourage you to meet and beat deadlines, while progress-tracking can clue you in on opportunities to intervene or check in with a teammate that might have fallen behind.
Track and document the progress of your project every step of the way
Rather than drown in email chains or Slack messages, consider how a project management tool can consolidate your updates and check-ins. Teamwork’s Kanban boards highlight each stage of your project for every task and provide collaborators a clear destination to go back and forth.
Additionally, features such as our Gantt charts are perfect for sharing progress reports with clients, colleagues, and other managers. We make it simple to create a Gantt chart from scratch.
Assess your project performance based on outcomes, budget, and timing
Pop quiz: how do you know if your project was a success? What about your work plan?
Teamwork can answer all of these questions and more based on actual data. Our platform's Planned vs. Actual Report tracks everything from profits to time spent on specific tasks to highlight what went well, what (hopefully!) didn’t, and opportunities for you to improve your work plans in the future.
Ready to put together a work plan to tackle your next project?
If you’re serious about project management, you need to master the art of planning.
From winning buy-in to reducing waste and beyond, the benefits of a blueprint can’t be overstated. That’s why work plans are totally worth the effort.
The good news? Once you hash out your first work plan, they’re so much easier to implement the next time around.
And with the help of tools like Teamwork, the process is even more efficient.