And now that you’ve successfully written a project charter and identified your key stakeholders, you’re ready to turn it all into a full-blown project management plan that’s going to knock your project’s socks off.
This is where all of your research and preparation pays off in the form of a definitive project plan document that you’ll use to guide your project from beginning to end.
But what is a project management plan used for? Why is it so important? And what are the core project management plan components you need to include for it to be a success?
Here’s how to make a project plan that actually works.
What is a project management plan used for?
Your project plan document is where you go deep on the ins, outs, overs, and unders of your project.
Whereas the project charter is the high-level vision for your project, your project management plan is where you break this vision down into the actual day-to-day execution of your project, covering everything you need to do to reach your project goals.
A detailed project plan will plot out everything from timelines to budget, resourcing to deliverables, and more, giving you a blueprint of what needs to be done (and when) that you can use to guide — and assess — your project.
The importance of project management planning
Behind every great project, there’s a heck of a lot of preparation.
As a project manager, you’ll have tons of things to keep track of at any given stage. Your project plan helps you to take out the guesswork by showing you exactly what you need to be focusing on each step of the way; where your resources and attention should be going; and what you need to be looking out for to ensure things don’t become overdue or over budget.
The work you do upfront in creating a project plan will stand to you throughout the lifecycle of the project, allowing you to direct your efforts 100% on delivering results, not scrambling to figure out what you should be doing next.
Here are 5 benefits that highlight the importance of project management planning.
It gives your project a baseline to work with
Working from the approved project charter, your project plan will map out the agreed-upon scope, timeline, and budget for your project in more detail.
Once you have these baselines decided, defined, and approved by the project sponsor, you’ll be able to measure the actual execution of your project against the projected progress.
This is super helpful because it means that no matter which stage of your project you’re at, you can quickly gauge whether you’re delivering the way you planned — and what you need to do to course-correct if you’re not.
It creates project alignment (and removes confusion)
No alarms and no surprises: with your project laid out in a detailed project plan, everyone knows what to expect and when.
While your project charter brings you, your stakeholders, and the project team into general alignment, your detailed project plan will ensure there’s no room for error or uncertainty by mapping out the exact due dates and deliverables, so everyone can prepare accordingly.
It fully outlines the scope of the project
That alignment has another related benefit, too: avoiding scope creep.
When your stakeholders’ expectations and all agreed deliverables are clearly laid out in the project plan document, it’s easier to spot when things are out of scope.
And just as importantly, it makes it easier to address them, too. That’s because you have a written document or project planning sheet that you can refer back to in discussions, so everyone can be reminded of what they originally agreed to and there’s no ambiguity about what’s in (or out of) the purview of the project.
It allows for better resourced project management
Once you start to break down the project’s work into manageable chunks like deliverables, milestones, and tasks, it becomes much easier to see what kind of resources you’ll actually need in order to get it done.
Again, while you may have started to outline this in your project charter at a very high level, your project plan is where you get really granular about how you’re planning to use the resources at your disposal.
(Pro tip: for a really great project plan, you’ll also want to factor in some wiggle room for when things inevitably change and you have to re-optimize your resources on the fly.)
It builds confidence in your project
Having a detailed project plan helps to reassure your project sponsor, your stakeholders, and your project team (and let’s be honest, maybe yourself if you’re having a particularly bad day) of where you’re going and why.
Your project plan document builds confidence in your leadership as a project manager, because it allows everyone to see how all of the work comes together to advance the project’s — and by extension, the organization’s — goals.
5 things you need to know before writing a project plan
Sound good? Ready to get down to business? Before you dive in to writing a project plan, here are the 5 things you need to ensure you’ve identified.
1. Identify the baselines for your project
Before you begin writing a project plan, you need to make sure you have the basics down. Start by identifying the baselines for the project’s scope, schedule and cost, as the rest of your project planning will need to fit in around those constraints.
As mentioned above, these baselines should already be roughly outlined in your project charter — but here’s where you really start to map them out and create accurate estimates. And the more detailed, the better, because these are what you’ll be using for comparison to measure how your project performs.
2. Identify your project dependencies
Or in other words, ask yourself: what needs to happen before this other thing can happen? Identifying your project dependencies at the outset of your project means you can plan your timelines more efficiently, spot potential blockers, and ensure that you avoid unnecessary delays.
3. Identify project stakeholders
You’ll already have done the groundwork for this in your stakeholder analysis, but as you flesh out your project management plan and think through the phases of your project in more detail, you’ll likely start to find more project stakeholders at each phase.
Now is also a good time to go deeper on which stakeholders need to be informed and involved at which stages, for a more comprehensive stakeholder management plan you can use at each phase of your project.
4. Identify project milestones
What are the key markers of your project’s progress? It can be a concrete deliverable, the end of a phase in a stage-gate process — whatever milestones make sense to you, breaking your project down into manageable chunks, each with a defined goal, helps to keep the team motivated, allows you to celebrate each achievement, and signposts how the overall progress is coming along. Learn more about using Milestones here.
5. Identify who’s responsible for what
Once you start to get a big-picture understanding of the work that’s needed and the resources you have to complete it, you can start deciding who should do what. Giving each item an owner is essential to getting things done. No more “oh, was I supposed to do that?” — once you identify who’s responsible for what, you can ensure accountability and transparency.
How to make a project plan
1. Start with a high level project plan template
What does a project plan look like in your organization? When you’re creating a project plan, start by drawing on any existing materials you can use to guide you, like project plan samples or project plan templates.
Whether your organization provides you with a high level project plan template, a project planning form, project plan samples, or a project planning calendar, leverage any organizational process assets you can.
Don’t have a project plan template available? Make your own, and use it for all future projects to save time and replicate your successes.
2. Then tailor it to match your project type
A project plan template or sample project is a great way to get started with your planning, but don’t forget to choose the right project plan type for your specific project.
Your project plan should be tailored to your particular project type, team type, and needs. For example, an IT project plan for a rollout of new equipment will probably look different from a sample agile project plan, both of which will probably look different from more overarching strategic project planning.
3. Get input from clients, project stakeholders and team members
Writing your project plan in a vacuum will make it harder to get buy-in when it matters.
Involving your stakeholders when you’re creating a project plan helps them to feel more represented in the process, and sets the tone for a collaborative working environment that will stand to you throughout the project.
So whether it’s a planning meeting, brainstorming session, or one-to-one interviews, make sure you get input from the project’s key players when you’re developing a project plan.
And as an added bonus? This is also a great opportunity for you as the project manager to continue growing the relationships you started building back in the project charter and stakeholder analysis phases.
4. Incorporate any other project management planning you’ve done
Your project management plan should be informed by all the other project planning you’ve done so far: not only the outcomes of the project planning steps 1-5 above, but all the research you’ve done before reaching this stage.
According to the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide and Standards, some other plans to include as part of your project management plan are:
Scope management plan
Requirements management plan
Schedule management plan
Cost management plan
Quality management plan
Resource management plan
Communications management plan
Risk management plan
Procurement management plan
Stakeholder engagement plan
While the PMBOK recommends having these 10 plans as standard, you might find that different projects require different approaches.
Nonetheless, even if you don’t have a comprehensive document for each one, it’s good to cover each of these bases at some stage of your PM planning so you’re prepared.
You might also want to include some or all of the following:
Change management plan
Configuration management plan
Performance measurement baseline
Project life cycle
Development approach (e.g. predictive, iterative, agile, hybrid)
If you have these documents already, use them to guide your planning. You can also include them in an appendix to your project management plan so they’re always close to hand.
5. Put your project management plan somewhere central
Just like your project charter, your project management plan should live somewhere central where everyone — stakeholders, the project team, management, clients — can access it.
Teamwork Spaces is great for storing all of your important project planning documents in a way that makes them intuitive and enjoyable to read. Mark essential SOPs or processes as Required Reading to ensure that essential info actually gets read.
And if someone has a question that they can’t find the answer to? Readers can leave comments on individual spaces to ask for clarification or leave an update.
Use a project management tool to turn your project management plan into a plan of action
Once you’ve documented your project management plan, bring it to life with a project management tool that will help you to stay on track, keep your team accountable, and promote transparency.
Here are 3 ways you can use Teamwork to supercharge your project management plan.
Add your supporting documentation to Teamwork Spaces
Use the Teamwork and Teamwork Spaces integration to link a project in Teamwork with a space in Teamwork Spaces, so your important project documents are only ever a click away.
Some documents you might want to add in addition to your project charter and project management plan include:
Change management plans
SOPs for important project processes
List of stakeholders and their roles
Outline of approval processes
Communications management plan
Any other best practices documentation or supporting info as necessary
You can even embed task lists into your pages and mark tasks as complete right from Teamwork Spaces, so you can keep work flowing without even needing to switch tabs.
Start adding your Milestones
Break down your work into Milestones and task lists that are going to help you reach them. With Teamwork, you can assign an owner to each Milestone, map out your Milestone due dates and see them represented in the project calendar, and even get a full Change History for Milestones so you can track any edits.
Visualize your task dependencies with a Gantt chart
Gantt chart-style views are a useful way to get a visual representation of your tasks and their dependencies, allowing for better scheduling and resourcing. In Teamwork, you can drag and drop to quickly rearrange your project schedule, without throwing everything out of order or straying off-plan.
Remember: software should support the way you work, not dictate it. So regardless of methodology or team type, create a project plan that works for you and your team — and find a tool that helps you put it into action.