Project planning can be called the heart of the project life cycle. Just like a pilot files a flight plan before embarking on a journey, a good project manager is responsible for writing down a detailed project plan.
Unfortunately, the lack of project planning is one of the main reasons behind some projects failing to be completed and delivered successfully. Undertaking a project is akin to participating in a war; if you do not have strategy and ammunition, you are likely to face defeat.
The project plan gives your team members the vision and direction to work on. It tells everyone involved what to do, when to do, and how to do it. Even if your project is completed without any planning in place, you’ll likely end up wasting a lot of time, money, and resources.
Now, the most important question here is how do you plan your project well. It’s not that you would create a rough outline and term it as a “project plan.” It would be a blunder and like having no plan at all. Incorrect planning is as good as no planning, remember.
To begin with, I need to make sure that we all are on the same page when it comes to what a project plan is.
What Is Project Planning?
Project planning is part of project management, where required documentation is prepared to ensure successful project completion.
A project plan is centered on identifying, prioritizing, and assigning the necessary tasks and designated resources to create the structure for a successful project. The project plan lays out how the project is to be executed, supervised, controlled, and closed.
Good project planning also considers risk and how to manage it, including contingency plans, and elaborates a communication strategy to keep all stakeholders up to date and on board.
Why Project Planning Is Essential
Project planning is essential for several reasons:
- The project progresses smoothly according to plan
- You deliver projects on time, on budget
- All members involved have an understanding of the project objectives
- All members involved know their roles and responsibilities
- You’re in a better position to manage risks, time, and costs better
- You can identify deviations that could hurt the project
- All your thoughts are documented and you can break down the project into manageable chunks
- Quality control
- Reduced costs
Key Elements Of Effective Project Planning
The project plan is written in detail when you start any new project, but penning down details can be difficult. It makes sense to emphasize basic goals and milestones. To do this, we need to have the crucial elements that you should include in the project planning process.
The essential elements of a project plan are:
- Project Goal
What do we expect to achieve with this project? The project goal is the combination of the reasons for undertaking the project and the benefits that are expected from it. Generally, project goals are included in a project charter, but these should also be in the project plan to elaborate on the goals of the project. A clear link should be maintained between the project charter (the first key document) and the project plan (the second key document).
- Scope Statement
Like project goals, the project scope is included in a project charter and should be further explained in a project plan by the project manager. The project scope tops the list of most important considerations for most projects, because without it, the project does not take off. It is the part of project planning that determines and documents a list of specific project goals, features, deliverables, tasks, functions, ultimately costs, and deadlines. The scope is what needs to be achieved and what work must be done to deliver a project.
- Identification Of Stakeholder Needs
Stakeholders could be end-users, project sponsors, clients, and employees. All stakeholders and their needs should be considered. You can use Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix, which can help you prioritize their needs based on urgency and importance. Remember to lead a structured conversation with your stakeholders so that you don’t have a long list of irrelevant desires to the project. List only what’s important for the project.
- Setting Milestones And Identifying Major Deliverables
What specifically (products or services) do you need to deliver to your clients? These are called deliverables. The key achievements for a project are called milestones. A project plan should identify and define both these components, and set deadlines for their completion. While the milestones and major deliverables do not need to have exact dates, precise dates can help project managers break down work structure more accurately.
A project’s budget is the amount of money allocated to complete the project. It is the responsibility of the project manager to disperse these resources appropriately. Project budgeting involves summarizing the expenses you anticipate for the project, as compared to revenue. The total cost of the project is tied to how long the project takes to complete, which again reverts to the scope of the project. The scope, milestones, tasks, and budget must be aligned and realistic.
This is a stage where you set task dependencies, which means no one task can be completed without another. You cannot start a new task unless the previous task is completed. In project management, all tasks have dependencies. Dependencies are mutual relationships among tasks that determine the order in which activities need to be performed.
There are four types of task dependencies, and each one has its specific reason you would use it.
- Finish-to-Start (Action Y should be completed to give start to Action Z)
- Finish-to-Finish (Action Y should be completed before Action Z will be completed)
- Start-to-Start (Action Z cannot be started unless Action Y is started)
- Start-to-Finish (Action Z cannot be over before a start to Action Y is given)
- A Detailed Project Schedule
The project schedule informs all stakeholders what the expected delivery time will be, and helps project managers and team members to keep the project progressing in the right direction, at the right speed. Your project schedule includes the deliverables, tasks for each deliverable, start and due dates for each task and deliverable, and who will complete them. Project schedules are usually communicated in Gantt chart form. You can use online collaboration apps such as ProofHub, Trello, or FreshBooks for creating and managing project schedules.
- Risk Management Plan
Risk management is about what could go wrong that would cause your project to deviate off-track? What can you do to avoid unprecedented risks or minimize their impact on your project? The project manager formulates strategies to mitigate risks to the project by seeking input from internal experts, stakeholders, the project team, and the project sponsor. Mitigation strategies are implemented for risks that are most likely to occur or have high costs associated with them.
In a Nutshell
It’s evident that project planning is a crucial component of the project management lifecycle. It helps you better manage your time, money, and resources. Project planning facilitates team collaboration and helps to keep all stakeholders on the same page.
But, implementing these eight essential elements into your project can go a long way in making it a success. Simplify project management with these proven elements and keep delivering projects on time, every time!
Vartika Kashyap is the CMO at ProofHub - a simple project management software and a powerful Asana alternative. This Asana alternative not only simplifies project management but also aims to increase team productivity with quick team collaboration. Vartika likes to write about productivity, team building, work culture, leadership, entrepreneurship among others and contributing to a better workplace is what makes her click.