Planning a project is no easy feat, but it also doesn’t have to be a big, stressful affair. Here’s a guide on how to plan a project in three steps.

Man project planning on whiteboard

Projects come in all different shapes and sizes, whether it’s introducing new software into the company, or a high scale corporate office relocation. But they all serve the same purpose — to successfully deliver tasks and activities in order to achieve an end goal. It is usually done through the collaboration of like-minded individuals, and guided by a project plan.

What is a project plan?

A project plan outlines the necessary steps that need to be taken to achieve the project’s end goal, a structure of the work breakdown if you will. It includes the tasks that will be carried out to achieve deliverables, their durations, and the resources required. Part of the project management process, project planning not only aims to coordinate all of this, but to also foresee any challenges and risks associated.

3 steps of planning a project

Although projects vary in size, the planning process has the same framework. The project plan can ultimately be divided into three steps; establishing the vision, creating the schedule, and compiling the team. Here are the steps of the project plan template:

Step 1: Painting the picture

Before you can plan a project, you have to determine what the project actually is. This first step of the project plan is where the project’s vision is defined, and either pitched to stakeholders or assigned by them, depending on whether it’s a project you’ve come up with or something that has been tasked to you.

Scenario 1: If you were creating the vision
Let’s say you have a genius idea that you want to turn into a product, this is the part where you convince potential sponsors and stakeholders to jump on board. It is a crucial step to get right because without the support of the sponsors and stakeholders, you won’t have a project. This is your moment to convince them, why and how your project will be a success.

Two people in a project plan meeting in a cafe

Scenario 2: If the vision was created for you
In this instance, we’ll say you’re the project manager hired by a corporate enterprise to coordinate a new product launch, you will need to ensure that you fully understand the project’s objective, the stakeholders’ expectations, and what is expected of you to carry it all out as seamlessly as possible.

This is where the objectives, deliverables, functions, budget, features, and deadlines are characterized. It is the part of the planning process that sets you up with the information you need to create the actual project plan.

Step 2: Creating the schedule

Once the project goals and objectives have been laid out, it’s time to set up the actual project plan. The schedule is the project’s timeline, made up of tasks and activities, and includes their duration, deadlines, and dependencies. Other important details such as the resources involved, costs, and project milestones (which are points that mark an important event in the process) are also noted in the project plan.

Creating the schedule involves assigning tasks, organizing the budget, allocating resources, selecting dates, and setting up timeframes. This part of the project plan will help you estimate how long each task, and the overall project, will take to complete, how much it will cost, and the activities that need to be accomplished.

The most common way to schedule a project is by using a Gantt chart. The vertical task list against a horizontal timescale design gives you a great visualization on the project management plan. It also clearly highlights the time schedule, relationships, progress updates, and dependencies of each task.

It is entirely possible to create a project plan manually, however, if you were looking to save time, energy, and your sanity, you would opt to use an online project management tool.

Gantt chart from a project plan
Using a Gantt chart is a great way to visualize your schedule!

But, of course, this isn’t the only way to do it. Using project management software like Zenkit that has custom features allows you to switch your project plan template into various views such as Kanban, list, or mind map.

Step 3: Gathering the team

For your project plan to work, you need to assemble the perfect team to execute it. You’ve already got yourself (the project manager), and the project sponsors on board, now all you need is the working team. At the heart of every operation is the project’s working team members. The individuals whose skill sets and expertise turn the project’s vision into a reality.

Along with their industry knowledge and skills, ensure you gather a group of people who can work well together. Project work relies hugely on teamwork and collaboration to deliver a successful outcome.

7 Project planning pointers

A project planning guide is not without its tips. So, here they are:

  1. When persuading potential stakeholders to get behind your project, ensure the ‘business case’ you use is a formal, written document. This will solidify your ambition for the project, and also gives off a professional vibe.
  2. Don’t forget to do a risk assessment in your project plan! Project work can be precarious, and you’d be a fool not to expect risks. As part of your initial step, do a risk assessment to evaluate the provisions you may need to take for tasks that are high level risk. Make sure to include buffer time in your schedule.
  3. Speaking of taking into account extra time, make sure you know the availability of your team members when you recruit them. Overlooking holidays or planned time off may result in project delays. Avoid hiccups by including this time in your project plan schedule, or by finding temporary relief options.
  4. Don’t be adverse to up-skilling your team when it comes to assembling them. Offering training and support may seem like extra work but it can bring loyalty to the project, as well as efficiency in the long run.
  5. Once you’ve put together your perfect crew, break the ice by doing a couple of team bonding activities. Not only is getting to know your colleagues a crucial aspect of teamwork, but having trust and comfort will emphasize that cohesion.
  6. Remember that stakeholders aren’t just people who have hired you to do the project. They are anyone who is affected by the outcome of the project. So when convincing them of your vision in the initial step, or communicating changes and progress updates of the project plan, don’t forget to include all of the people who are invested.
  7. A given, but it has to be said (again) — use a cloud-based project management solution. Not only does can it provide you with the tools you need to simplify the process, but it will equip your team to perform at maximum efficiency and productivity.

How do you plan a project? Do you have any tips you feel will make the world of difference to someone else in this situation? Go on, share them with us 🙂

Cheers,

Dinnie and the Zenkit Team