The ability to manage projects is one of the most crucial skills for any organization. It affects team morale, revenue, and liabilities, and ultimately has an impact on customer experience as well. Even though all projects are meant to be temporary, their number might vary, depending on a company.
For example, yours may work on one project at a time, whereas larger organizations can have a lot of them going on simultaneously. No matter the exact number – it’s important to create a perfect project plan for each venture. Here’s why it matters and how to go about creating a project plan yourself.
The basics of project management
Project planning is a vital component of project management, describing how a business is going to achieve specific goals. The idea is to apply the available tools and your own expertise to execute every step as good as possible, and move on to the next one until the project is completed.
This might not seem that difficult at first, but there are always some factors to keep in mind – such as available time, people, and budget, which ultimately affect the execution. As a matter of fact, there are a few essential elements of every project:
- Scope, which involves the project’s size, goals, and requirements
- Resources, including money, people, and materials you have in place
- Time, broken down into specific tasks and their duration
All of these elements are interrelated and should be simultaneously taken care of by a skilled project manager. Actually, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to project management - each project you encounter is going to be different, and have its own goal, budget, and timeline. It’s in the hands of the project managers and their teams, as well as an actual project plan they come up with.
The project plan
A well-thought-out project management plan should outline all the details needed for its successful completion. It usually a formal, approved document that acts as a roadmap and defines how the project is going to be executed, monitored, controlled, and closed (as stated in the PMI’s Lexicon of Project Management Terms).
The main reason behind it is to gather the potential inputs both from the project team and key stakeholders and have clear criteria which the project completion can be measured against as the work proceeds.
Basically, every project plan consists of a set of key-ingredients:
- Each project starts with an idea, that should first be defined (‘what’ and why’) and discussed with key stakeholders. Then write a short statement summarizing what has been decided.
- Research, on the other hand, helps to refine this particular idea. This is when you should take a closer look at available solutions, resources, and the competitors (if relevant for the project).
- Define the budget
- Decide on the methodology you’ll use and whether to deliver in azusammenarbeiten few stages or in a single launch.
- Prepare an organization chart: Who is involved? How are the roles and responsibilities divided and how do they collaborate? Who does what?
- The scheme is ready? Then, what follows is the schedule. Create a plan with milestones and delivery dates. This helps you keep track of your progress and allows for agile processes.
- Risk management: Things tend to go wrong sometimes so be aware of the risks to be able to act if that case arises. Someone who knows about the risks knows how to act if they occur.
- Progress-Tracking: The progress of each project should be measured and monitored continuously, to be able to adapt the project plan as needed.
Creating a project plan never happens all at once, though. It’s a continuous process, that can be refined any time.
Steps towards a successful project management plan
1. Identify project stakeholders and meet up with them.
Stackholders should be part of the project process from the very beginning. Incidentally, a stakeholder can be almost everyone. This also includes customers, users or even sponsors in addition to all team members and project managers. They all have specific interests regarding the project outcome that are to be considered as well. In particular, these interests should be addressed in all fundamental issues, e.g. according to the project scope and the budget.
At this first stage, it is also a good idea to define key project roles and assign them appropriately to all stakeholders and team members. Everything that follows within the progress will be much easier if relevant people and organizations have been recorded within their specific roles from the very beginning.
2. Set specific goals and deliverables.
Once you have all objectives and stakeholder needs figured out, it’s time to set specific goals for the project, write them down and prioritize them. Similar rules apply to deliverables and project management steps you should make in order to complete the project successfully.
Once you’re at it, try to define the series of tasks that should be taken care of in order to accomplish each deliverable, including the resources and team members responsible for the execution. Then, identify any milestones and dependencies, as some tasks might have to be finished before others begin, and estimate due dates for all deliverables. Think of potential risks and issues that might occur as well, as no project is truly risk-free.
3. Write down the project baselines.
You’ve already given a lot of thought to the project - now it’s time to have it all on paper. What for? The idea is to make sure your plan is clearly communicated, as well as easily shareable and reviewed. At this point, you should be prepared to develop your baseline scope, schedule, and budget.
Start with identifying the scope once and for all, and then finalize the due dates for all deliverables. Define your project schedule by setting firm milestones for essential deadlines - it will be easier to track progress this way, and keep your stakeholders happy and informed at all times.
Still, keep in mind that all these three elements - scope, timeline, and budget - are interdependent.
Also, remember about the potential problems you’ve already identified. It’s a pretty standard procedure to address them upfront. Consider the steps your team might have to take to prevent them from happening, or at least limit their negative impact.
Keep it simple
Although preparing a good plan is essencial in managing any project, there is a risk that when it’s too detailed you may lose the agility. A plan should consist of all the necessary tasks and milestones, but there should also be a room for adjusting to the changing environment. Trust your team as well and let them share spointanous ideas.
4. Present the Plan
Now it's all about communicating the project plan. Discuss the details with all stakeholders that are involved and make the plan available to all project stakeholders (while always keeping it up to date of course). This keeps the most important data and updates visible to everyone. The right project management software will help you to keep information clear, transparent and up-to-date.
5. Organize a kick-off meeting.
A kick-off meeting is meant to bring the whole team (including the stakeholders) together, mainly to discuss the plan once more before the project is about to start. It’s time to present the phases and goals and to make sure that everyone knows exactly what he or she has to do to make the project a success. However, the kick-off meeting not only brings everyone up to date, it should also motivate the participants.
Examples of project management tools
Project management tools have become indispensable in the modern workplace. They make it much easier to manage tasks and deadlines, as well as to pinpoint problems and organize business responsibilities. The numbers speak for themselves: 77% of high-performing projects use task management software.
Surprisingly, not every organization seems to be taking advantage of project planning tools. If you’re still not convinced about their benefits as well, check out some of the task management tools up-to-date.
Nozbe is a project management tool, inspired by the ‘Getting Things Done’ productivity method, available for various platforms, both mobile and desktop. It allows for delegating and organising tasks, working and commenting on shared files, and collaborating with guest users. Nozbe also integrates with popular applications, such as box, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive, and more. Overall, the tool is quite plain and simple - unlike many other tools, it consists of a single workspace and is therefore primarily suitable for small projects.
Another and very well-known software is Asana, which functions as a task management system. It allows to record all tasks within individual project representations and to provide them with details. Projects can be viewed and managed as boards (kanban view), in calendars, and as task lists. Depending on individual preference, members can easily switch between views. Outside the task management - when it comes to communication for example - Asana remains simple. There is no team chat included.
Stackfield brings together communication and project management in a single team collaboration software that enhances collaboration among team members by providing important information in a transparent way. Stackfield subdivides individual projects, project areas or teams into rooms whose composition consists of various modules - eg. Tasks, communication, files, documents, calendars, time tracking ...
Even within the modules, Stackfield remains flexible. For example, the statuses and columns in the task manager can be changed and expanded as needed, which enables an easy adaptation to individual workflows. Different views like the Kanban board view, list views and Gantt charts maintain clarity. All elements can also be annotated and files can be easily attached as well, ensuring that relationships are maintained. Fine roles and rights structures and the highest security standards (including a client-side end-to-end encryption) guarantee compliance with the GDPR and internal compliance rules.
Project planning process in a nutshell
Creating a project plan might seem like a lot of work, but it’s essential to develop one. Basically, it guides your team through project execution, control, and closure - while giving you an overview of what, when and by whom needs to be done every step of the way.
Clearly, there’s a lot of details that you have to take into account when working on your plan. Don’t get discouraged - project plans are those types of documents that can, and should be, reviewed at any time. Take your time and involve the whole team in the planning process. If you follow the above-mentioned project management steps and take advantage of powerful project management software, you’re much more likely to succeed.