Getting Started: A Guide to Creating Your Own Sample Project Management Plan

SUMMARY
Having a project management plan is important because it provides a blueprint for project execution and enables the team to deliver quality results.
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Before anything, good or bad ends, begin it you must. But, clever Yoda-ism aside, you've got to start somewhere when it comes to successful project completion.

Does it ever seem like far too many of the projects that hit your inbox are like trying to dress an octopus? So. Much. Flailing.

That's because you need a plan, my ScaleTime Stans!

Before executing something, it is best to have a plan, right? So, how do project managers devise a plan to bring out the best of their resources while still under the project's budget?

Enter the project management plan, here to save the day.

Project management involves stages, with the planning phase as the most crucial.

So what is this magical talisman against the workplace flailing?

Consider the project management plan the secret to successful project completion.

The plan lays out the project's objectives, goals, and tasks.

But how are project management plans made? Where should you start creating the project plan?

In this piece, we'll teach you all about a project management plan — what it is, its importance, and the key steps you must climb for completing it.

What is a project management plan?

The key ingredients in a project management plan are the critical inputs from the project team and key project stakeholders.

Essentially, a project management plan is a formalized, approved document that outlines the project from start to finish. This document gives you a definitive blueprint for how to best execute, monitor, and manage your project.

Most project management plans include the following methodologies:

  • Risk management
  • Cost management
  • Schedule management
  • Progress tracking

A project management plan can either be summarized or detailed. The plan may also include documents such as baselines, subsidiary management plans, and other supporting information.

Regardless of the final form your plan will take, it defines how the project manager will guide the team in delivering everything laid out in the project scope. Ultimately, it ensures the team will complete the entirety of the project on time.

Why do you need a project management plan? (It's important!)

Delivering quality results for your clients requires a deep understanding of the team's capabilities and the project goals and objectives.

But the secret behind every successful project lies in its preparation.

One way we can understand the scope of your projects is through a well-written and well-structured project plan document.

Now, don't confuse the project management plan with the project charter. We should remember that these two essential project documents are widely different from each other.

Let's recap.

Project charter vs. project plan

A project charter describes the entire project — from its objectives to the stakeholders. This means that the project charter is on the higher levels of project management and is used throughout the project life cycle.

On the other hand, a project management plan breaks down the high-level perspective described in the project charter into small, day-to-day operations.

The project plan will address everything that's necessary to achieve the objectives and get that thing off your desk.

As a project manager, you've got to adequately track different deliverables, budgets, timeframes, etc. as your project progresses. So, the project plan acts as a roadmap to determine which parts need attention and resources.

This also alerts us to what we should be looking for to ensure that the project stays within budget and that deliverables are on-time.

In short, using a project management plan focuses our attention on the important and urgent aspects and eliminates guesswork throughout the project life cycle.

A project management plan lays out the essentials for your project— from project baselines to key tasks to even risks that may arise in project easwz.

No matter how you slice it, a project management plan is essential to your job, as it allows project managers to redirect effort on providing quality deliverables and helps avoid taking second guesses about what to do next.

What's included in a project management plan?

Since the project management plan acts as a starting point for the job, it should cover all the required information to kickoff the project. So, it needs to include what tasks to complete, the timing and process, and the person(s) responsible for each task.

Many project management planning templates are available online, especially on services offering project management software.

At ScaleTime, we can help you find ways to improve your project management strategies, that you can later include in your project plan.

Here are the major sections in a good project management template so you can get the gist of what needs to go into it:

  1. Executive summary — This section outlines your project plan's critical contents in a short paragraph. Best practice is to keep it brief and it should help set the overall tone of your project management plan.
  2. Project scope and deliverables — The second section of the project plan defines the entire project scope. The scope will determine the deliverables you'll need to provide, and the tasks required to do just that. Use this section of the project management plan to track progress and limit any unnecessary scope creep.
  3. Project schedule — The schedule section sets the timeline for the entire project. You need to develop a schedule to help the team stay on track throughout the project to ensure that you're hitting deadlines and preventing possible delays.
  4. Project resources — This section of the project management plan lists all the resources the team needs to complete the project successfully. These resources come in various forms, from people to budget, tools and equipment.
  5. Risk management plan — This section identifies any possible risks you may encounter during the execution phase and the protocols to mitigate them. The risk management plan will help you prepare for and address any SNAFUs before they rear their ugly widdle heads.
  6. Communication management plan — This section identifies the communication channels for the team and how you'll address team members if they miss a deliverable.

The project scope is the basis of the tasks and deliverables necessary for the successful completion of the project.

Determine your project's resources which are the money, people, and equipment you need to successfully complete the project at hand.

Steps to create a project plan

Creating a project management plan is no simple task if you don't have a blueprint. But you're on this page so you'll have much easier time crafting one to fit your business and your project's needs.

To get started, project managers must consider inputs from all parties involved, i.e., the team, stakeholders, clients, and owners. You'll also have to determine what the project plan will look like, because project plans vary in elements, format, sizes, and even components.

Will a summarized or detailed project plan be created? What features or sections will be included in the project plan?

Nevertheless, creating a project management plan requires you to involve the team and clients involved so they can understand tasks, scope, budgets, timelines, etc.

In the preceding section, we listed the main components of many project plan templates for you to create easily.

Before anything else, we recommend securing a high-level template for project planning first. Use these resources as a general basis for the project plan and tailor it according to the project's needs.

Such project planning resources can include the following:

  • High-level project plan template
  • Project planning form
  • Project planning worksheet
  • Project plan samples
  • Project planning calendar

You can get these templates and worksheets from different sources such as the organization, the clients, or other project teams.

The first step in creating a project plan is to establish the project's goals and objectives. These will be the project's foundation, from the scope to the budget to the tasks and deliverables.

Here are some important terms you'll need to know for this phase of creating a project plan:

Project Scope

The project scope covers all the activities and tasks needed for successful completion. Here, the project charter is used as a basis for the project scope. You can also utilize the work breakdown schedule in identifying these tasks.

Milestones

Once these tasks are defined, determine the milestones or major phases in the project that signify progress. We suggest creating a chart for each milestone that includes a description and delivery date.

A great example of a project milestone is when the project management office is established, or the business case is approved.

Deliverables

Project deliverables are the outcomes of the project expected at a specified date. These are outputs within the scope of the project and aligned with the project objectives.

In short, deliverables are the results of the project team's hard work within the project process.

A good example of a project deliverable is a design drawing for a digital campaign project.

Resources

Project resources are the people, finances, tools, and equipment used in the execution of the project. You determine the resources needed by listing the tasks and activities required to complete the project.

Once these are determined, identify who you need to do these tasks, how much time would be spent on these tasks, and what tools would be required to complete them.

Timeline

Also known as a project schedule, the timeline determines how long it should take for someone to complete a specific project task. After all, many tasks will be dependent on prior task completion.

To easily visualize the project timeline, you can create a Gantt chart showing the work needed for the project.

For example, it may take two weeks to complete a design drawing, from the conception of the design to the initial draft, then reviewing and creating the final draft.

Assumptions and Constraints

Assumptions are what we believe to be true regarding the project. These may be based on experience or information available on hand.

Remember that assumptions may be false and may, therefore, negatively affect the project.

An example of a project assumption is all project team members have the required skills or that each member assigned with tasks can provide deliverables on time.

On the other hand, project constraints are the limitations on the project, such as the schedule and the budget.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge lists six main constraints, namely the following:

  • Scope
  • Quality
  • Schedule
  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Risk

Make sure you identify these constraints so you aren't caught off guard.

Budget

The project budget determines the amount of money available to complete it. Creating an estimate for the project is crucial in project planning as it can limit the depletion of finite financial resources.

One way to effectively estimate the project budget is to identify the tasks and resources needed. Doing so will give project managers an idea of how much each task will cost to complete.

Add each value together to get the cost baseline for the overall project budget.

Risk

As we mentioned, one of the major sections of the project plan is the risk management plan.

Project risks are potential problems that may arise during execution, like what could happen if certain deliverables aren't provided at the expected date.

So, create a risk log that lists all potential risks and develop strategies to mitigate them.

Determining necessary processes and documentation

After identifying the project's goals, objectives, and quality requirements, the next step is to identify the procedures and supporting paperwork required to complete the project.

Break the necessary processes down into specific task packages. Start with the most important.

In this step, we also recommend getting the whole project team involved.

Ask the team to define the tasks needed to carry out the work packages you've previously determined. Ensure these tasks are carefully detailed so they aren't forgotten when you and the team are in the thick of it.

Involving the team in determining the necessary processes and tasks also helps the project manager draw the line for what is considered within of the scope of work.

Always get your project team involved as they may provide you with useful insight that you can use to improve your project plan.

Next, identify the required document types.

Is a schedule needed to lay out the specific project tasks? How about a project budget? Is there a need to document the budgeted and actual costs spent on the processes?

Sometimes, documentation for the project plan needs a visual representation of the information. Use a Gantt chart template or a work breakdown schedule to visualize the timeline for the project tasks and dependencies.

You can also use an organizational chart as a visual representation of the whole project team. Doing so could make it easier for project stakeholders and clients to interpret the data and reach out to the right persons should they have any concerns.

Use visual representation of the information you have. Your project stakeholders can get a better picture of the project through Gantt charts and task lists.

Analyzing components and adjusting to fit your needs

As the project proceeds, the plan will be adjusted to the client's changing needs. Gather the team around and modify the project plan as needed.

For example, the client may need the deliverables sooner than expected. As a result, you would have to change the overall project plan, especially the timeline or schedule. This change may even lead to reassigning resources and assigning more team members to one task to expedite completion.

In short, the project's objectives and goals may not change from this. However, clients' needs can change, and you'll need to adapt.

Tracking project success metrics

Keeping track of the project's progress is essential in project management. This allows project managers to check whether the team is ahead or behind schedule or whether they can achieve deliverables.

In short, keeping track of progress and success metrics will help the team improve as the project proceeds.

Reevaluate the quality standards established beforehand and assess whether they align with the project's goals and objectives even after the project plan has been adjusted.

Recognize the team's milestones as the project progresses.

Determine the most important signs of the project moving forward and check whether these have been achieved. This keeps the team engaged and motivated since their progress is being tracked and they'll start to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Celebrating milestones in your project can keep your team members motivated. Assess these milestones at every stage of the project to determine the team members who performed well.

Utilizing automation tools to maximize efficiency and accuracy

Project management and project execution involves a multitude of tasks and resources that each team member must understand.

It's best to keep resources, such as the project charter and the project plan, in a centralized space so that each person who needs to review it can access it anytime and anywhere.

Many project management software programs have automation tools that you can use to improve accuracy and efficiency.

Some of these tools include the following:

  • Scheduling and assigning tasks — Project management systems have a work management tool that provides an overview of the tasks you need to finish.It also shows which team member is doing what and who is available for work. Using a scheduling tool helps delegate tasks without overloading resources.
  • Budget estimates — As we mentioned before, project managers can generate a cost estimate by identifying the tasks and costs needed to complete them.However, using a PM tool capable of estimation can make this process easier and more accurate as it utilizes different techniques such as parametric, analogous, and others to generate estimates.
  • Communication — Most project teams communicate via email, which can sometimes be a hassle. Instead, try a tool like Slack to communicate with your teams.Communication tools and applications can also have beneficial features you won't find on a typical emailing app, making communication clearer and faster.
  • Reminders and notifications — Team members are human and it is human to forget a deadline. But a project management system that sends reminders for various events, from deadlines for deliverables to a meeting with a supplier or client? Divine.These notifications are helpful for the team as they ensure their work is completed on schedule.
  • Bottleneck identification — Some automation tools find possible bottlenecks in the project for you. These tools identify bottlenecks by calculating the critical path for the project.So, if a task can be done in two hours but is still in progress for longer, the automation tool will send an alert to address them properly with the assigned employee.
  • Creating reports — Reports can sometimes make a project manager's head hurt, especially when the data is all over the place. Using an automation tool capable of generating reports will help you gather, analyze, and interpret the data into a report quickly and more accurately.A great example of this is Power BI by Microsoft. Think of it as the typical Excel but more complex. The software can process huge volumes of data and visualize them in just a few clicks.

Take advantage of project management tools and software in the whole project planning and execution.

Also, consult (only THE BEST) third-parties such as ScaleTime in improving your project management process. You'll get more accurate estimates and increase efficiency and productivity among the project team.

Finalizing your proposal

You still need to review your proposal after all the necessary sections for your project management plan have been completed. Next up, the PM must involve the project team to review and finalize the proposal so you can pinpoint any issues and and rectify them.

The role of a project sponsor

Once the proposal has been finalized, the next step is to submit it to your project sponsor. The will review it, give recommendations, and provide the final approval for the project plan.

The project sponsor is a key individual in project planning. They revise the final version of the project plan and investigate it to ensure all elements are realistic.

There may be times when the project sponsor hands you the plan back with a few red marks. But don't worry. They do it because they think the plan has unrealistic elements or may cause conflicts.

When the project sponsor approves the project plan, the entire team is now authorized to start the execution of the project. Congrats to you and the team. Time to pop that champagne.

Always get your project team involved as they may provide you with useful insight that you can use to improve your project plan.

Conclusion

The planning phase of project management is crucial as it determines your overall approach to completing the project. This stage can make or break you as a project manager.

Here are some things you must keep in mind when planning for your current or next project:

  • Use a project management plan when developing strategies for execution. The project management plan outlines the project in its entirety and acts as a roadmap for how you will execute and manage the project. The project plan is essentially the starting point of any job.
  • A project plan ensures that the tasks you identify with are within the project scope. This allows for better-resourced project management and builds the team's confidence.
  • A project management plan varies in form, elements, components, and types. However, there are six main sections every project plan has— the executive summary, the project scope and deliverables, the project schedule, the project resources, the risk management plan, and the communication management plan.Each section provides all parties involved with the necessary information regarding the project.
  • Developing a project management plan involves several key steps. Each step will include the project manager, the project team, and even the project stakeholders.
  • As you determine each task and documentation needed for the project, evaluate whether these are aligned with the project's scope and objectives.
  • The project sponsor gives the thumbs up for project execution. Not every project plan is perfect and you might get it back for revisions. This is essential for ensuring your plan is realistic and attainable.

Are you ready to create a project plan wows your clients again and again?

At ScaleTime, we provide services that simplify project management, including the development of an efficient, airtight, and kicka$$ project plan.

Contact us today, and let's get started!

Business operations consultant Juliana Marulanda
Juliana
Juliana Marulanda is a business operations expert, speaker, and the founder of ScaleTime. With over 20 years of experience across Wall Street, the non-profit sector, technology startups, and family-owned businesses, she now helps service-based businesses.