When you start a new project, it’s very tempting to jump straight into it.
Assigning work, setting a budget, documenting tasks… these all seem like a good idea but they can also be tedious.
Here’s the issue: project failure is expensive. On average, organizations lose $97 million for every $1 billion they invest.
Poor planning is one of the main reasons companies don’t achieve their targets and goals. That’s why having a definitive project planning guide will help you stay on track.
Why project planning?
If you are going to undertake a project, you need to have a plan. Most companies have a 70% project failure rate and 44% of project managers still don’t believe in the use of project planning software.
That’s shocking, but there’s more to wrap your mind around when it comes to project planning:
- 68% of organizations said that they used outsourced project managers in 2018.
- On average, projects go over budget by 27% of their intended cost.
- File sharing, time tracking, email integration, Gantt Charts, and budget management are the top five most used and requested features in project management software.
- Only 2.5% of companies complete 100% of their projects successfully.
A project plan needs to come right at the beginning of a project to streamline the execution of work.
You can create a project plan from scratch, or you can use an existing business project plan template.
Either way, it’s important to consider all the elements that should come together to make your project a success, before it’s even kicked off.
What is project planning?
Project planning is a key component of project management that can improve business operations and efficiency.
American Airlines used project capacity planning when it merged with US Airways to achieve a net positive impact that raked in several million dollars.
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) also utilized a project work plan with a goal to streamline its data and increase ROI within 12 months. As a result, RBS increased transparency and reduced costs across all of its business units.
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Different types of project plans
A project plan can be a quick document outlining a few stages, or it can be a high-level project plan requiring software and several integrated tools.
Basic project plans
A simple plan is ideal for projects that are generally not complex and don’t require large teams.
This type of project plan can be a Word document that clearly shows what needs to be done. Here are a few examples.
Complex project plans
Planning a more elaborate project will require a whole planning system.
This is the type of complex project planning that Amazon does.
The company has spent over $22 billion on R&D.
Imagine project planning for ‘Just Walk Out’ stores, drone deliveries, the growth of Alexa and everything else they do, ranging from robotics to healthcare.
That is a lot of project planning.
Many big brands know the importance of streamlining their activities carefully to ensure all bases are covered and that everything runs smoothly.
Check out this project planning process example, which shows part of the plan for Nike’s Project-X shoes.
Benefits of a project plan
These graphics illustrate just a fraction of what Nike has to plan on a daily basis.
It may seem daunting, but the benefits of having a plan in place far outweigh the effort it takes to create one.
When everything is documented, for instance, it’s easy to trace back what has and hasn’t been done and to find out who is responsible for any delay or breakdown.
Or, on the contrary, which part of the project is running well.
A particular team may excel and therefore be consulted for a project going forward.
It’s easier to learn from processes and improve them when you have a plan in place.
The project planning process
There is no universally accepted project plan, but every great plan should include the following steps.
Project planning process steps
1. Identify stakeholder needs
The first step to your project planning should involve identifying your stakeholders and their needs. Having all stakeholder groups on the same page will minimize any miscommunication. Keep in mind that your customers are key stakeholders, as well.
2. Outline the scope of the project
You cannot begin your project without outlining its scope. The scope gives a comprehensive picture of all the things that will be included in the project, including objectives, constraints, and cost estimates.
Tip: Make sure that all stakeholders involved in the project agree on the project scope and deliverables. Confirm that the stakeholders agree explicitly — this is key. And a personal side note from me… file their written approvals!
3. Prioritize goals
Once you have identified stakeholder needs and have scoped out your project, it’s time to prioritize your goals.
Tip: Create a list of “absolute musts” that need to be achieved. This could range from acquiring new investors to obtaining a business loan or advertising through different channels. Always rate your goals by level of importance using (A) or (1) for the most important.
4. Define roles and responsibilities
One of the key project management process steps is identifying who is doing what. This step ensures every single member of the team is responsible for particular tasks and can be held accountable if something goes wrong – or right!
Tip: Maximize the strengths of your team. People work in certain positions for a reason and could bring very specific skills to the project. For example, your SEO manager should be in charge of keyword research, content creation and finding organic ways to increase engagement. Your IT/design team members can build fast-loading, attractive web pages. Having people work on tasks they’re not used to can cause confusion and slow down your process.
5. Determine a project schedule
A project schedule determines when different tasks have to be completed and what resources are needed.
A schedule will include your timelines and milestones at every stage. For this reason, involving your employees in this step is advised.
Tip: The people undertaking each task are in a better position to know the time and resource allocation they need. Include them when setting up your project schedule to ensure the goals you have in mind are doable and that your workforce feels happy from the start. Remember, team morale is very important if you want the process to go smoothly. You can also use your project management or time tracking tools to review past projects and get a better sense of costs and timelines.
6. Visualize the project plan
90% of the information that’s transmitted to the brain is visual, so it’s safe to say we process visual data more effectively. Add a visual component to your plan to make everything more relatable. Using a project planning tool will help with the visual creation process as illustrated by the following project process diagram.
Top tip: Use visual project management software that makes workflows easy to understand.
7. Conduct a risk assessment
It’s highly unlikely that you will encounter a project without any risks. You need to assess what can go wrong at each step, and have a plan in place for reacting to the risk. You can use risk management software to streamline your risk assessment and make it more accurate.
Tip: 86% of companies use some sort or risk management method with 70% of senior management considering using risk management software for its digital advantages – and you should, too. Risk management software examples include nTask and Resolver.
8. Present the plan
Explain your plan to all your stakeholders starting with the first step, and ensure that your plan addresses all needs, responsibilities, deliverables, and any solutions to conflicts. Address all queries and concerns before pushing forward.
Feedback is also a vital part of the planning process but it should be constructive and on-point to avoid wasting time.
Visual project management for better planning
See work unfold and keep everyone on the same page
Project planning outline
Now that you understand the steps of creating a plan, here’s a sample project plan outline you can modify or follow directly.
1. Project overview
- Project scope. What are the features of our project? What is the process of project management for the project’s life cycle?
- Project objectives. What is our intended outcome?
2. Project process
- Technical specifications. What techniques and tools will be used at each of the phases of the project management life cycle? How will each process be implemented?
- Constraints. Does the project have limiting factors?
- Role and responsibility allocation. Who is responsible for each task and what exactly are they responsible for? How will each task be implemented?
- Project tasks. How will the work be executed to reach the project’s objectives?
- Project time frame. When do tasks need to be completed?
3. Risk management plan
- What could go wrong?
- How do we minimize risk?
4. Project budget
- How much will we spend to reach the project’s objectives?
- How will allocate resources?
- You can use tools to track budgets along the way so you don’t have to constantly check in on hours or resource allocation.
5. Communication plan
- How will we communicate throughout the project?
- Channels of communication and frequency
6. Monitoring and review plan
- How will we measure our performance?
- How will we monitor and control the project?
Using a simple project plan template
Having a project plan is great, but sometimes you just don’t have the capacity to develop a plan from scratch.
One of the most viable solutions is a simple project plan template that simplifies the planning process.
Using out-of-the-box solutions gives you a great starting point for your planning process and frees up your time to concentrate on implementing your project.
A simple project management plan template can be created using spreadsheets, or you can use online tools like Hubstaff Tasks that come with more functionality and offer a range of pre-made templates for you to choose from.
You should note that spreadsheets are more often being sidelined for online tools, which are more specialized and Agile.
In 2018, the number of companies using spreadsheets dropped from 74% to 67%.
Project management process example
Imagine inputting your information into a ready-made template with just a few tweaks. Sounds great, right?
Take a look at this example of a visual project plan presentation. This shows how a good project planning tool can give you a comprehensive picture of your project in one place, along with who is working on what.
However, in order to get this view, you need something a little more robust than a spreadsheet.
Project planning software
A template can save you time on project planning tasks but project planning software can make things even more efficient.
Close to 80% of high-performing projects use project management software.
This has led to a gradual adoption of project planning software and an increase in the amount of software on the market.
As the director of a marketing agency that undertakes many projects, I often research the best project planning tools and software. Here are some top picks.
Pros: Hubstaff Tasks is an Agile project management software that is easy to use and quick to set up and run. The software has several pre-made templates, detailed tasks, Kanban-style workflows, and a simple interface, which all speed up collaboration of the project planning process.
Hubstaff Tasks comes at a very affordable price and it can be integrated with Hubstaff time tracking for a more accurate way to understand your profitability.
Cons: Hubstaff has no automated stand-ups at this point. But since it’s relatively new, you can expect advanced features and improvements to be added soon.
Price tag: Free for up to 5 team members. The paid plan starts at $4 per user per month.
Who uses this software: Teams of all sizes and business owners who want a simple way to plan and manage projects: ecommerce, developers, agencies, marketing teams, startups, and more.
Bottom line: Hubstaff is an affordable and easy-to-use software that can be integrated with time tracking, payments, communication and file sharing for agile remote or onsite team dynamics.
Pros: Smartsheet helps teams plan tasks, manage resources, and report all with secure permission control. Collaboration is easy as the software affords visibility into who’s busy or not at any given time. You can attach files from Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and more.
Cons: The software comes with many menus and steps, and creating a backup is difficult.
Price tag: 30-day free trial. Paid plans start at $14 per user per month.
Who uses this software: Small to large teams in construction, finance, government, health care, and more.
Bottom line: Smartsheet is based on a spreadsheet design, which makes it familiar and easy to use. The software has a broad set of integrations, making it easy to use with other software tools and platforms.
Pros: Wrike allows you to manage multiple projects and other ongoing workflows. The software requires little time to set up, and comes with collaborative tools that improve communication. Wrike has a modern and clean interface, which is easy to navigate and simplifies the project planning process.
Cons: The timer is difficult to locate and the most valuable features for project planning are limited to the higher paid plans.
Price tag: Free plan for up to 5 team members. Paid plans start at $9.80 per user per month.
Who uses this software: Teams across several industries but notably those in the marketing, product development, digital media, and software industries.
Bottom line: Wrike helps teams across a variety of industries to collaborate, manage resources, and plan efficiently. The software offers versatile project planning and quick set up with no learning curve.
4. Teamwork Projects
Pros: Teamwork Projects streamlines project planning by making it easy to set up tasks and milestones and to automatically create dependency of tasks. The software allows you to create templates for any repeating tasks. Teamwork Projects has a stylish interface that enhances the project planning process.
Cons: A steep learning curve and a lack of customizable templates.
Price tag: Free for up to 5 team members. Paid plans start at $9 per month per user.
Who uses this software: Remote teams and teams that offer professional services like agencies.
Bottom line: TeamWork Projects centralizes all communication and makes collaboration very easy, even among remote teams. Although the software has a steep initial learning curve, it is backed by a robust knowledge center that makes learning easier.
Wrapping it up
Project planning is changing, and it’s changing fast.
New techniques, frameworks, and tools are disrupting brands and improving profit margins.
“For the first time, more projects are meeting original goals and business intent and being completed within budget,” says a survey from PMI’s Pulse of the Profession.
With the right tools, project management can greatly improve project efficiency. Join the conversation and share how your organization deals with project planning.