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A Step By Step Guide To Project Planning

Project planning guide

Defining, initiating, implementing, and managing a project is highly dependent on how well you have formulated the project plan. Right from defining clear project goals and creating a plan to achieve them within the set deadline, following a solid project planning guide is your answer to ‘How to plan a project and deliver projects successfully.

Here’s an example that showcases how poor project planning leads to failure:

In 1956, IBM took up a project to build the world’s fastest supercomputer. They formed a team of expert scientists and planned on how to achieve their goal. In 1961, they developed “STRETCH” or IBM 7030 and delivered the first unit to Los Angeles Alamos National Laboratory. But, the project was doomed and sold only nine units before its production was stopped.

So, what happened? Yes, poor project planning.

The IBM 7030 failed to achieve its ultimate goal – to be the fastest supercomputer with immense processing speed. Initially, the pricing plan for this supercomputer was set at $13.5 million, however, with the failure the prices were dropped to $7.8 million. Ultimately, the project was shut down as the cost overrun was too high.

Following the right project planning steps and adopting good project management software, along with always having a plan B in mind to tackle unanticipated risks is extremely important to avoid project failure. And that’s exactly what we cover in this project planning guide. Take a look!

What is Project Planning?

Project planning refers to defining the project objectives, identifying the resources required, defining the time frame within which a project must be accomplished, and much more. It outlines the steps, right from project initiation to project closure. This project plan acts as a leading light that directs team members and stakeholders to a clear path of project execution.

Components/Elements of a Project Plan

Remember that creating and working with a flawed project plan is worse than working with no plan. So, it is essential to understand the vital components of a project plan.

  • Scope Statement: Without a scope, there is no project. It defines what all is part of your project and what is not. A good and detailed project scope statement removes any confusion and makes it easier for stakeholders and team members to understand the project.
  • Budget: Budget is an important element as no manager wants to explain the need for extra money. So, define the budget in the project plan for each task, and there won’t be any discrepancies later.
  • Schedule: The project schedule decides the estimated time of delivery and helps the team to get work done on time. It is also helpful for project managers to monitor and assess any delay in the project.
  • Requirements: All projects have requirements or expectations. In order to deliver what’s expected from stakeholders, you need to know what the requirements are to convey the same to your project team.
  • Resources: To avoid derailing as the project progresses, you need to ensure that you have adequate resources to keep the engine running. Resources can be manpower, materials, technologies, tools, and equipment, etc. While deciding the tasks in the planning phase, allocate the resources for clarity on availability.
  • Quality Criteria: Nobody wants to get in a situation where they have to make changes again and again once the deliverables are ready. Projects need to meet certain quality standards, and the quality criteria should be identified in the project plan to ensure that it is met.
  • Communication Plan: Communication is key to managing and completing the project collaboratively. Good communication helps deliver projects faster by keeping everyone in the loop, be it project managers, stakeholders, or team members.
  • Risk Management: Risk is an inevitable part of project management. The success depends on how well you have planned for risk mitigation. While documenting the project plan, make sure to identify risks, analyze them and prepare risk response plans.

Work around these components during the project planning process and create a pitch-perfect project plan.

Things You Must Know Before Planning a Project

Creating a project plan puts you on the path to following a well-analyzed project plan. This plan promises to mitigate risks and lead a smooth-flowing project from start to finish.

Here are a few factors that you must consider before you embark on planning your next project.

Let’s take a look at them.

a. Determine the project scope

Before you set out to plan a project, define the project’s scope. This implies outlining a project’s deliverables, budget, resources, and timeline.

b. Establish a benchmark for project success

It’s crucial to set the benchmark for a project. This benchmark must adhere to the stakeholder’s expectations, clearly defining the success metrics of the project.

c. Assemble your team

Bringing together the right people for the right task is half the battle won in workforce management. Without a good team to back your projects, your projects are likely to falter. Thus, determine the unique skill set of each individual and build a team that is best suited to cater to your project-specific needs.

d. Identify common risks

Identify common project risks that your project might encounter and devise a clear strategy to prevent these risks from overpowering and halting your project.

e. Create a baseline

As you plan a project, ensure that you have a project baseline in place. This gives you a reference to compare how your project moves forward and whether it is adhering to the pre-defined project variables.

Steps to Plan a Project

Let’s look at the steps you must follow to create a solid project plan for sure-shot project success.

Step 1: Define Clear and Specific Project Goals

Unclear or unrealistic project goals are the key reason why projects fail. Taking the example of the IBM 7030, it was unrealistic to produce a supercomputer that was 100 times faster than other computers in 1961. So, the first thing to do is sit with all project stakeholders and define clear, specific goals.

Setting project goals is the most critical part of a project planning process; it is, therefore, essential to carefully evaluate your stakeholders’ expectations before you define project goals.

To get a better understanding of your project, discuss these questions with stakeholders:

  • What is the goal of your project?
  • What are the main objectives to be achieved?
  • How to set deadlines for each objective?
  • Who should handle each task and sub-tasks?
  • How to determine the completion of each milestone?
  • How to measure the success of your project once completed?

If your project plan answers these questions, you’re working in the right direction.

Project Planning Guide Pro Tip:

The best technique for doing this is to review goals against the SMART criteria. Using the SMART technique, you ensure that the project goals you set are realistic and achievable.

Read More: The Importance of Goal Setting

Step 2: Identify Implementation Technique

Once you have set clear goals, the next step is to plan an implementation technique. For this, it is essential to know three things:

  • Project Deliverables
  • Project Timeline
  • Project Resource

The pre-defined project deliverables, timeline, and resources will set the tone for devising an apt and advantageous plan for the project.

Before you start creating your project plan, check if you have covered and assessed every aspect. This ensures that nothing slips through the cracks.

Extensive research is the key. So, it is important to acknowledge the following aspects before you start the plan.

  • Are your goals and milestones well-defined along with deadlines?
  • Are you clear with your end user’s expectations and needs?
  • How competitive is the marketplace right now? How’s the demand?
  • What makes your project special on the market?
  • What risks can you encounter during an ongoing project and post its completion?

Brainstorming and looking for the answers to these questions will help you and your team in different stages of the project.

Project Planning Guide Pro Tip:

When you identify and plan a feasible implementation technique, always ensure your project deliverables, timeline, and resources are clearly defined.

Step 3: Plan Project Tasks Efficiently

The next step is to define the series of tasks and activities that need to be completed in order to accomplish each deliverable. And for each task, identify the specific amount of time it will take, the resources it will need, and who will be held in charge for its successful completion.

Further, determine dependencies between tasks. See if any tasks need to be completed before your team members move on to the next one.

Project Planning Guide Pro Tip:

Use an online project management software or a Gantt chart tool to make this process as effective as possible

Read More: What is a Gantt Chart & How to Use Gantt Charts for Project Planning

Step 4: Identify and Assign Resources

After defining specific tasks, it is important to know what resources you would need to complete the project successfully. Before you get a clear picture of how you can allocate resources across various project tasks, it is important to know the basic resources needed. A few of them are:

Project Planning Guide Pro Tip:

Always remember to focus on tasks that need more time to complete or are more complex than others, and allocate resources accordingly.

Step 5: Define Roles and Responsibilities

Define the roles and responsibilities of each team member within the organization. Having crystal clear duties helps team members stay accountable and fulfill their responsibilities efficiently.

Let’s take a look at key team players for executing a successful project:

  • Project manager The manager creates, executes, and manages the project plan. As a project manager, one sets the flow of the projects, clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each team member.
  • Sponsors – If you have any sponsors for your project, mention their contributions. This will help your stakeholders understand the estimated cost that needs to be kept aside for the project. Further, inform if sponsors need to approve the project’s final outcome before launching it.
  • Business experts – These are consultants who share their insights on the quality of the end product. Make sure the project plan defines their role properly and establishes how much of their contribution is necessary.
  • Project team – Your team will be responsible for a lot of activities that include planning, execution, and monitoring of the final outcome. Let each member know the roles and tasks that they will be responsible for. Also, encourage them to discuss various risks and issues that may hamper the project’s progress.

Step 6: Conduct Risk Assessment

Risks may or may not occur, but you need to be prepared for managing risks. As a best practice, assess what can go wrong at each stage and have a plan in place to mitigate the risk. Based on the tasks you have assigned to the team members, ask for their insights about the risks you should consider. 

Some common areas of risk include:

  • Unavailability of resources (financial, physical, and personnel)
  • Project delays (missed deadlines)
  • Changes in project scope
  • Failure of technology or communication

Create effective risk management strategies to make sure you’re prepared if something goes off track. A strategy in place will help you get back on track in no time.

Step 7: Set Baseline and Monitor Progress

After everything is defined, it is time to set a timeline and implement the project accordingly. It is also important to understand that even after efficient project planning, there can be risks or problems that come up during the execution phase.

So, it is important to implement the plan properly and be prepared to handle any issues that may crop up. This is best done by monitoring the entire project execution process and always staying in the loop.

Project Planning Guide Pro Tip:

Choose a simple PM tool such as ProProfs Project to monitor work progress, give feedback on tasks and ensure all deadlines are met effortlessly.

Read More: Common Project Risks and How EPM Software is a Great Solution

Benefits of Project Planning in Project Management

When executing a project, the go-with-the-flow attitude does not fit well.

A project demands a robust plan that has analyzed every aspect of the project. Such a plan promises to set a clear path of execution while incorporating enough contingency for possible path deviations.

Now, let’s take a look at the benefits of project planning in project management.

A. Sets a Clear Direction

Planning a project involves ideating project objectives, identifying deliverables, determining resources, and much more. It sets a clear direction for team members to follow, eliminating any uncertainty or confusion while executing projects. With a good project plan in place, your teams are likely to succeed and deliver projects sooner than expected.

B. Accurate Resource Allocation

A project plan estimates the required resources i.e., people and equipment. It ensures that resources are efficiently allocated, leaving no room for wasted resources. Not just this, determining the resource allocation also ensures that you do not face the unavailability of resources at the last minute.

C. Risk Management

No matter how comprehensive your project plan is, a few challenges are bound to crop up. Thus, it makes sense to be prepared with the best response when such challenges arise. A project plan takes into account any potential risk factors and also defines the path that you must take to tackle the issue at hand. Thus, a contingency plan is just what you need to include in your risk management plan. The guidelines that you set in this plan will enable you to overcome challenges faster.

D. Brings Greater Accountability

During the planning phase, you determine the tasks and activities that will be allocated to the team members. This defines the responsibility of each team member that helps set accountability for them and motivates them to perform better and deliver better project outcomes.

E. Review of Lessons Learned

You learn new lessons with each project execution. These lessons of success and failure must be leveraged and considered while planning and executing future projects. This empowers you and your team to tread a better path while managing upcoming projects by eliminating failures of previous projects.

F. Hit Milestones Faster

While creating a project plan, you must set milestones to get a fair idea of progressing your project. Including key milestones in your project plan will motivate you to accomplish these faster, leading to faster project completion.

G. Improves Team Communication

A crystal clear plan defines the workflow of a project. With it, team members are aware of their project responsibilities, enabling them to seamlessly communicate with each other, keeping in mind clear project goals and objectives. Good communication and collaboration also increase employee engagement which ultimately improves employee performance and drives better results.

Read More: 14 Team Communication Tools for Fast-Growing Organizations

How Project Planning Software Can Help Plan Projects

Let’s take a scenario. You create a project plan. Based on this, you set out to allocate tasks and responsibilities to all team members. You also define a deadline for project completion. Next, the team members start working on their allocated tasks and deliver things as expected.

Sounds easy breezy, right?

We wish project execution was this simple. While executing projects, challenges such as scope creep, inaccurate resource allocation, and poor communication are bound to arise. Enter multiple projects being executed by teams and departments, and it’s a clear recipe for project delays and failure.

This is where a project management plan comes in. When coupled with an ideal project management software such as ProProfs Project, a project plan ensures that you have the best possible medium to get your projects across the finish line.

It provides a platform that lets you create tasks, allocate resources, prioritize tasks, and define deadlines within minutes. Also, it offers impressive collaboration features such as instant messages, task comments, and file sharing that help coordinate team efforts and deliver projects faster. Besides, it helps streamline processes and monitor project progress on the go. Thus, project management software is everything you need to handle multiple projects simultaneously.

Build Powerful Project Plans for Successful Project Delivery

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”

                                                                                                          -Denis Waitley

Project execution comes with its fair share of challenges. For this, project planning is your best bet to ensure a smooth project run.

This step-by-step project planning guide integrates all these aspects for successful project execution, from defining clear and specific project goals to set a project baseline and monitoring work progress.

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About the author

David is a Project Management expert. He has been published in Jeffbullas.com, Hr.com, and eLearningIndustry. As a project planning and execution expert at ProProfs, he has offered a unique outlook on improving workflows and team efficiency. Connect with David for more engaging conversations on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.