It’s almost a given that having a project plan is vital to the success of any corporate project. As tempting as it is to roll up your sleeves and just start working, taking a little time to plan out the project will help ensure that you and your team don’t make foolish, avoidable mistakes.
Before we go any further, however, it is worth clarifying that a project plan is not the same as the Gantt chart many people are used to getting out of Microsoft Project. These tree-like charts are better known as project schedules — they show us when different parts of the project should take place — but they contain none of the other components of a proper project plan.
What does a successful project plan contain then? In general, the answer is quite a bit of information. While we will try to give a generalised overview, keep in mind that the scope and nature of the project will determine the contents of the plan. Not all of these sections will be necessary or even suitable for all projects.
What is the goal of the project? Any project is seeking certain aims — producing a new product, for example — and these will determine nearly everything else about the project. This part of the plan discusses both why you are embarking on the project and what benefits you expect to get from it.
Depending on the situation, it may simply be a restatement of the main business case, or it might be a more in-depth look at the project aims.
Budget and Resources
Budget is crucial to the success of any project, and the budgeting should be well entrenched in your project plan. You will have to deliver on your goals while staying within the budget. For larger organisations and projects, project cost management (PCM) is absolutely crucial as it looks at the entire project life cycle.
Who are the stakeholders in the project? Part and parcel of a successful outcome is satisfying the stakeholders, yet this is easier said than done — especially if you do not have a full understanding of who the stakeholders are.
Once you identify the stakeholders, you will need to discuss their needs and wants with them with respect to the project. In many cases this part of the process will affect or even determine the project goals, so it can be useful to do it first.
How will the work be managed? This section describes the general approach to managing the project: who the decision makers are for the various work streams, how everyone will share progress and with whom, and what your relationship will be to the project executive. Also take into account who else will need to be kept informed as to the project progress, and how much detail they need to get.
Similarly this section should break out the different tasks, duties, and responsibilities for different members of the project team.
What could go wrong? Identifying the risks is a key component of project planning, and the project plan should list both the risks and how you will manage them.
Even more so than risks, quality management is a critical element of your project plan. There isn’t much point to delivering the project if the quality is not up to par. The project plan must define what quality means in the context of the project, how you will implement quality standards, and how you will verify you have achieved them. Failing to do this often leads to delivering a project that barely achieves the goals or doesn’t achieve them at all.
At the same time, you don’t need to go overboard on quality. Part of your quality section should discuss what the allowable tolerance are — how far can different areas of the project stray from their targets and still achieve the overall goals? Knowing what deviations are acceptable can be a powerful tool for speeding up project execution.
Part of verifying that you are on track is checking to see whether you are hitting the defined milestones. If you only measured whether the project completed on time, it would be difficult to say midway through whether you have fallen behind. Therefore, break up the project into sensible chunks, with estimated dates of completion. List these milestones in your project plan and make sure everyone knows about them.