How To Write a Project Plan (With Instructions and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 19, 2022 | Published November 15, 2021

Updated September 19, 2022

Published November 15, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Project planning is one of the primary tasks of a project manager and can set you up for a successful project. Within this document, you include all necessary information related to the project and prepare all those who are involved. If you are assigned a project, it's helpful to learn how to write an effective project plan that can set you up for a successful launch. In this article, we discuss how to write a project plan, explain what a project plan is, and share some of the benefits of writing a project plan.

Related: What Is Project Management? Definition, Steps, and Skills

How to write a project plan

Follow these nine steps to write a project plan that sets you up for success:

1. Set goals

The first step in project planning is setting measurable goals. To achieve this, meet with the stakeholders and project sponsors and uncover their expectations for the project. Once you've established the project's primary objective, set goals that outline the expected plan to achieve the project's aim. Consider the SMART goals tool, which stands for:

  • Specific: using precise and exact language to define goals. The goals shouldn't be open to interpretation.

  • Measurable: using quantifiable variables to track success. Quantifiable variables may include numbers and percentages.

  • Achievable: choosing a goal that requires the team to work diligently but is also attainable

  • Realistic: selecting a goal that the team is able and willing to work towards

  • Time frame: setting a precise amount of time that you have to complete the goal. This often includes milestones and dates.

An example of a SMART goal is increasing a social media account's followers by 20% (2,000) by August 1, 2022.

Related: SMART Goals: Objectives for Your Career

2. Define the scope

Next, define the project's scope, which includes what the team can accomplish to achieve the project's objective. Determining the project scope avoids scope creep, which is when work for a project isn't progressing the project towards its goals and is unnecessary additional work. Scope creep can cause exceeding budgets, delays, and potentially even project failure. An example of scope creep is if a significant delay occurs due to a client frequently altering requests. You can often avoid this issue by rejecting unnecessary requests or planning how to manage change requests within the project plan.

3. Determine the deliverables

The next step is to define the deliverables. Deliverables are the services, products, and results that the team delivers or produces for the project. Specify what deliverables entail for your project, the expected amount, and the work it takes to create them. Some examples of deliverables include:

  • a completed product, for example, a house or a waterway

  • acquired knowledge or experience

  • better customer service

  • design documents

  • faster response time

  • improved organization systems

  • a marketing study

  • a product prototype

  • a progress report

  • a web site or web page

4. Create the scope document

It's now time to create the scope document for your project. You can think of a scope document as a sort of contract between a project manager and a project sponsor, meaning that projects sponsors and stakeholders agree with all details expressed in the scope document to avoid any miscommunications. These individuals approve any changes made later on to the scope. This document may include:

  • business needs the project may address

  • objectives

  • scope

  • deliverables

  • assumptions

  • exclusions

  • milestones

5. Create a schedule

Next, implement your project into a schedule. When creating a schedule, first consider the significant milestones that you may pass on your way to completing the objective. You can then incorporate lesser tasks into the schedule accordingly. If possible, mark dates for the completion of the following:

  • Milestones: major events or phases within your project where you can ensure that everything is going as planned

  • Tasks: individual jobs that team members complete to achieve project goals

  • Subtasks: only lasting for a few days, subtasks are smaller steps that contribute to the completion of primary tasks

Consider incorporating additional time when possible into your scheduling. This added time ensures that you can still make deadlines if there is a delay, such as a sick team member or a longer than expected delivery time.

6. Define roles, responsibilities, and resources

Once you've created a schedule, it's time to assign roles, responsibilities, and resources. To achieve this, assign specific tasks to team members. This way, everyone knows their responsibilities and what you expect of them. If your project team members lack the required expertise to complete a task, consider hiring external resources to fulfill these voids. When including these resources in your plan, determine the amount of time you expect them to be involved with the project.

Related: Defining Team's Roles and Responsibilities

7. Decide on communication methods

Next, decide on communication methods. Methods of communication include asking team members how their assigned tasks are progressing. Remember to speak with quantifiable variables when determining progress to avoid discrepancies. Regular check-ins with team members help ensure that the project is on time to meet the overall objective. If there are slow-downs with specific tasks, check-ins allow you to determine the problem and provide support before it becomes a significant issue. By permitting team members to easily access project pieces, such as assets, tasks, due dates, reports, and updates, you can minimize the likelihood of communication issues.

Related: How To Become an Effective Communicator

8. Complete a risk assessment

The final step is completing a risk assessment. Within a risk assessment, aim to identify hazards and evaluate potential risks that may hinder your team from completing the project. Some risks that you may consider include:

  • reallocation of budget

  • project delays

  • scope creep

  • resource shortages

  • lack of buy-in

A risk assessment also includes the implementation plan for control measures, aiming to reduce the risks from occurring. Completing a risk assessment before beginning a project can prepare your team for any risks that may arise. This way, you can devise solutions to any problems and plan how to manage them.

Related: Understanding How To Complete a Risk Analysis

9. Get your plan approved

Once you have completed writing your project plan, it's required to seek approval from project sponsors and stakeholders. Set up a meeting with these individuals to get everyone to agree to the contents of your project plan. Consider the following agenda for your meeting:

  • Define the project's primary objective and its value

  • Share the assets that you expect the project to deliver

  • Point out how the project's tasks connect to the stakeholder's requirements

  • Share the schedule for the project to inform everyone of the expected dates

  • Describe the roles and responsibilities of all involved in the project

  • Review methods of communication during the project, where all involved can locate project information, and who they can contact with questions

  • Explain the risk assessment to ensure stakeholder's that the team is adequately prepared

  • Receive a final commitment to the project plan from all involved

What is a project plan?

A project plan is an outline that a project manager may create to map out strategies, resources, and processes required to finish the project on time. It clearly defines the objective of the project and identifies who is responsible for achieving specific tasks. An effective project plan relays all necessary information to all parties involved to ensure that teams adequately prepare to begin.

Benefits of using a project plan

Some of the benefits of writing a project plan include:

Defined objective and milestones

When you clearly define the objective of a project, you're more likely to accomplish it. Having a distinct goal to work towards often makes mapping out the steps to achieve it more manageable. It also ensures that your team stays focused and realizes when you have completed the project. In addition, plans often include milestones. This inclusion can keep a project on schedule, help ensure that the project moves towards the goal, and increases the team's motivation.

Sets realistic expectations

Creating a project plan clearly defines the expectations of all team members before the project begins. As project plans are approved by all involved, team members learn of the work details you expect them to complete before agreeing to the terms. This transparency allows members to acquire necessary skills or negotiate changes to the plan that they can realistically achieve. This transparency protects the team members from accepting work they cannot complete and allows project managers to assign credit to team members for good results and blame them for poor outcomes.

Clear communication

When you write an effective project plan, you create a document containing all the necessary information to communicate to team members. This transparent communication provides team members with defined roles and the required information to complete tasks. Consider feedback from your team, as projects are often more successful when they are collaborative efforts. Listening to your team member's input can also help ensure that members are committed to the project.

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