Download a Free Project Plan Template
What is a project plan?
A project plan, or project management plan, is a formally approved document created by a project manager to execute, manage and control a project. It is an agreement between the project manager, project sponsor, project team and key stakeholders.
The project plan and the project charter are the most important documents of the project during the initiation stages. All documentation of the project planning process are contained in the project plan. It is, therefore, created at the very start of the project and updated throughout the entire duration of the project.
At the outset, and most importantly, a project plan contains performance measurement baselines. That is the scope, schedule and cost of the project. These baselines will be used to evaluate the performance of the project throughout its duration.
It is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the goals and objectives, set out in the project plan, are achieved. However, baselines can be amended during the project as a last resort if goals are not being met. Or the project can be cancelled.
There are many project plan examples available online. Click here for a project plan example by the Minnesota Geospatial Commons.
Project plan contents
In addition to baselines (the scope, schedule and cost), the components of a project plan include baseline management plans and subsidiary management plans; such as:
- Schedule Management Plan
- Scope Management Plan
- Cost Management Plan
- Communications Management Plan
- Human Resource Plan
- Process Improvement Plan
- Procurement Management Plan
- Quality Management Plan
- Requirements Management Plan
- Risk Management Plan
- Financial Management Plan
- Stakeholder Management Plan
- Change Management Plan
The different components of the project plan are created at different stages during the project.
How to create a project plan
Step 1: Research
Gather information and documents relevant to the project and study all the facts relating to the project. You need to understand:
- the project goals;
- the client’s expectations and needs;
- the members of the project team; and
- who the stakeholders are.
Furthermore, you also have to be able to answer the following basic project questions:
- Why is it being sponsored?
- What are the major products/deliverables?
- Who will be involved and what will be their responsibilities within the project?
- When will project milestones be completed?
Step 2: Draft the plan outline
After you can answer the why, what, who and when questions about the project, begin to outline your project plan. You can download a project plan outline template, in Word format, from Microsoft.
Your project outline should include:
- approval requirements throughout the project;
- project deadlines; and
- the client’s approval process and timeframe.
Step 3: Meet with the team and stakeholders
First, share the plan outline with the team to solicit their input. Confirm that the dates are reasonable and that the objectives are achievable within the timeframe. The project manager needs to ensure that the team can realistically execute the project plan.
You also have to meet with the project sponsor and key stakeholders to discuss their expectations and needs. During the meeting, establish the baselines (scope, schedule and cost) for the project.
Step 4: Compile the full plan
You can build your project implementation plan by using project planning software to help you keep track of tasks and resources. You can also use a project plan template (such as Microsoft’s business project plan PowerPoint presentation template) to create a project plan that you can present to stakeholders. Or create a Gantt chart to illustrate the project schedule (download a Gantt chart template for Excel).
To create a project plan, do the following:
- Clearly define the goals of the project in terms of the stakeholders’ expectations and needs.
- Identify the deliverables the project needs to produce to accomplish the project goals and set a deadline for their completion.
- Develop the baselines (scope, schedule and cost) and create baseline management plans.
- Develop supporting plans (Risk Management Plan, Human Resources Plan, Communications Plan, Stakeholder Management Plan, Change Management Plan, etc.).
Step 6: Present the plan to stakeholders and the team
Deliver the project plan, with a brief summary, to everyone involved to be reviewed. Present the project plan to stakeholders for discussion. Make sure everyone understands what is expected of them.
Step 7: Manage and update the plan
Remember that project plans are living documents can be adapted or changed constantly. There are numerous unforeseen circumstances that can have an impact on the project schedule. It is important to manage the project plan and adapt to change by updating the plan accordingly.