Mastering the basics of project management: the Project Plan – Part 1


As I said before,

The key to a successful project is in the planning. Creating a project plan is the first thing you should do when undertaking any kind of project. Often project planning is ignored in favour of getting on with the work. However, many people fail to realise the value of a project plan in saving time, money and many problems.

A project plan, according to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, is “…a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines. A project plan may be summarized or detailed”.

In some industries the term “project plan” can refer to a Gantt chart or other document that shows project activities along a timeline. While common, this use is inaccurate. These types of documents are more accurately described as “project schedules” and are only one component of a true project plan.

At a minimum, a project plan answers basic questions about the project:

  • Why? – What is the problem or value proposition addressed by the project? Why is it being sponsored?
  • What? – What is the work that will be performed on the project? What are the major products/deliverables?
  • Who? – Who will be involved and what will be their responsibilities within the project? How will they be organized?
  • When? – What is the project timeline and when will particularly meaningful points, referred to as milestones, be complete?

To be a complete project plan according to industry standards such as the PMBOK or PRINCE2, the project plan must also describe the execution, management and control of the project. This information can be provided by referencing other documents that will be produced, such as a Procurement Plan or Construction Plan, or it may be detailed in the project plan itself.

In this article we will look at a simple, practical approach to project planning. Let’s start.

Developing the Project Plan

Once you have the project scoped efined, it is absolutely imperative that you develop and maintain a document that clearly outlines the project milestones and major activities required to implement your project.  This document needs to include the date each milestone or major activity is to be completed, and the owner of each. Your project plan also needs to be created at the beginning of the project, and a baseline version approved by the team as soon as possible.

Project Plan Development

Maybe you will probably not know all of the major activities required to implement your project in the beginning, it is important that you create a draft of the activities you think may need to be tracked via a formal document. Take some time and really think through what you know about the objective of your project. Look at some historical data from similar projects. You can even have a few informal meetings with knowledgeable individuals you can use as a sounding board to make sure you aren’t completely off base.

With your first draft ready, you will be able to speak with subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders to flesh out the project plan. If you don’t make some level of effort to develop a rough draft, you may give a bad impression which will make it harder for you to obtain the support of the persons you need to implement the project.

After you have fleshed out your draft with your core team, and some other SMEs that may not be a part of your team, you should give the document a baseline status. Your timeline / project plan should not undergo many edits, if any, after it achieves baseline status. You should document the actual date your project activities are completed. If the actual completion date differs from your baseline date at anytime, you’ll still have documented the date it was supposed to be completed for historical purposes.

It is also a good idea to notate where things are deleted or added, and why. That way you aren’t standing there looking crazy, trying to go through the crevices of your memory, when someone asks you why something you deleted isn’t in the document…and trust me, someone will ask.

A few key items to include in your Project Plan are:

  • A unique ID that your team can reference when giving an update
  • The name of the task
  • When the task should start
  • When the task should finish
  • The actual date the task was completed
  • Any tasks that need to happen before other tasks can begin
  • The owner of the task
  • Percent complete of each task
For facilitate this thask, you can create and use a milestone list. An example:

milestone_list_template

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6 thoughts on “Mastering the basics of project management: the Project Plan – Part 1

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  6. Pingback: Mastering the Basics of Project Management: The Complete Series [Updated on March 25th, 2013] | Nelson Biagio Jr

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