Your project has a lot of moving parts.

You've spent weeks gathering requirements, user stories, and customer feedback to start the best journey possible. But without the right plan, you might lose or forget those factors, especially as things morph throughout the process.

Creating a project plan pins down those requirements and fits them into a clear, organized outline. It’s a project manager's secret weapon against miscommunications and roadblocks.

What is a project plan?

A project management plan is the document your team will use to organize and manage a project. Each new undertaking will have a new plan, and each plan will outline the required resources, timeline, and dependencies the team should follow.

A fully fleshed-out plan will at least contain these elements:

  • Project charter: A general overview
  • Statement of work: The scope, schedule, and deliverables
  • Work breakdown structure: The milestones and tasks

But the makeup depends on the project and who’s working on it. There might be different sections for different teams or a financial breakdown for larger plans. The overall goal is to communicate — to your team and stakeholders — every deadline, task assignment, and deliverable. It's as much an accountability document as a project management tool.

Why are project plans important?

Project planning is important because it gives you an outline for success. If you start without a clear journey in mind, you could end up missing important milestones or doubling up on tasks. A plan tells you the steps to take and when so you hit every deadline with the right progress.

Here are more reasons why your team needs a concrete plan:

  • Higher success rates: With transparent roles, objectives, and milestones, a project plan avoids confusion down the line, creating a smoother path to success.
  • Lower costs: Time is money, so it's no stretch to say that wasting time on a poorly planned project could put you over budget. With a clear plan, you’ll eliminate scope creep and keep your team from going overboard or spending too much effort on tasks that don’t need it.
  • Improved communication: A work breakdown structure in a Gantt chart, executive summary, or planning template clearly communicates every aspect of your project to your team and stakeholders.
  • Efficient use of resources: Resource planning is part of project planning. It outlines what materials, budget, and personnel you need, helping you use them effectively.
  • Easy to track goals: A great plan includes coherent goals and objectives. Your team should know what you’re working toward and when you know you’ve accomplished it.
  • Team alignment: Every team member should have access to your project plan. They can reference it any time to see what their expectations are and when they need to finish tasks, preventing miscommunications and missed deadlines.
  • Retainment: Unclear projects contribute to workplace chaos and employee dissatisfaction. Plans keep everything neat and tidy and show staff that their work matters.

How to create a project plan

What does a project plan look like? It depends on the software or template you use and the sections you decide to include. Generally, it should be a multi-page document with sections for different steps.

Here are six basic project planning steps to help you start:

1. Gather data

To kick off the process, meet with all stakeholders, including team members, clients, and end users if applicable. Starting with as much input as possible prevents roadblocks down the line.

Build a rough timeline and budget to set the project scope. You should consider your company goals, stakeholder expectations, and resources along the way. Nothing should be set in stone just yet, but you should have a general idea of what your project will look like and how you’ll get there.

2. Set goals

Now that you have stakeholder expectations, break them down by priority and convert each into a project goal. To ensure clarity, apply the SMART methodology to each goal, making sure each is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Insert them into your planning template so your team knows what they’re working toward and can align resources before diving into tasks.

3. Define deliverables

What are your specific deliverables, and when are they due? Estimate due dates for every single deliverable and outline them in your project plan. You should also make sure each deliverable relates to your goals. You don’t want to complete work that isn’t necessary to the finished product.

4. Make a schedule

Start by finalizing your schedule, then move on to outlining your task work. A RACI chart — which assigns team members as responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed — is a great way to organize and clarify team roles as you go. List out every single dependency you can think of, making sure each task is in the right order for completion.

5. Calculate risk

No project is free from risks, whether they’re team member turnover, changing requirements, or unstable client demands. Add risk management to your project plan to outline potential dangers and prioritize prevention. Thinking of what might go wrong beforehand could prevent it from happening.

6. Present your plan

Finally, it's time to present your plan to stakeholders and team members. This involves more than just a presentation — it means gathering feedback, determining how often everyone needs to see updates, and employing a collaboration tool to keep everyone on the same page moving forward.

Project lifecycle phases

Organizing your plan into a series of phases helps you break down complex tasks and clarify your timeline. Project planning might happen at the beginning, but you should still keep the rest of the lifecycle in mind. Here are the phases:

  • Initiation: This stage clarifies all goals and deliverables before moving forward. You’ll brainstorm potential high-level roadblocks to make sure you don’t hit any as you continue.
  • Planning: The second phase is the planning stage, where you'll define the scope, costs, and resources you anticipate. This is when you’ll create a project plan and share it with the team in a kick-off meeting.
  • Execution: Arguably the longest and most important stage, this is where work begins. You and your team will complete tasks and deliver milestones according to the plan.
  • Monitoring: During this phase, you'll monitor progress. This aligns your work with the original plan and spots potential issues or discrepancies along the way.
  • Closure: When stakeholders sign off on the final deliverable, your project is complete, and you'll meet with all team members to discuss wins and failures.

Project planning made easier with Roadmunk by Tempo

Part of every successful plan is a project roadmap that visualizes every step in a clear, organized way.

Roadmunk by Tempo helps you create effective, audience-friendly roadmaps to prioritize ideas and keep track of all your projects. And if you're worried about your team's workloads, experience better time-tracking with Timesheets by Tempo.