Project Management Planning – The Beginner’s Guide

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Better project planning equals better results. 

A project management plan defines how a project is to be executed and managed.

It clarifies the processes everyone needs to follow to avoid delays.

And create the best outcome.  

It streamlines the “doing.”

If you don’t have this plan it often results in a disaster.

Wasted time and resources.

And will be coupled with lots of frustration. Lots.

It’s why a great project management plan is the holy grail for project managers. 

If you want to flaunt this skill and take advantage of its power every time you touch a project, you’re going to love this.

Why Is Project Management Planning Is So Important

Behind every successful project, there are hours of preparation and planning. Little things that make big differences.  

As a project manager, you’ll find yourself dealing with tons of things at every stage of the project. And with an effective project plan in place, you can eliminate guesswork and know exactly how you and your team must proceed to reach the desired goal.

You know where your resources and attention should go and what you need to do to ensure that things don’t become overdue or over budget. The effort you put into creating a project plan will never go to waste and improve your chances of delivering 100% results.

Here are five advantages that highlight how crucial project management planning is for your project’s success.

#1 Sets a Project Baseline to Guide Everyone Involved

A project plan maps out the agreed-upon scope, timeline, and budget in more detail. These are baselines you have to decide, define, and get approved by the project’s client to measure actual execution against your projected progress.

A project management plan makes it flip a switch easy to gauge whether you and your team are delivering the way you planned, and if not, what you can do to ensure you do.

#2 Ensures Project Alignment and Eliminates Confusion Opportunities

Every project manager detests alarms and surprises. 

Luckily, a project management plan limits them as everyone involved knows what to expect and when. There’s practically no room for error or uncertainty because creating a project plan maps out the exact due dates and deliverables, enabling everyone to prepare accordingly.

#3 Outlines Project Scope Clearly

Another advantage of project alignment is eliminating scope creep.

When stakeholder expectations and agreed deliverables are explicitly discussed in the project plan document, identifying opportunities when things are out of scope becomes easier. What’s more, you can also address and remedy these issues faster.

This is made possible as the project management plan contains everything in writing—something that you can refer back to in discussions to remind everyone what was agreed to initially. Therefore, there’s no ambiguity about what is in and out of a specific project’s purview.

#4 Better and More Detailed Resourced Project Management

Identifying what specific resources you need to get things done becomes easier when you break down a project into small, manageable chunks, milestones, and tasks. 

You can go as granular as you want about how to use the resources and still have enough wiggle room for accommodating those inevitable changes.

#5 Improves Team Morale and Confidence

Preparation and planning can work wonders for assuring a project’s success.

When you have a detailed project plan, everyone on your team is more confident in your project, including the project sponsor, stakeholders, and other team members. You’ll always know what to do next when you find yourself stuck somewhere during the execution.

The plan document builds confidence in your leadership as a project manager, letting everyone see how every little aspect comes together to advance the project’s—and in turn, the organization’s—goals.

In fact, there are several real-life examples where companies have been able to achieve their respective objectives through effective planning.

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, a non-profit health insurance company part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, had limited visibility into resource capacity as most of its decisions were based on inaccurate data.

Fortunately, having understood the importance of project management planning, they choose portfolio and resource management to improve data quality and drive better project choice.

The direct benefits? Excellus BlueCross BlueShield‘s timesheet submission rate improved to 99%, and the senior management now has greater visibility into portfolios, ensuring better compliance. You can make data-driven decisions and labor forecasts based on actuals versus outdated resource structures.

Moreover, since the portfolio is properly aligned with resource capacity, the company also boosted its productivity levels and delivered more quality work on time.

Do you see the difference having a project management plan can make?

How to Improve Project Management Planning Today

Understanding you need a project management plan is the first step to becoming a project planning expert. Knowing how to proceed next is the second step.

Before we discuss factors to improve your project management planning, here are a few big-picture questions to help you determine your ideal project management scenario:

  • What do your project tasks involve?
  • What is the big goal you’re trying to achieve through this project?
  • What are the steps required to get the end deliverable?
  • Is the current process ideal for it, or do you need extra tools to get them done more efficiently?
  • Can you repeat certain processes?
  • What is the projected growth of your company?
  • Do you anticipate any project management needs in the upcoming years?

Go through these questions with your key team members and even stakeholders to understand the tools and features you’ll need to do your job more efficiently.

That said, let’s now discuss the core elements that can take your project management planning to the next level.

Do Your Homework and Research Thoroughly

Thorough research and homework help you back your idea with facts, which increases your project’s chances of becoming a success. After all, you have to tackle the right foundation if you want to build anything of substance.

Additionally, you should know how your company is doing—what’s working and what isn’t—and whether you have the necessary resources to start the project. You should also meet everyone involved in the project at the very beginning to understand their expectations and perspective. This includes your team members, stakeholders, and customers.

After you figure out the “why“ aspect of the project and meet your team and prominent stakeholders, you should identify your priorities. Think about what really matters for your project and what can take a backseat.

By the end of this step, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • Why are you creating this project?
  • What is the goal of the project?
  • Who are your stakeholders? How is the project going to affect them?
  • What’s your team’s input about the project?

Know Your Project Scope and Deliverables

Imagine you’re building a house from scratch.

You need a blueprint to understand what your project will look like once it’s in motion and the things you have to do to get to the endpoint.

In the project management world, your project scope is that blueprint.

Before you get started with the project scope, you need to figure out your budget, and we aren’t only referring to finances. You must outline your budget in terms of financial investment, resources (employees, tools), and time (labor). Once that’s done, you can work on your project scope.

Your project scope should include realistic targets and clear-cut outlines for all the details–big or small. Also include information about deliverables (what needs to be delivered and when) and a workflow that everyone can follow. 

Next, plot out your deliverable schedule to ensure everything gets done right on time.

Make a Detailed Project Management Plan Outline 

At this point, you’ll have a lot of information and insights about the project and the deliverables. Based on the collected data, you must now create an outline and a plan of action.

Your outline should include the following information:

  • The “why“ aspect of the project
  • Project goals
  • Stakeholder information
  • Budget
  • Project scope
  • Deliverables and deliverable schedule

Use a Project Management Tool

Using sophisticated project management tools makes it easier for your team to keep track of their work and how it fits into each project’s overall success. It gives you access to all the data you need to see what is working, areas that need improvement, and how your project is performing compared to projected benchmarks.

You can also know important statistics like the percentage of projects delivered on time, the number of tasks that went overdue, and how much of your team’s capacity was spent on every project. You can then use the data to make data-driven decisions and optimize projects for the future.

Regularly Update Your Gantt Charts

We highly recommend using the Gantt chart to keep things organized. You’ll find several free Gantt chart templates available online for creating a deliverable timeline to keep both your team and stakeholders in the loop about the project.

Update the chart regularly to know exactly where your project stands as the project unfolds.

4 Best Practices for Project Management Planning

Here’s a list of the best project management planning practices that can help you make a more effective plan and streamline results. 

#1 Ask the Tough Questions

You must ask your client the tough questions about the process, organizational policies, and general risks before creating a good project plan. Don’t be afraid to dig deep to get the information you need. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first, you will require this type of information for every project’s success.

Doing this will establish your team’s experience to handle any kind of difficult personalities or situations and create a positive impression that you care about the project’s success from the start.

Here’s a list of a few questions that impact the project plan:

  • How will you and your team gather information? Will you hold workshops, one-on-one meetings, interviews, or conduct surveys and customer focus groups to gather and validate requirements?
  • Who owns a project a.k.a who is the final sign-off?
  • Have you made a note of every stakeholder? Or is there someone missing from your list?
  • What is the deadline for the project?
  • Are there any dates where you or other team members won’t be available?
  • Are you going to hold meetings to present the current project status to a larger group?
  • What is your team’s experience with a project like this in the past?
  • Do you have a preferred mode of communication and online management planning tool?
  • Is there anything stopping the project from being successful?

You can always add more to the above list. The idea is to be as comprehensive as possible to cover all bases.

#2 Define and Evaluate Quality Standards Beforehand

Many creative projects have the odd ill-defined idea of “quality“ that all deliverables must adhere to. The problem is what you may consider excellent for one project can be sub-par for another. 

Precisely why you need quality identification standards and criteria in every phase of the project life-cycle.

The standards should be acceptable to every stakeholder, especially the people on both sides who will sign off on the final deliverables. Here are a few tips for doing this:

  • Break the project into multiple stages, and get stakeholders to sign off on deliverables at every stage.
  • Analyze industry benchmarks and the client’s past projects before establishing objective criteria for quality measurement. 
  • Make a point to back any claims with data whenever you can. For instance, if you want to show the impact of a new website design, carry out A/B testing to show the client and stakeholders how it compares to the previous one.
  • Establish a baseline for quality that has been approved by every stakeholder. Make it explicitly clear that as long as the project meets this baseline, it’ll be considered successful.

#3 Promote Transparency Throughout

Transparency is crucial for project management planning. Every employee should know what they need to do and how their work ties into the rest of the project.

This creates a sense of responsibility within the team, enhancing teamwork and preventing projects from being derailed because of a single individual. And not only this, and there are other project activities that can benefit from greater transparency, including:

Project Changes

Your team must always be up-to-date about any changes in the project’s work, budget, or deadlines. And instead of simply informing them about the change, explain to them what aspect changed, why it changed, and how it impacts their work. This can also improve employee morale and win their trust.

Project Communication

Transparency and better communication allow the members to see the whole process that leads to a decision instead of just the decision itself. It opens up a communication window where everyone involved in the project can help in decision-making by leveraging their experience and expertise.

Project Budget and Time

It’s likely for project members to adjust themselves better and evaluate their priorities after you share the total time and budget available. It isn’t necessary to share all the budget details—just show the team the part that impacts their work.

#4 Track and Correct Deviations From Project Plans

Your team will stray from the original plan. It’s inevitable. From missed deadlines, going over the budget, and encountering risks not covered in your risk management plan—anything is possible.

However, you can still improve current and future project performance by tracking these deviations and correcting them ASAP. 

For this, you’ll need to gather reports and hold meetings regularly to identify as soon as things start going off-target. The following are a few metrics that can help you estimate your deviation from the project plan:

  • Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP) – This is your planned budget for the work completed by any given date.
  • Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS) – This is your planned budget for the work scheduled by any given date. The difference between BCWS and BCWP indicates how far you are from your original deadlines.
  • Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP) – This tells you how much of the budget you’ve used by any given date. The difference between ACWP and BCWP gives you the deviation from the project plan.

Keep a close eye on the above three metrics, and you can take corrective measures before the project goes off-budget, allowing you to stay within the initially stated baseline.

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