The following post is an excerpt from our “Guide to Project Planning” download it now for more info on how to build a great project plan.

A project plan is arguably the most important document created on your project and any good plan starts with a project brief. At its core, a brief should communicate your project approach and the process your team will use to manage the project according to scope. If handled with care and great consideration, a good brief should act as an agreement on project objectives, scope, major deliverables, milestones, timing, activities, process, and even resources needed to deliver your product. If you take the time to create a good process around how your plan is built, and you consider all of those factors, you can create a great plan that will work for everyone.

The Importance of a Solid Plan You could easily slap together a document that shows dates and deliverables, but if you’re managing a project that has a hefty budget, lofty goals, and a whole lot of decisions attached to it, you’ll find that it’s important to take the time to get this document right. With the right amount of background information on your project’s scope and requirements, and with a good level of input and collaboration with your team and your clients, you can make a solid, workable plan that will guide everyone through your project. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be difficult to create. On its own, to many, a project plan is a dry document that lists dates. To people who are invested in your project, the plan is the project guide that will dictate how you will get to project milestones, decisions, and eventually project completion. At a minimum, a project plan answers basic questions about the project:

  • What are the major deliverables?
  • How will we get to those deliverables and the deadline?
  • Who is on the project team and what role will they play in those deliverables?
  • When will the team meet milestones, and when will other members of the team play a role in contributing to or providing feedback on those deliverables?

Look at it this way: your plan should educate any reviewer— coworkers and clients included—on the logistics of the project. They trust that you’ve got this, so when reviewing the document, they truly believe that you’ve considered every possible risk. And if you have, it feels good to know that you’ve done a good job and you’re trusted. The first step in creating a good plan is drafting up a good project brief to go over with the client.

The Project Specifics

Picture it: You work for a web design agency and your team just scored a big, new project. Your new client is an internationally recognized art museum, and their website is woefully out of date. In fact, it has not been redesigned since 2007. The site architecture, visual design, content, and code are ripe for change, and it’s up to you to make it happen. Your clients are not very web savvy, so they’re looking to you as the expert to determine a process that will work. They’ll also lean on you to let them know what you need in terms of content (photos and text). That’s right, it’s all on you and the scope you have in place will support an end-to-end project. Here’s the thing: they need it done in six months. When you receive a new project, you likely get much more information by way of an actual contract, requirements documentation, or a scope document. So if you’re a PM and you’re looking for more details, you’re on the right track! Here is a great example of a project brief (from our free “Guide to Project Planning“), feel free to download and use it:

What You Really Need To Know

Quite often, you’ll receive a tome of project details. Pages upon pages of requirements, team biographies, invoicing instructions, contractual clauses, and the like. It’s very critical that you read through all of that documentation. But when it comes to creating a plan, this is what you need to know no matter what type of project you’re managing:

  • Project goals
  • The client or team’s intended process or methodology
  • The team and their expertise
  • Expectations on deliverables
  • Expectations on iteration and collaboration when creating and revising deliverables
  • Who the client stakeholder team is, and specifically who the main decision makers are
  • The amount of time the client will need to review work and provide feedback
  • Dependencies
  • Deadlines

Never leave any of these items unanswered. If you’re responsible for creating the project plan, that means that you must be sure that all factors have been considered. If you don’t, the project will definitely hit a bump in the road and every finger will be pointed at you. For instance, if you have not fully explored the decision making process, there is a great chance that you’ll encounter the good old “swoop and poop” during the process. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when a stakeholder you weren’t aware of swoops into the project at the 11th hour and poops on the work–and puts you back at square one. It’s a budget and timeline nightmare that will become a reality if you don’t practice your due diligence

Just remember, you can get as much info as possible, and details can change. Do your best to document the information you have so you can account for it in your plan.

Once you’ve built your thorough project brief, use TeamGantt to create your an interactive project plan for free!

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