Guide to Project Management
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Chapter 5

How to Create a Project Plan in 5 Simple Steps

Every project tells a story about its goals, team, timing, and deliverables—and it requires detailed project planning and management to get the story right. Some of those stories are short and to the point while others are epic novels rife with twists and turns.

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No matter the length or level of drama, every story is based on a story arc or an outline—or as we call it in the project management world, a project plan.

Project planning definitions

Before we dive into the process basics, let’s start with a couple of definitions. 

What is project planning?

Project planning is the process of defining the project scope, objectives, and steps needed to get the work done. It's one of the most important processes in project management. The output of the project planning process is a project management plan.

What is a project management plan?

A project management plan—also known as a project plan—is a document that outlines the process your team will use to manage the project according to scope to meet its stated objectives. The purpose of a project plan is to map out the steps and resources it will take to complete a project on time and budget.

A project plan communicates vital information—such as deadlines, assignments, and key milestones—to all project stakeholders and is integral to project success. It is most commonly represented in the form of a gantt chart to make it easy to ensure work stays on track.

Project planning steps: How to write a good project plan

Poor planning can lead to some pretty ugly consequences—from missed deadlines and budget overages to team burnout and client frustration. That’s why it’s important to establish a solid process you can use to plan any project. 

Planning a project doesn’t have to be difficult. These basic project planning steps can help you write a plan that’s both realistic and on target.

  1. Research and preplanning
  2. Draft a rough outline of your project plan
  3. Build out your detailed project schedule
  4. Present and confirm your plan
  5. Execute your plan and adjust as needed

Rather watch than read? Check out our video tutorial on how to make a realistic project plan.

Step 1: Research and preplanning

A project plan is more than a dry document with dates. It’s the story of your project, and you don’t want it to be a tall tale! So make sure you know all the facts before you start creating a project plan.

Understand the project scope and value

Understanding the ins and outs of the project will help you determine the best process and identify any snags that might get in the way of success. Conduct your own research to dig deeper on:

  • Project goals and outcomes
  • Partnerships and outlying dependencies
  • Potential issues and risks

Dive into any communications that are relevant to the project. Review the scope of work and related documents (maybe an RFP or notes from sales calls or meetings with your client team). Be thorough in your research to uncover critical project details, and ask thoughtful questions before you commit to anything. 

Interview key stakeholders

If you want to dazzle stakeholders with a stellar project delivery, you’ve got to know how they work and what they expect. Schedule time with your main project contact, and ask them some tough questions about process, organizational politics, and general risks before creating a project plan. 

This will give project stakeholders confidence that your team has the experience to handle any difficult personality or situation. It also shows you care about the success of the project from the start.

Be sure to discuss these things with your stakeholders:

  • Product ownership and the decision-making process
  • Stakeholder interest/involvement levels
  • Key outages, meetings, deadlines, and driving factors
  • Related or similar projects, goals, and outcomes
  • The best way to communicate with partners and stakeholders

See a list of sample interview questions to ask stakeholders so you can develop better project plans.

Get to know your team

The last step in the research phase is to take time to learn more about the people who’ll be responsible for the work. Sit down with your team and get to know their:

  • Expertise
  • Interests
  • Collaboration and communication styles
  • Availability and workload

Understanding these basics about your team will help you craft a thoughtful plan that takes their work styles and bandwidth into consideration. After all, a happy team delivers better projects.

Step 2: Draft a rough outline of your project plan

Now that you’ve gathered the basic project details, the next step is to knock out a rough draft of your plan. Take some time to think about the discussions you had in the pre-planning phase and the approach your team might take to meet the project goals.

Sketch out the main components of your project plan

Sit down with a pen and paper (or a whiteboard), and outline how the project should work at a high level. Be sure you have a calendar close by to check dates.

If you’re at a loss for where to begin, start with the who, what, when, and how of the project. Any solid project plan should answer these questions:

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

A first outline can be very rough and might look something like a work breakdown structure, as noted in our chapter on project estimation. Make sure your project plan outline includes the following components:

  • Deliverables and the tasks taken to create them
  • Your client’s approval process
  • Timeframes associated with tasks/deliverables
  • Ideas on resources needed for tasks/deliverables
  • A list of the assumptions you’re making in the plan
  • A list of absolutes as they relate to the project budget and/or deadlines

Considering these elements will help you avoid surprises—or at least minimize them. And remember, you’re doing this as a draft so you can use it as a conversation-starter for your team. It’s not final yet!

Get input from your team on process, effort, and timing

Once you’ve sketched out a basic outline of your plan, it’s time to take those rough ideas and considerations to your team. This enables you to invite discussion about what might work rather than simply dictating a process. After all, every project must begin with clear communication of the project goals and the effort required to meet them. 

This comes with understanding the fact that a project manager can’t be the only one writing a project plan. That's because you don’t want to put yourself or your team in an awkward position by not coming to a consensus on the approach before presenting it to your client.

It’s also great to use the super-smart folks surrounding you to get input on how the team can complete the tasks at hand without killing the budget and the team’s morale. As a project manager, you can decide on Agile vs. Waterfall approaches, but when it comes down to it, you need to know that the team can realistically execute the plan.

You can also use this project plan review time to question your own thinking and push the team to take a new approach to the work. For example, if you’re working on a website design project plan, could designers start creating visual concepts while the wireframes are being developed? Or can you have two resources working on the same task at once?

Running ideas by the team and having an open dialogue about the approach not only helps you build a more accurate project plan. It gets everyone thinking about the project in the same terms. This type of buy-in and communication builds trust and gets people excited about working together to solve a goal. It can work wonders for the greater good of your team and project.

Step 3: Build out your detailed project schedule

You should feel comfortable enough at this point to put together a rock-solid project schedule using whatever tool works for you. (Ahem, TeamGantt works nicely for a lot of happy customers.)

Any good online project planning tool will help you formalize your thoughts and lay them out in a consistent, visual format that’s easy to follow and track. Make sure tasks, durations, milestones, and dates are crystal-clear, and try to keep your project plan simple. The easier it is to read, the better!

See the steps for creating a project plan in TeamGantt

Be as flexible as possible when it comes to how your project plan is presented. There's no absolute when it comes to how to format your project plan as long as you and your team understand what goes into one.

Remember, people absorb information differently. While you might be partial to a gantt chart, others might prefer to view tasks in a list, calendar, or even a kanban board. You can make all of those variations work if you’ve taken the steps to create a solid plan.

TeamGantt gives you the ability to quickly and easily build and adjust a project plan using a simple drag and drop feature. Plus, it comes with customizable views to fit every team member’s work style. Try it out, and create a project plan for free!

If your team currently prefers spreadsheets and isn’t quite ready to use TeamGantt yet, try our free Excel gantt chart template.

Step 4: Present and confirm your plan

You’re almost finished! You’ve done your research, outlined your approach, discussed it with your team, and built your formal project plan.

Now it’s time to do your due diligence. It’s easy to throw stuff in a plan, but you have to make sure you get it right. 

Run your final plan by your internal team

Always review your final plan with your team before delivering it to stakeholders. Why? Because things like dates and tasks—and even assignments—will shift as you formalize the rough sketch of your plan. 

Your team needs to know the reality of your plan as it stands after you’ve built it out in TeamGantt. And you want to be sure they’re comfortable committing to the details. If they don’t, things will quickly fall apart!

Here are a few things you’ll want to discuss with your team as you review the final plan together:

  • Review times
  • Team work times
  • Dependencies
  • Time off, meetings, and milestones
  • The final deadline
  • Any assumptions you’ve made
  • Major changes since your last talk

There’s nothing more embarrassing than delivering a plan with an error or a promise you can’t keep. Taking a few minutes to get buy-in from your team will give everyone peace of mind about your plan.

Review your project plan with stakeholders

Once you’ve confirmed the plan with your team and have their full sign-off, you’re ready to share your project plan with stakeholders

When delivering your project plan, make sure you provide an executive summary. This might come in the form of a project brief or project charter. A short recap of the overall methodology, resources, assumptions, deadlines, and related review times will help you convey what the plan means to the project and everyone involved.

Project plans can be daunting, so schedule time to present your project plan to your stakeholders at a high level. Here are some things you’ll want to point out about your plan during this review:

  • Overall process and pacing
  • Major deliverables and timing
  • The time they’ll have to review deliverables
  • Overall timing for task groups or phases
  • How far off you are from the deadline
  • Wiggle room on the final deadline

If a stakeholder is interested in the day-to-day details, feel free to walk them through the plan line by line. Otherwise, start by explaining overall sections or phases, and be sure to come back to your plan at intervals throughout the project to remind them of tasks, next steps, and overall progress.

Step 5: Execute your plan and adjust as needed

Some projects are smooth and easy to manage, and others are a complete nightmare that wake you up at 3 a.m. every other night. Thankfully, having a solid project plan is your best defense against project chaos once work gets underway.

Just keep in mind that project plans are living documents. Projects change constantly, and someone has to stay on top of—and document—that change. Remember to:

  • Update your plan regularly as work progresses and things change
  • Communicate changes to your team, partners, and stakeholders
  • Monitor and communicate risks as your project evolves

Learn how to manage change requests like a pro.

How to create a project plan in TeamGantt

Ready to plan your project in TeamGantt? Follow these easy steps to build a plan that’s structured well and includes the elements you need for project success.

1. Enter your basic project details.

To create a new project plan in TeamGantt, click the New Project button in the upper right corner of the My Projects screen. Then enter your project name and start date, and select the days of the week you want to include in your plan. Click Create New Project to move on to the next step.

Example of the project creation screen in TeamGantt

2. List out your project tasks and milestones.

Now the real planning fun begins! Enter all the different tasks it will take to get the job done. If there are any key meetings, deliverable deadlines, or approvals, add those as milestones in your project plan.

List of tasks organized into 2 task groups in a project plan

3. Organize tasks into subgroups. 

Scrolling through one long list of tasks can be mind-numbing, even to the best of us. Break tasks down into phases or sections to ensure your project plan is easy to read and understand. 

4. Add task durations and milestone dates to the project timeline.

A visual project plan makes it easy to see exactly what needs to get done by when. Make sure every task has a start and end date so nothing falls through the cracks. TeamGantt’s drag and drop feature makes this planning step quick and easy.

Example of TeamGantt's drag and drop scheduling for task durations

5. Connect related tasks with dependencies.

Adding dependencies between tasks ensures work gets done in the right order and also helps you plan for delay risks. If your plan shifts and you need to move tasks around, dependencies speed up the process.

Example of a dependency line connecting a task assigned to Peggy to a subsequent task assigned to Don

6. Assign responsible team members to tasks.

That way there’s no confusion about who’s doing what, and your team can update and manage their daily tasks. Don’t forget to check team availability along the way to avoid overloading anyone with too much work.

Task assignment in TeamGantt

7. Use the RACI chart to define task roles more clearly.

This feature takes accountability one step further by letting you assign more specific roles to each task: Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. Learn how RACI charts work and what each role means.

Example of RACI assignments in TeamGantt for a digital marketing campaign project plan

8. Add hourly estimates and/or points to each task. 

This makes it easy to see the lift each task involves at a glance. Including hourly estimates in your project plan also enables you to manage workloads and track overages more accurately.

Example of estimated hours for tasks in a project plan with actual vs estimated hours progress indicators

9. Color-code tasks for better scannability.

You can use colors to categorize tasks by project phase, priority, department, or team member—whatever makes visual sense to you and your team.

Example of color selection menu in TeamGantt for color-coding taskbars on the timeline

10. Add notes to clarify tasks or spell out important details.

There’s no such thing as too much information if it means your team has what they need to deliver quality work on time. Use the Notes section of your Discussion tab to enter any pertinent details your team will find helpful.

Task detail window example with notes on scope and word count, as well as a creative brief attached to the task

11. Upload important documents to the project.

This ensures project files are accessible to everyone in a centralized hub. You might attach your scope document, project requirements, risk assessment matrix, or even a creative brief to guide your team to successful completion.

Simple project plan examples

If you’re planning a project for the first time or taking on a totally new type of project, you might be struggling to get your plan off the ground. So let’s take a look at a couple of project management plan examples you can use to generate ideas for your own planning.  

Example project plan for building a house

Building a house requires coordination of crews and materials on top of tasks and timelines. That’s why planning is especially critical in construction project management

The video below walks you through an example of a project management plan using our free construction schedule template. It’s a simple place to start if you’re building a house and need to make a project plan quickly.

Watch our construction plan template tutorial.

Agile project plan example

You might think gantt charts and Agile projects don’t mix. But a hybrid approach enables you to plan and track Agile sprints on a traditional timeline, while maintaining a flexible workflow. 

In this sample Agile project plan, we built each sprint out as its own task group, with milestones for sprint planning and deployment.

Agile project plan example with 2 sprints scheduled on a timeline

The bonus? Your team can use kanban boards in TeamGantt to manage their daily workflow.

Sample Agile project plan in a kanban board view with columns for to do, in progress, and done

Free project planning templates

Want to save time creating your next project plan? We created a whole library of project templates you can use to jumpstart your planning process!

Check out these free project plan templates:

Plan your next project in minutes

Discover just how easy project planning can be with TeamGantt. Create your first gantt chart for free!