Imagine that you have a whole pile of dirt.
And you have to move the dirt from Point A to Point B. You have a whole team and each person has shovels, but only one wheelbarrow. What’s the best use of the wheelbarrow? Should the other people be standing around waiting on the wheelbarrow or can they do other things, like moving it themselves?
I don’t know either, this is a silly example, but here’s the point: You need a plan to help you accomplish your big project goals.
How are you going to do it?
Often, you just need a blueprint. A game plan. Maybe even a project plan? Yeah, that’s the ticket.
To get more done, you may need more specifics, with everyone knowing what to do. That’s the planning process. Crazy, right? It’s time to make a project plan.
First, What Is a Project?
Before I make project plans, I like to know what I’m making or doing. That’s where a project comes in.
So what is a project?
A project is a list of tasks put together to achieve a common goal.
Like moving dirt. Sounds good, anything else?
A project begins and ends. A project doesn’t keep going. There’s a start date and an end date. You know when it’s finished. There may be a series of projects, but with deadlines you get a clear path forward and can hold your project team accountable. That’s also project management in a nutshell.
You set up milestones and due dates for when things need to be done so that other things can start.
A project builds a new deliverable. Sure, there are improvements–which are often called iterations–and the two terms get thrown around a lot. But generally, a project is creating new products or deliverables for you and your company. This doesn’t mean you’ve never done it before, but you are creating a new thing.
Here’s an example. If you’re a furniture maker, you may have made desks before. But a new project would start with a new run of desks. You may have made desks before, or a certain type of desk, but a new series of desks is a new project.
As a project manager, it’s up to you to make those decisions and help facilitate the new creation of the new deliverables.
A project has boundary lines. Or boundaries. This is called scope. Certain specs and requirements will be included; others will be excluded. It can’t do everything to solve your business. That’s not a project. If you’re still creating desks, you may have oak desks or particle board desks. You won’t create both types of desks in a project. Only one type. That’s the project scope and specifications.
A project has a champion. Even when your project team collaborates and builds something together, there’s usually one person in charge. This is a project manager, a team lead, a creative director, a sales manager, an event planner, a software engineer…you get the picture. Someone has got sign off and they are invested in seeing it through to the end. This is often called a project sponsor and you are responsible to the stakeholders for the deliverables doing what you say they will do.
Hit The Brakes…
Before we move forward, I want to make one thing clear. I’m assuming you’ve already validated your product or project with your leadership team, the stakeholders, your customers and everyone else. Don’t build something without having a reason to or ensuring that your client or customer wants this. This is a whole other post…so I’ll just stop there. Lecture over.
Let’s keep going:
What’s In a Project Plan?
Now that you know what a project is, it’s time to put a plan together. The planning process can be long and arduous, but it doesn’t have to be. Many of these points will seem obvious, because you’re probably already aware of these. Still, they’re an important part of a project plan. What you’re doing is creating a sturdy platform for your team to excel. With an in-depth project plan, you’re giving them confidence. It’s a show of faith and trust in their abilities, with a blueprint that’s up-to-date and easy to follow.
A good project plan will include items like:
Budget: Knowing how much you have to spend on people, resources and materials makes a world of difference. Some projects are larger than others, but it’s good to know how much you have before executing and building. Usually, you have to craft a business case to your leadership to get sign off, especially on a big project. They’ll want to know how much this will cost and where you plan on spending the money. You may have some help on this piece from your product managers who could help you with estimates and project scope. But those are estimates. As the project manager or project leader, you’ll be responsible for accounting for every cent.
Detailed Tasks: Write out a list of tasks that have to be done to finish the project. What are the essentials and which tasks are dependent on others? In the certified project management world, this is often called a work breakdown structure. What does that mean? It means you’re dividing up the work with tasks, subtasks and clear details underneath all of those.
ClickUp offers spaces where you can establish your big divisions, like departments or business units. Next, you’ll have projects that may include your sprints or certain type of projects. Lists will include the specific goals you’re looking to meet or fulfill, and the tasks will be the individual items that help you meet those goals.
It’s important to put time estimates in here as well to give you a general idea of how long a project may take. And if some tasks won’t start until later in the project, set start and end dates for those tasks as well.
Project Schedule: Now you may have to schedule out a few meetings to make sure your team is on track. If you’re using an awesome project management system like ClickUp, then you won’t have as many meetings as you normally would. ClickUp helps you avoid pointless meetings by empowering you to be detailed oriented in your tasks and comments.
But if it’s a big project, you should hold a kick-off meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows the general direction of the project. Your project plan should be ready by the kick-off meeting. In your project plan, you’ll also want to put in certain milestones and times to review them, especially if you’re doing sprints or something similar.
Lastly, you’ll want to schedule a performance review of how the project went and hopefully this includes drinks afterward to celebrate.
You can use calendars or Gantt charts to help you with scheduling.
Resource Management: That’s high-class jargon for determining what materials or resources will be needed to get it done. This is big in some industries like logistics, where you have to know how many shipping containers are available on a certain day and can hold how many pallets of shampoo.
In other fields and industries, it’s not so complex and could be very obvious. Your drafting team knows to use the same drafting program they’ve already used. Your developers know to do the project in Ruby on Rails. However, you may need to be more specific if you have a lot of tools, resources or materials at your disposal. This will take a few of the questions out.
Resource management also includes time. This is slightly different than the schedule, though the two are related. In resource management, you’re divvying up how much time your workers have. You can have 10 employees working at the same time and within the timeframe, and this may make your project go faster. But if they’re dealing with other projects or can only devote some of their time to your project, then this may affect the schedule, too.
You’ll also have to consider the budget. Like do you need to hire a consulting firm or outside contractors to meet your project schedule and goals? How much will this cost and what other expenses will you have for new equipment, tools or technology to get your project finished?
It’s all connected.
Communication: Things may (okay, will) go off the rails or get delayed. And what if something has to be changed or corrected? Certain forms of project management, like agile, build these contingencies into their methodology, but it doesn’t have to be that formal. You just need to think of things ahead of time and communicate those expectations clearly. This may also including leading discussions and meetings between different departments and cross-functional project teams to ensure good collaboration.
You’ll also need to guarantee buy-in from your project team, and this is where a good communication plan can also help. If someone has concerns about a project’s direction or viability, make sure they feel heard and understood. They need to understand their roles and responsibilities to do the best work possible.
Scope: Remember, a project has boundaries? Some things are in and others are out? You want to have a firm grasp of the project scope and specifications and avoid the dreaded scope creep which happens when prices escalate or problems are worse than you thought (anyone who’s done home remodeling knows what I’m talking about).
Outcomes: What are you trying to achieve? What are you trying to build? And how do you know when you’ve done it? Those are important questions that a project plan also needs to consider. That includes everything from staging to quality control–you have to make sure what you built actually works, or the project isn’t finished.
How To Manage Risks and Roadblock
What’s the difference between a risk and a roadblock? For one, risks are a technical project management term, whereas roadblocks are a little more informal, but probably something all team members will be familiar with. I like to think of risks as things that could happen but haven’t happened yet; roadblocks as risks that have happened. Risks aren’t always negative either, and they don’t have to turn into roadblocks. For instance, say a new feature build only takes half the time that the project manager allotted for it–is that a bad thing? No. Does it still throw off the project plan schedule? Yes. But those are the risks that we love.
Once you think about risks and potential roadblocks, make a list and evaluate it with your team before the project even starts. This helps you find holes in your plans. Then place each risk into one of the quadrants below based on the likelihood of it happening. If a potential risk or roadblock scores high, then you could re-evaluate your project plan to fit that in.
So how do you account for risks and roadblocks?
Well, adjustments have to be made. Sometimes that’s running over on the schedule or paying for an item or piece of equipment that costs more than you anticipate.
See if your first plan will still work. Say you’re moving dirt, and you trip and fall. Should you throw out the whole plan just because you fell and got behind schedule? Probably not. Your plan still works. How do you do this? Risks and roadblocks may stall you out, but that doesn’t mean going around it isn’t an option. If you saved some time or money in one area, see how you can reallocate that to another area. If your hotshot designer is already finished or found a shortcut, see if they can help on another part of the project. There could still be a way around it while keeping your main project plan in place. But as a project manager or team member, you’ll have to evaluate what can be accomodated in a reasonable way and what can’t. Which brings us to the next point…
Think about what needs to be escalated. What items are you willing to let the team handle on their own (such as rescheduling) versus items that need approval from leadership or the project sponsor (maybe budgeting or extra costs?). Determining that at the beginning will help your team be more responsive.
How will you document risks? You may want an extra section in your project management software where you record risks so that a project manager or leadership can review it later. This could be a comments thread or a new list that specifically documents these issues.
Remember, that there are no guarantees on a project. Things happen from events (like your building floods because of a water leak and your team can’t go to the office) or other contingencies (the manufacturer delayed the new round of plastic whatchamacallits). Risks and roadblocks like these have to be accounted for–and even then you may be surprised.
Anything else about the project planning process?
Project plans need to be focused on results. Just remember when creating your project plan that they need to be actionable and measurable. No one likes to be in the situation where they create goals with lots of metrics, but no project plan that actually shows you how to get there. Worst yet is when a project plan is created but no one actually follows it. That’s no good either.
Project plans take the whole team into account. Remember our pile of dirt from the beginning? There should be something for everyone to do, even if the wheelbarrow is not immediately available. And your project plan should account for everyone’s time and what they can give to the project. If there’s not enough work, then you should re-assign your team to other projects. Everyone should have something to do in the project.
Now You’re Ready To Put Your Project Plan in ClickUp
Once you have all of your specifics, you’re ready to put your plan in ClickUp. We have loads of helpful videos on how to do this, but here’s the quick version:
1. Create a structure in ClickUp
This is how your team and company can work. You can set up individual teams (such as for sales, design, marketing, development) or make it department specific. Next Spaces is the different areas a team member may work in. Admins can set specific access points for different spaces. Creating a structure helps your projects and tasks stay organized.
5. Add details and appropriate info to the task
8. Use the calendar to get a full view of what needs to happen
Rinse and repeat!
What was that? You’re not sure you need a project management tool and productivity platform? Whoa there. How will you work with your team? How will you record all the details? How will you make a project plan? You’re missing out on all these advantages.
Alright, did you solve your wheelbarrow and shovel problem?
Did everyone bring a good pair of gloves?
I know you didn’t figure that one out because you’ve been very concerned about your own project plan. And that’s great, because now you have the basics down. You’re ready to make a project plan and tackle your next big project and deliverables.
You won’t believe this, but making the project plan is actually the easy part–the real work starts now!