How to Create a Project Plan in 5 Steps (+Free Templates)
Want to create an excellent project plan?
Creating a project plan is the essential first step before diving into any project.
I mean, even Ben Gates couldn’t steal the Declaration of Independence in the “National Treasure” movie series without doing some planning.
So what’s a project plan exactly?
More importantly, how do you create one?
In this article, we’ll cover what a project plan is, why you need it, and give you a step-by-step guide on how to create one. We’ll also cover how a project management tool can help you plan projects easily.
What Is A Project Plan?
A project plan is a detailed document that describes what is required to execute and manage a project.
Created during the project planning phase, this document explains various elements of a project, like the:
- Project objective: results or deliverables you must achieve in the project
- Project scope: defines the work you should do in the project
- Project stakeholder: people involved in the project
- Deadlines: timeframes in which you need to complete various project sections
- Constraints: limitations (time, people, project budget, etc.) within which you must work in
Bonus: Action Plan Templates
Remember, you need to analyze and plan each element carefully for successful project completion.
And to do that, the project plan includes many other subsidiary management plans, like:
- Scope management plan: describes what the team can work on and what goes beyond the project scope
- Schedule management plan: provides an itinerary, outlines your project timeline, deadlines, milestones and other time-related project details
- Cost management plan: contains details regarding your project budget, who’s responsible for managing it, cost baseline, etc.
- Communications plan: specifies the methods and tools your teams and stakeholders will use for communication
- Risk management plan: outlines what the possible project risks are and the methods you’ll use to control them
- Quality management plan: explains the quality-check procedures that’ll be used in the project
- Change management plan: describes what could change in the project over its course. This subsidiary plan is vital if you follow the Agile management methodology.
We get it.
This sounds like a lot of planning!
But once you have a great project plan, tackling the project becomes super easy.
Think of it this way:
A project plan is a treasure map that shows you where to go, how to get there and what paths to take when something goes wrong. Sure, treasure maps are often hard to acquire — but once you get them, the search becomes easy!
But a project plan isn’t the only map you use in project management.
You also have a project charter and a project management plan.
So before diving deeper into project plans, let’s check out the other two documents and see if they’re actually different from a project plan.
A. What is a project charter?
A project charter is a short document (usually 1–2 pages) that gives you a high-level overview of a project.
Created early in the project life cycle, the charter defines various project data, like:
- Project scope
- Milestones and timeline
- Key stakeholders
- Assumptions and constraints
Wait… aren’t these the same things defined in a project plan?
Then how are they different from each other?
The project charter is a project’s summary that’s submitted to the project committee for their approval. Once it’s approved, you create the project plan — which clearly describes every aspect of the project.
Additionally, after a project charter is approved, it remains fixed throughout the project life cycle. However, a project plan evolves over the life cycle — the initial plan would cover all the rough details, but it wouldn’t be comprehensive until a few stages later.
Related: Executive Summary Templates
B. What is a project management plan?
Unlike the project plan, which describes what the project needs, the project management plan describes how to implement the work and manage the project.
For example, Gates’ project plan will describe what’s required to steal the Declaration of Independence. But his project management plan will explain how they’re going to pull it off.
As the project management plan clarifies the project’s technology, system and techniques, it’s even more detailed than the project plan (usually over 100 pages!).
However, most project managers often use both these terms interchangeably — “project plan” as a short form of “project management plan”.
That’s why we’ll also use them interchangeably in this article.
You now know what a project plan (or a project management plan) is.
But why do you actually need it?
Let’s find out…
5 Reasons Why You Need A Project Plan
Gates and his team need a secret map to find a lost treasure (and clear his family’s name).
And while a project team doesn’t have to go on such treasure hunts, they still need a plan for successful project completion.
Looking for Reasons Why You Need A Project Plan?
- A project management plan defines the project’s value proposition — this helps the team visualize the project goal and deliverables easily
- It clarifies what goes into the project for all parties involved (the project sponsor, stakeholders and team)
- It provides milestones to help teams achieve their project objective on time
- It shows who’s responsible for a specific project task for better accountability
- As you’ll define the budget during the planning stage, you can eliminate unnecessary costs
Great, right? But how do you go about developing an effective project management plan?
How To Create A Simple Project Plan In 5 Steps [Step-by-Step Guide]
Creating a project plan document isn’t as tricky as finding a lost treasure hoard.
However, it can be a pain if you don’t know how to perform the project planning process properly. To help you out, here are five easy steps to create a project management plan:
1. Do your research and ask the right questions
Gates and his team would never start a quest without brushing up on their history.
While it improves their knowledge area, it also gives them clarity over how to solve the challenge!
Likewise, the first step in creating a project plan is to do your research and understand the project.
And how do you do that?
By going through all available information on the project — client discussions you’ve had so far, preliminary ideas you’ve jotted down, etc.
And if you need more information (which you probably will), instead of making wild guesses, ask the right questions.
Ask yourself (and your team) questions like:
- What does the client require in this project?
- What could be the potential project risks and roadblocks?
- Do we need any clarifications from the project sponsor and stakeholders?
- How many people are required to work on this project?
- What should be our communication plan?
- How do we measure project success?
This not only helps you understand what you’ll be working on but also helps you prepare for potential issues that could pop up down the line.
Quick tip: Always include your project management team in the planning process. This way, you can create project plans that align with your team’s capabilities.
2. Define the project
Once you know what you’ll be doing, you need to define the project clearly.
You don’t want the project sponsor, key stakeholder or team members to be confused about the project.
Here’s how you should define the two most essential elements in any project:
A. Project objective
Define what you’re looking to achieve in the project.
While your main project objective will be to develop the deliverable, you could also have secondary objectives. This could be anything from improving project team cohesion to streamlining your processes.
B. Project scope
Most scopes change over their project life cycle — especially Agile and Scrum projects.
So it might be easier to define what falls outside your project scope instead of trying to determine what falls within it. Additionally, without a proper scope definition, it’ll be hard to avoid scope creep.
What’s scope creep?
Scope creep happens when the project scope keeps increasing continuously. This ultimately leads to various project risks, like employee burn out, due to many additional tasks.
3. Create a project schedule
What’s a project without a schedule, right?
Here’s how to craft an effective project schedule:
- Determine the tasks you need to complete in the project (use a work breakdown structure to do this easily)
- Identify task dependencies (how one project task relates to another)
- Identify the resources, like how many team members you need to finish each task
- Estimate the time it’ll take to complete each task and set various milestones
- Create the project timeline that ends with giving the project deliverables to the stakeholders
- Keep your project schedule up-to-date according to any changes in the project
With a well-planned schedule, you’ll be able to complete the project on time.
4. Assign roles and responsibilities
Remember when Ben asked Riley to keep a watch on the others when he’s stealing the Declaration?
Similarly, you also need to assign project tasks to your project team members.
But who gets what assignment?
This largely depends on their skills and expertise and the complexity or priority of a task.
Let’s use this project plan example:
Ben wants you to build an app that’ll help him detect buried objects. The most important and, possibly, complex task would be to develop a magnetic sensor. So you’ll assign the best people in your team to do this.
Including your project management team in the planning process will be super helpful here.
As they know their skills better than anyone else, you’ll be able to assign responsibilities accordingly.
This ensures that nobody bites off more than they can chew!
5. Conduct a post-project analysis
No management plan is complete without a post-project analysis.
After all, you need to know how good your plan was, right?
Once the project’s over, ask your project management team to give you feedback over what they liked and disliked about it. This feedback will help you craft future project plans that are far more effective and team-friendly.
Additionally, you can add a post-project review phase into your project plans — to check if you’d met your project goal and analyze your team’s performance.
Key Components of a Successful Project Plan
A good project plan always includes a recommended budget. It’s a simple way to keep your expenditure processes on track and keep the project profitable.
2. Detailed Work Tasks
Your project plan should include a work breakdown of every task and subtask associated with the project.
3. Project Schedule
A project plan must include a project schedule to keep your project running smoothly. You should map out the project timeline to ensure that you meet your deadlines.
4. Resource Management
Your project plan needs to take stock of the resources at your disposal in order to manage them effectively. These resources could be things like manpower, software, hardware or time.
5. Communication Systems
Your project plan must communicate your project objectives and expectations clearly. Moreover, there should be software and systems in place so that your project team can communicate easily.
6. Project Scope
A successful project plan outlines its scope clearly. It defines what it’s goals are and what falls under its purview. This helps you avoid scope creep – which can drastically slow your progress.
7. Project Outcomes
A project manager can use project plans to spell out the goals, project milestones, and deliverables associated with each project stage.
Bonus: How to Write a Project Proposal & Project Proposal Templates
How To Plan And Manage Projects Effortlessly
While creating a management plan is crucial for a successful project, it can be exhausting.
From identifying the project goal to creating a work breakdown structure, there’s a lot involved.
Luckily, with a powerful project management software like ClickUp, you can plan and manage multiple projects efficiently.
But what’s ClickUp?
ClickUp is the world’s #1 project management tool.
From the project planning process to project closure, this project management software will help you with anything and everything — even remote project management!
Here’s a closer look at how ClickUp streamlines the project management process:
1. Goals to set a project goal and track it
Ben Gates doesn’t go exploring without setting some professional goals in mind.
But in project management, you can’t just set project goals in your head!
You’ll just forget them when you have a gazillion other things to take care of!
So what can you do?
Use ClickUp’s Goals!
Goals in ClickUp are high-level containers that break down your project goal into smaller, measurable Targets.
For example, if your Goal is to build that metal detector app for Ben, your Target could be “develop the magnetic sensor”.
Your Scrum team members can now tackle these small Targets and finish them to achieve the Goal. As you complete each Target, the tool auto-updates your Goal progress percentage. This tells you exactly how close you’re to achieving the project Goal!
2. Tasks, Subtasks and Checklists for easy project task management
Project planning is only one part of project management.
You also have tons of other things to take care of like, scope management, tracking your project timeline and more.
Manually keeping track of all these (especially in larger scrum projects) will burn out even an efficient project manager like Ben.
But with ClickUp, that won’t be a problem!
It lets you break down your whole project into Tasks, Subtasks and Checklists for effortless management.
Here’s how it works:
- Tasks and Subtasks: break down your project into smaller tasks and subtasks. Your project team can now easily tackle the project bit-by-bit instead of attempting it in its entirety.
- Checklists: create simple to-do lists to quality check items and map out steps for any task. Project team members can quickly check off these lists as they move along.
3. Docs to create a project plan document
Treasure maps or clues are super precious to any explorer, right?
Similarly, project plans are vital documents for any project team.
You can’t just write your plan on a piece of paper — it could get lost or even fall into the wrong hands!
Instead, just use ClickUp’s Docs to draft and manage your project plan document.
Docs let you document your project needs within each project space. From a configuration management plan to your project budget, just use Docs to create and store everything easily.
For seamless real-time collaboration with your team members, you can set access rights for each Doc and share it with them.
But that’s not all.
You can also:
- Embed URLs into a Doc and adjust its appearance for easy viewing
- Format text with headings, highlights and lists for clarity
- Export a Doc as PDF, HTML or Markdown files quickly
- Leave comments for easy editing reference
- Index it to let it appear on Google and other search engines
4. Assigned comments for quick delegation
Ben delegated tasks to Riley and Abigail, right?
You need to do the same for your project team members.
But when you’re managing tons of different things at once, it’s easy for your team to overlook what you told them to do.
So what can you do?
Use ClickUp’s Assigned Comments!
This feature lets you create tasks out of comments and assign them to any team member (including yourself). The assignee will then be notified instantly and it’ll also pop up in their task tray — making it impossible to go unnoticed.
Once they’ve finished the task, they can resolve the comment to eliminate unnecessary follow-ups!
Project Plan Templates in ClickUp
With a simple project plan template, you can start your project planning process quickly.
You don’t have to create a plan from scratch every time, just copy your data into a project plan template and you’re good to go!
Here are some simple project plan templates to help you start your planning process immediately:
1. Project management plan template
Use this simple project plan template to keep track of all your project tasks in ClickUp:
2. Project roadmap template
A project roadmap is a visual overview of your project deliverables and goals. It’s the quickest way to manage stakeholder expectations in your project.
Here’s a ClickUp roadmap template that lists project deliverables or goals with details like assignee, due date, etc.
3. Roadmap – Board template
Here’s a ClickUp template that displays your roadmap in a Kanban-style:
4. Roadmap – Gantt chart template
If you prefer to have your roadmap in a Gantt chart view, you can use this ClickUp template:
Gantt charts are a great way to visualize data, empowering users in ways unimagined before. Truly an amazing feat!
Want to see the best use cases for Gantt Chart’s? Check out our top 20 Gantt Chart Examples.
5. Management plan – Gantt chart template
You can also use a Gantt chart template to track your project progress in ClickUp.
But these aren’t the only features that ClickUp has for easy project planning and management!
This powerful project management software also offers other handy features like:
- Gantt chart: track project progress according to its timeline easily
- Project management automation: automate repetitive project processes to save time
- Custom project status: create customized statuses according to your Agile project needs
- Team reporting: get detailed insights into your team’s performance
- Pulse: know your remote or in-house team’s activity levels across a specific day
- Critical Path: identify the tasks you must complete to meet your project deadline on time
While creating a project plan is vital, it can be complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing.
But don’t worry.
Just use the processes and templates we listed here to map your project’s journey easily!
However, as your project success chiefly depends on how effective this plan is, you need to be well-equipped to navigate it.
And for that, you need a powerful project planning tool like ClickUp!
From planning projects to project execution and tracking your in-house/remote team’s productivity, this tool has everything you need — just like how Riley and Abigail help Ben with everything he needs to solve mysteries.
Sign up today and let ClickUp light the way towards your project success!
Questions? Comments? Visit our Help Center for support.