Have you ever been part of a project that didn’t go as planned?
It doesn’t feel good.
Wasted time, wasted resources…Pretty frustrating for everyone involved.
That’s why it’s so important to create a comprehensive project management plan before your project gets off the ground.
So for those of you who are new to project management (or if you just want to take your planning game to the next level), here’s a refresher on creating and designing a successful project management plan.
Here’s what this guide will cover (click to jump to each section):
- What is a project management plan?
- What are the components of a project management plan?
- How to create a project management plan
- Highlight the key elements of your project plan in an executive summary
- Plot your project schedule visually with a Gantt chart
- Clarify the structure of your project team with a team org chart
- Organize project risk factors in a risk breakdown structure
- Plan ahead: create project status reports to communicate progress to stakeholders
- Make it look professional with a project management plan template
We’ll talk tips for building a project management plan, with some engaging project management plan templates to help you launch your next project.
But first things first…
What is a project management plan?
A project management plan is a formal document that defines how a project is going to be carried out. It outlines the scope, goals, budget, timeline, and deliverables of a project, and it’s essential for keeping a project on track.
You create this report during the project planning stage of the project life cycle, and it must be approved by stakeholders before a project can move on the execution stage.
This means your project plan must be engaging, organized, and thorough enough to gain the support of your stakeholders.
New to project management? Read our blog post on the 4 stages of the project life cycle.
What are the components of a project management plan?
Before you start assembling your own plan, you should be familiar with the main components of a typical project plan.
A project management plan should include the following sections:
- Executive Summary: A short description of the contents of the report
- Project Scope & Deliverables: An outline of the boundaries of the project, and a description of how the project will be broken down into measurable deliverables
- Project Schedule: A high-level view of project tasks and milestones (Gantt charts are handy for this)
- Project Resources: The budget, personnel, and other resources required to meet project goals
- Risk and Issue Management Plan: A list of factors that could derail the project and a plan for how issues will be identified, addressed, and controlled
- Communication Management Plan: A plan for how team and stakeholder communication will be handled over the course of the project
Basically, a project plan should tell stakeholders what needs to get done, how it will get done, and when it will get done.
With those basics out of the way, let’s get into some tips for creating a project management plan that’s as engaging as it is professional.
1. Highlight the key elements of your project plan in an executive summary
An executive summary is a brief description of the key contents of a project plan. It’s usually the first thing stakeholders will read, and it should act like a Cliff’s-notes version of the whole plan.
It might touch on a project’s value proposition, goals, deliverables, and important milestones, but it has to be concise (it is a summary, after all).
Like this example, an executive summary can be broken into columns to contrast the existing problem with the project solution:
The two-column format with clear headers help break up the information, making it extremely easy to read at a glance.
Here’s another example of a project management plan executive summary. This one visually highlights key takeaways with big fonts and helpful icons:
In this case, the highlighted facts and figures are particularly easy to scan (which is sure to make your stakeholders happy).
But your executive summary won’t always be so simple. For larger projects, when your executive summary is longer and more detailed, it’s not a bad idea to divide it up into sections, with a dedicated header for each section:
Regardless of how you organize your executive summary, it should give your stakeholders a preview of what’s to come in the rest of the project management plan.
2. Plot your project schedule visually with a Gantt chart
A carefully planned project schedule is key to the success of any project. Without one, your project will likely crumble into a mess of missed deadlines, poor team alignment, and scope creep.
Luckily, project planning tools like Gantt charts and project timelines make creating your project schedule easy. You can visually plot each project task, add major milestones, then look for any dependencies or conflicts that you haven’t accounted for.
For example, this Gantt chart template outlines high-level project activities over the course of an entire quarter, with tasks color-coded by team:
A high-level roadmap like the one above is probably sufficient for your project management plan. Every team will be able to refer back to this timeline throughout the project to make sure they’re on track.
But before project kickoff, you’ll need to dig in and break down project responsibilities by individual team member, like in this Gantt chart example:
In the later execution and monitoring phases of the project, you’ll thank yourself for creating a detailed visual roadmap that you can track and adjust as things change.
Check out this blog post for more Gantt chart templates.
3. Clarify the structure of your project team with a team org chart
One of the hardest aspects of project planning is assembling a team and aligning them to the project vision.
And aligning your team is all about communication–communicating the project goals, communicating stakeholder requests, communicating the rationale behind big decisions…the list goes on.
This is where good project documentation is crucial! You need to create documents that your team and your stakeholders can access when they have questions or need guidance.
One easy thing to document visually is the structure of your team, with an organizational chart like this one:
In an organizational chart you should include some basic information like team hierarchy and team member contact information. That way your stakeholders have all of the information they need at their fingertips.
But in addition to that, you can indicate the high-level responsibilities of each team member and the channels of communication within the team (so your team knows exactly what they’re accountable for).
Here’s another simple organizational structure template that you can use as a starting point:
Create an organizational chart with our organizational chart maker.
4. Organize project risk factors in a risk breakdown structure
A big part of project planning is identifying the factors that are likely to derail your project, and coming up with plans and process to deal with those factors. This is generally referred to as risk management.
The first step in coming up with a risk management plan is to list all of the factors at play, which is where a risk breakdown structure comes in handy. A risk breakdown structure is a hierarchical representation of project risks, organized by category.
This risk breakdown structure template, for example, shows project risk broken down into technical risk, management risk, and external risk:
Once you’ve constructed your risk breakdown structure, you’ll be ready to do a deep dive into each risk (to assess and plan for any triggers and outcomes).
5. Plan ahead: create project status reports to communicate progress to stakeholders
As I mentioned earlier, communication is fundamental in any project.
But even so, something that’s often overlooked by project managers is a communication management plan–a plan for how the project team is going to communicate with project stakeholders. Too often, project communication defaults to ad-hoc emails or last-minute meetings.
You can avoid this by planning ahead and including a project status report template as part of your communication plan.
Here’s an example of a simple project status report that you might send to stakeholders on a weekly basis:
This type of report is invaluable for communicating updates on project progress. It shows what you’ve accomplished in a clear, consistent format, which can help flag issues before they arise, build trust with your stakeholders, and makes it easy to reflect on project performance once you’ve reached your goals.
You might also want to include a broader status report for bigger updates on a monthly or quarterly basis, like this one:
The above template allows you to inform stakeholders of more major updates like new budget requirements, revised completion dates, and project performance ratings.
You can even include a visualization of up-to-date project milestones, like this example below:
6. Make it look professional with a project management plan template
A project management plan is probably the most important deliverable your stakeholders will receive from you (besides the project itself). It holds all of the information that stakeholders will use to determine whether your project moves forward or gets kicked to the curb.
That’s why it’s a good idea to start with a project management plan template. Using a template can help you organize your information logically and ensure it’s engaging enough to hold your stakeholders’ attention.
Here’s an example of a simple project management plan template that clearly lays out all of the information your stakeholders will need:
The below project management plan template has a more traditional format for a project plan. It’s simple and minimal, but still uses a unique layout and simple visuals to create an easy-to-read, scannable project overview. This template is perfect for building or construction management, or any technical projects:
When picking a project plan template, look for one that’s flexible enough to accommodate any changes your stakeholders might request before they’ll approve the project. You never know what might change in the early planning stages of the project!
To wrap up, here are a few project management plan best practices to live by:
- Use headers, columns, and highlights to make your executive summary easy to read
- Plot your project schedule with a Gantt chart (with tasks color-coded by department or team member)
- Use visuals like organizational charts and risk breakdown structures to communicate across your team and with stakeholders
- Pick a flexible template that you can update to align with stakeholder requests