Have you ever tried to assemble IKEA furniture without the instruction manual?
Sure, maybe it seemed like it would be easy enough…until you found yourself surrounded by half-assembled pieces and no idea what you’re supposed to do with that extra bag of screws. Plus, now your partner is questioning your competency.
That’s why, before you embark on any project, it’s a good idea to start with a plan.
A project plan is an essential document for keeping a project on track. In your project plan, you identify the scope, goals, deliverables and deadlines of your project.
A project plan should answer these questions:
- What is the purpose of this project (what problem is it going to solve)?
- What are the main deliverables ?
- What will the timeline be, including deadlines?
- Who will be on the team for this project and what role will they play?
- What resources are required to complete this project?
The problem is, people are often eager to dive into working on a project without doing the required reading and preparation first. Your project plan needs to be organized, readable and engaging enough to hold the attention of your team.
Not sure where to start? This guide will offer you tips for designing an engaging project plan–along with a bunch of creative project plan templates that you can use.
1. Start with a flexible project plan template
Why not just make a roadmap in Excel or Word and call it a day? Well, you could, but the end result will be pretty lackluster.
Also, most project plans aren’t set in stone. They’re agile documents that will probably have to be adjusted along the way.
That’s why it’s best to use a more flexible project plan template. You’ll have an easier time editing it, and there will be more opportunity to give it an engaging design.
If you’re unsure of how to approach putting your plan together, a project plan template can be a big help. Using a template as a foundation will help you to organize your information and to present it in an engaging way.
2. Plot your project timeline visually
A clear timeline is the backbone of a solid project plan. Confusion related deadlines, and what is required for those deadlines, is a common problem many teams face while working on a project.
That’s why it’s important to break your projects down into smaller tasks with staggered deadlines. How you actually visualize your timeline will play a big role in how readable and straightforward your timeline is.
Gantt chart templates
When you think of drawing out your project plan, a Gantt chart probably comes to mind. Gantt charts show tasks over a period of time.
This type of chart is handy because it allows you to show different timelines that run concurrently with each other, even if their start and ends dates are different.
For example, this gantt chart template shows project that run over the course of two quarters:
When you’re first outlining your project timeline, it can be pretty overwhelming. That’s where a visual can help people get a better sense of what needs to be done and by when.
A timeline is a versatile way to visualize milestones, processes, and goals. Because organizing the dates on your timeline can get a bit confusing, I recommend starting with a timeline template.
For example, you could use a timeline to provide an overview of the steps involved in your project:
A timeline is a good way to map out your high-level goals:
Mind map templates
There are a lot of moving pieces that contribute to the completion of a project. It can be easy to lose track of different tasks. A mind map shows relationships between pieces of a whole.
For example, you could use a mind map to break down the different components of your project strategy, like in this mind map template:
Or you could use a mind map to show the different parts of a process:
3. Use color to categorize tasks
Color selection plays an important role in your project plan design. Beyond making your project plan look nice, color can also help you organize and communicate information effectively.
For a more detailed explanation, check out our guide to using colors to communicate effectively.
When it comes to designing reports and charts, color is particularly effective for categorizing information. In a project plan, you can use color to categorize tasks by type, week, team involved, and a ton of other ways.
For example, this gantt chart template uses different colors to categorize tasks for each week. Notice how each tasks bar corresponds with the same colored text in the side bar and the legend below. This made it easy to scan the chart for specific weeks and tasks:
You can also categorize your tasks by priority. Simply pick a corresponding color for each level of priority:
4. Illustrate steps in a process using icons
Multiple studies have found that people tend to remember images better than words. With that in mind, look for ways to incorporate visual memory-prompters in your project plan design.
Icons are one type of visual that can be used to make information more memorable. Pair an icon with an important piece of text to help it stand out and stick in the reader’s mind.
For example, this project timeline template uses an icon to illustrate each step in the process. This helps reinforce the information, and gives readers a visual to refer back to:
5. Use a timeline to show an overview of your project plan
While your project plan should include the details of your project, offering a visual summary will help keep your team on track.
Create a timeline that offers an overview of the phases in your project and the expected beginning and completion dates. Your team will be able to refer back to the timeline quickly, without needing to read through a bunch of text.
For example, this project plan timeline template outlines that tasks and milestones for each month in a year:
6. Report on your progress, visually
Once your team dives into working on a project, there will almost certainly be changes that need to be made to the project plan. Unforeseen obstacles come up, certain tasks take longer to complete than expected, and other snags will happen.
That’s why it’s important to not only set your goals, but to also report on your progress throughout the process. Creating a project status report will help you keep track of your progress, while also communicating it effectively with other parties.
Your project status report could be a simple one-age snapshot:
7. Incorporate the theme of your project into your design
While your priority when designing your project plan should be function, finding ways to make your design engaging is still important. After all, your project plan will help inspire confidence in your team–and the people who will be funding your project.
Adding surprising design elements will help engage and excite readers. An easy way to do this is to include icons and images that reflect the theme of your project.
For example, this project plan template for a baking company incorporates a donut into the design:
8. Use a chart to track your project’s process
Certain phases of your project may end up taking more or less time than anticipated. That’s why it’s valuable to track your progress, so you can adjust your goals. Tracking your progress will also help you make informed decisions when planning future projects.
You can track your project using a flexible chart that’s easy to update, like the chart templates offered by Venngage.
For example, this project plan template uses a simple bar graph to track the duration of each phase. The updates are tracked in the top right corner:
In Venngage, you can create multiple copies of a design. If you’re updating a chart or timeline, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of past iterations.
9. Create a calendar of tasks or events to be completed
Are there specific dates that certain tasks needs to be completed on? You may want to create a calendar that specifies what should be done on what day.
For example, if your team is executing on an event like a conference, then a calendar is necessary for keeping events for specific dates organized. The events are color coded by type, making it easy to scan the calendar:
10. Rate your process using an icon chart
An icon chart uses (you guessed it) icons to represent units of measurement. When coming up with ways to embellish your project plan design, look for opportunities to visualize information that you want to emphasize. An icon chart is a creative and effective way to do that.
For example, this project status report template uses check mark icons to rate the success of three different aspects of the project:
BONUS: Download your project plan as a PDF or high quality PNG
If you want to send your project plan to your team or stakeholders, make it easy for them to open by exporting your fike as a PDF or a PNG. With Venngage, you can download your reports and presentations in interactive PDF format or as a high quality PNG.
With these foundational tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating an impressive–and effective!–project plan. Remember, a well-executed project begins with a solid plan.