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How to Develop a Project Plan That’s Right for Your Next Project

developing a project plan

The baseline. In project control, everything you do refers to it. It’s the expectation you’re setting with stakeholders.

The main medium you have for communicating that baseline is by developing a project plan. It documents the time, cost and scope baseline so that everyone can stay on the same page throughout the course of the project.

A good project plan is one of the most important tools for minimizing risk and keeping a project on track through execution. But while there are a number of things that all good project plans have in common, what’s “good” for one isn’t necessarily good for all.

Here are some key points to keep in mind as you develop your next project plan.

Project Plans are Living Documents

As the name implies, by developing a project plan, it sets the context and communicates all planning facets of a project. The plan defines how the project will be executed and controlled until completion.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t change over the course of the project. Many people will go through the meticulous process of asking how to develop a project plan, creating one, and having it approved only to put it away in a drawer (virtual or otherwise), never to look at it again.

No matter how much work you’ve put into the initial development, the plan is still a living document. After developing a project plan, it will almost always need to be updated as the project progresses and more information becomes available. The key is to only make changes once they’re approved through the Change Control Process.

Use the Right Project Plan Template for the Job

Organizations use project plan templates as a way to standardize what the project plan should include. A good template serves as a jumping-off point for developing the plan, and it keeps you from having to reinvent the wheel every time a new project begins.

However, there can be downsides if you try to force-fit projects into a one-size-fits-all approach. One of the criticisms we often hear about developing a project plan from a template is that they include information that isn’t relevant or useful or doesn’t make sense for the specific project in question. Some also lack helpful directions and examples for categories and fields, making it difficult to adapt and quickly use.

There’s no return on the investment of time spent developing a complex plan for a simple project, so when asking how to develop a project plan that will best help your company, the best approach is to have multiple templates available, based on project size and complexity, and to allow the project manager to choose from these options. Again, the point is to make the process easier, not to create unnecessary steps or barriers.

Common Components of a Project Plan Template

Across all projects, there are always some commonalities that should be included when developing a project plan or template. These include:

  • Project charter
    • Project Description
    • Project Justification
    • Objectives
    • High level requirements
    • High level risks
    • Summary schedule
    • Summary budget
    • Stakeholders
  • Scope Statement
    • Product scope
    • Deliverables
    • Exclusions
    • Constraints
    • Assumptions
  • Project approach
  • Work Breakdown Structure
  • Schedule
  • Budget
  • Required resources
  • Control plans
    • Quality Plan
    • Change control Plan
    • Risk management Plan
    • Communication Plan
    • Stakeholder management plan

So remember, when you’re wondering how to develop a project plan, selecting the right project plan template ensures the effort you put into the planning is justified by the project’s scope and size. And when developing a project plan, remember: even in the best of circumstances, detours may be necessary along the way. Keep returning to your plan and adjusting as needed to keep that baseline clear for everyone.