Even before contracts are signed or budgets set aside, every new project begins with a plan. And in order to cope with the chaos that will come with the work, leaders must have a complete and well-thought-out project management plan in hand.

This will be a document that predicts the timeline of how long work will take, who the main stakeholders are, what deliverables are expected and when, contingencies in case of emergencies or delays, and details that should help any manager deal with unforeseen circumstances and fresh challenges.

A project management plan is a road map that directs a project team from start date to completion. It's the key to executing a successful project with minimal stress.

When leaders carefully plot the course ahead, using the right strategies, input, and tools, they position their teams to work efficiently and get things done.

Here are four steps to creating better plans for any project.

1. Put the Project Management Plan on Paper

A key part of achieving a project's objectives is making sure the team has a clear sense of those goals and understands how their individual roles fit into the larger mission. They need to know how each step along the way will contribute. Leaders prepare themselves to strategize more effectively and respond to workers' needs by writing down a brief summary of the plan.

On a single page, include the following:

  • Define the problem your project management plan is intended to solve.
  • State how the business will benefit.
  • Lay out the major steps along the way.
  • Include any difficulties the team may encounter and risks involved in the project.
  • Establish the conditions for successful completion, including relevant metrics.

Once you have a document summing up these key points, you can dive into working out the details without losing sight of the big picture. Keeping the summary brief helps you concentrate on the aspects that matter most. If you're uncertain of how to get started, try looking at a sample project management plan.

2. Carefully Consider Timeline and Scope

Keeping workers on task and on schedule makes all the difference in whether an initiative accomplishes its goals while staying within budget. A leader keeps the team moving forward by setting meaningful milestones and achievable deadlines for deliverables. If everyone knows the timeline, receives regular reminders, and knows how to escalate the situation when there's a problem, the team is in good shape to get its work done on time.

On the other hand, it can cause big problems when team members get caught up in nonessential tasks. This is why having a project scope management plan is vital. The project manager must evaluate the goals and milestones, breaking down exactly what needs to be done and what tasks will have to wait for another time. Before assigning any jobs or accepting suggested changes to the plans, leaders should know precisely how these shifts fit into the established scope and also be aware of any tasks that are out of your scope.

3. Communicate with Stakeholders

Establishing a project communication management plan from the beginning is another way to prevent the team from getting off track or making wasteful errors. This arrangement should encompass the core team, any other workers who may have occasional involvement, management, and any external partners or vendors who may need updates from time to time. For each audience, the project manager needs a clear sense of the best communication tools to use, the types of information they require, and what level of detail to provide.

4. Anticipate Problems

In any project, there will be delays, conflicts, and complications. A sound risk management plan limits the impact of these issues and may warn workers to avoid them altogether. The leader should consider all problems that could arise ahead of time, assess their likelihood, and assign responsibility for managing them. Setting a response and contingency plan and closely monitoring these concerns throughout the project could ward off a catastrophe.

Between setting milestones, coordinating communication, and addressing risks, maintaining all the information in a project management plan template can quickly get out of hand. Fortunately, developing detailed steps and making adjustments as necessary is far simpler when using a project management solution such as Wrike. With the right software and a good project management plan come together, a leader can schedule tasks, set deadlines for deliverables, and maintain visibility into how the different aspects of the project affect each other.

Sources: Entrepreneur, CIO.com, TheBalance.com, Lynda.com, Chron.com