A good project plan is one of the most essential elements of success in project management. From preventing scope creep, overblown budgets, and missed deadlines to minimizing stress and frustration. An ounce of prevention in project planning is worth a pound of cure. So, how do you create a good project plan and what are the essential elements of a project plan? 

This article shares 10 ingredients to create the perfect plan and keep your team and projects running smoothly. We also have an infographic below to summarize these project elements.

Who creates project plans?

The obvious answer to this is project managers. But everyone who has to manage projects in their roles can benefit from creating project plans before starting a new project, especially in cases of similar or recurring projects. A project plan saves you the time it takes to recreate the same project over again. 

Team members and stakeholders involved in the project and its results may provide input, expertise, costs, and other relevant information to be added in and approved before the project manager puts finishing touches on the project plan. 

Why are project plans important?

Project plans are important because they provide a shared vision for what the project aims to accomplish. This shared understanding keeps the team working together to achieve the project's goals and deliver excellent results.

Project plans give clarity on the responsibilities of each team member and stakeholder in the project. They also organize the project's work from start to finish and prevent extraneous work from crowding out critical tasks. 

Project plans can become a powerful communication tool within the team throughout the project. They serve as an important written reference for the project manager, team members, and external stakeholders. These plans also help to mitigate risk and maintain quality at all stages of the project — from planning to completion. 

Elements of a project plan you shouldn't overlook

There are essential elements you must include to create a good project plan. Keep in mind that creating and working with a flawed project plan is just as bad as working without one.

Timeline, costs, and deliverables should be detailed clearly to show the scope of your project. In the ten sections below, you’ll find ten essential elements of a project plan you shouldn't overlook. 

1. Outline of business justification and stakeholder needs 

Before starting your project, it is essential to align the project's goals and needs with your team and organization’s. How important is this project to the organizational objectives? How does it tie in with the goals for the year or quarter? What do the involved stakeholders expect?  

These are a few questions you can ask to outline and align the new project with your organization and stakeholder needs. 

2. List of requirements and project objectives 

Even though a project plan is a living set of documents that is sure to change during the project, it is necessary to set a deliberate course to meet the project objectives

As a project manager, you should analyze the needs of all parties involved in the project and determine the requirements to achieve them. What objectives must the project achieve to be successful? What features and capabilities should the deliverables have? 

As the project progresses, there may be a need to correct some aspects of your project plan and that’s okay.

3. Project scope statement 

The project scope statement is one of the most essential elements of a project plan. It forms a foundation for the rest of the project plan. 

In the project scope statement, the project manager finalizes and records all project details to get everyone involved on the same page. This statement describes the project and its steps and requirements. It is usually the reference to get agreement and buy-in from external stakeholders involved in the project. 

4. List of deliverables and estimated due dates 

From the preparation of the project scope statement, you should now have a clearer idea of the deliverables and outcomes to be delivered to complete this project. From there, you should list out what tasks and deliverables each team member is expected to produce and when. 

A work breakdown structure is typically the best way to achieve this step. You can use a simple list, flow chart, spreadsheet, or Gantt chart to map out all the project work, assign to teammates, set due dates, and mark any dependencies.

In this breakdown, it is also necessary to note which deliverables or tasks will need to be approved by external stakeholders and ensure there are no delays due to task dependencies or reviews and approvals. 

5. Detailed project schedule 

A common misconception about project plans is that the project plan is the same as the project schedule. The project schedule is simply one of many components of a project plan.

In a project schedule, you estimate how long it will take to complete each task while leaving enough room for slack and dependencies. It is a clear calendarization of all required tasks and timelines. It shows the project's duration, who is doing what, and when each task begins and ends.

6. Risk assessment and management plan 

It’s important to assess the risks involved with a project while creating the project plan. Is your organization stable at this time? What's your risk tolerance? What potential hazards and opportunities could come from executing this project, and what is your mitigation plan

Potential events identified in your project risk plan may not happen but they could significantly affect a project's outcome if they did. Risk management includes not just assessing the risk itself but developing risk management plans to communicate how the team should respond if these events happen. 

Risks are inevitable, which is why the best project plans include elaborate risk management sections. If you can identify risks earlier in a project, you can control them and increase your chances of success.

7. Defined roles and responsibilities 

Clarify the responsibilities of each person on the project team, including the external stakeholders. Various tasks may include reviews and approvals from specific stakeholders, though typically, many of the project's key stakeholders are not involved in all aspects of the project.

A project sponsor funds the project; they may need to review and approve critical aspects of the plan. Designated business experts define requirements for projects and deliverables; they may also need to review and approve parts of the project. Project managers create, execute, and control the project plan. And the project team completes the tasks and builds the end product. 

Other contributors to a project may include auditors, quality and risk analysts, procurement specialists, etc. They may need to approve parts of the project plan that pertain to their expertise, such as the quality or procurement plan.

8. Resource allocation 

When it comes to resource allocation in project planning, you break down and allocate your team's time, materials, and budget. You should identify all available resources and resources for each task if known. Estimate their costs and contributions. 

Consider resource constraints, how much time each resource can realistically devote to this project, and determine the best combinations or variations of the resources available to achieve the project's goals in good time — and with the best possible results.

9. Quality assurance (QA) plan

In your quality assurance plan, you want to implement processes to ensure project requirements and deliverables meet quality expectations. Throughout the project's execution, maintaining project quality ensures that the final deliverable meets the customer specifications and ticks the boxes of the executive teams, project sponsors, and business experts. 

The emphasis here is on preventing errors, rather than inspecting the final deliverable at the end of the project. Creating the QA plan involves setting the project standards, acceptance criteria, and metrics that will be used throughout the project. This becomes the foundation for all quality reviews and inspections performed during the project.

10. Communication plan

A communication plan outlines how often you'll speak with and update external stakeholders, project owners, and even your team members. It also details the kind of updates they expect, which decisions need reviews and approval, and who's responsible for each action.

Your communication plan must answer: who receives the reports and who prepares and delivers these reports. You can go as far as to include the format in which the reports are created and shared.

A communication plan also clarifies which issues should be escalated, where project information is stored, and who can access it. This plan documents every aspect of the project team's communication methods throughout the project. This includes routine status updates, problem resolution, risk mitigation, etc.

Summary of the essential elements of a project plan

The infographic below summarizes the ten ingredients of a perfect project plan listed above. Are you ready to create the perfect plan for your next project? Follow our checklist to keep your projects in check. 

You can also browse our Project Management Guide or sign up for a free two-week trial to get started right away. 

10 Essential Elements for the Perfect Project Plan (Infographic)

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