A project plan is a critical project management step, and skipping it will put your project’s success in jeopardy before it even kicks off. A project plan can show you the resources required, how long it will take to achieve, and help you avoid roadblocks that could throw you off schedule.
To help you create a foolproof plan, we have created the following guide to writing a project plan. We’ll discuss:
- What is a project plan?
- Key elements of a project plan
- Why a project plan is important
- How to write a project plan
Finally, we’ll share project plan examples and a quick run-through of how Wrike can help you write and implement your own.
What is a project plan?
A project plan is a detailed roadmap for achieving a specific goal or outcome. It is a comprehensive document answering the questions of who, what, why, how, and when, which guide the execution of a project.
Before starting a new project, every manager needs to know:
- The objective: This states why the project should be completed. It outlines the gains and purpose.
- What to do (scope): This is the list of tasks and activities. It outlines what needs to be done to reach the project’s goal.
- When to do it (schedule): This provides a timeline that tells you when to start and finish each part of the project.
- Who will do what (assignments and resources): This determines who is responsible for each task and how much time, money, or other resources are allocated to each activity.
A project plan is essential for project managers to conceptualize and control projects. It provides a structured approach to defining project objectives, scope, timelines, and resources.
Key elements of a project plan
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the key elements of a project plan. Keep in mind that every project is different and not every one would require all the sections below.
- Project overview: This is a summary of the project, including its purpose, goals, and key stakeholders.
- Scope statement: This defines what the project will deliver (the product, service, or outcome) and what it will not. It sets the boundaries for the project and prevents scope creep.
- Work breakdown structure (WBS): This breaks the project into smaller, manageable tasks. It helps teams understand the work to be done and who is responsible for what.
- Project schedule: This provides a timeline for when each task is to be completed.
- Budget and resource plan: This outlines the costs and resources (including money, time, personnel, and tools) allocated to each task.
- Risk management plan: This identifies potential risks or issues that may arise during the project and outlines strategies to manage or mitigate them.
- Quality management plan: This sets the project quality standards and how they will be achieved and measured.
- Communication plan: This outlines how information will be shared among team members and stakeholders, including what will be communicated, when, how, and to whom.
- Change management plan: This defines how changes to the project will be managed and controlled to keep the project on track.
- Project governance: This outlines the decision making structures and processes for the project, including escalation paths for issues.
Why is a project plan important?
Project plans bring order to the otherwise chaotic process of managing and executing projects. However, it is more than just a budget or task management tool.
Below are seven reasons why project plans are important:
- Provides clarity on how to proceed: Beginning with a project plan makes it clear how best to break a project down to ensure a successful finish.
- Makes project execution efficient: A thorough project plan saves costs and reduces errors by carefully allocating resources to keep up with the schedule and managing potential challenges with available resources.
- Improves team communication: The communication plan is an integral part of a project plan. It establishes channels and communication systems, ensuring team members and stakeholders stay aligned and receive updates on the progress of the project.
- Optimizes resource allocation: Project plans ensure the best use of resources. They help to juggle competing project needs, manage time and tasks, and eliminate waste.
- Facilitates goal tracking: A project plan defines the project goals and key deliverables, allowing for easy tracking of project objectives and incisive course correction when necessary.
- Maintains alignment among team members: Project plans help to align teams and stakeholders toward the project goals. They delineate clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations for everyone involved.
- Impacts employee retention: Working with a well-defined project plan reduces ambiguity, miscommunication, and work-related stress, which contributes to a positive work environment and boosts employee retention.
Tip: Use a work management platform like Wrike to help you create your project plan and use a Gantt chart to visualize the progress.
How to write a project plan in 6 steps
Now that we’ve established the key elements and importance of a project plan, let’s discuss how to write one. In the following section, we’ll break the project planning process into six broad steps:
Step 1: Identify and meet with stakeholders
A stakeholder is anyone who is affected by the results of your project plan. That includes your customers and end users. Ensure you identify all stakeholders and keep their interests in mind when creating your project plan.
Meet with the project sponsors and key stakeholders to discuss their needs and project expectations, and establish a scope baseline, budget, and timeline. Then create a scope statement document to finalize and record project scope details, get everyone on the same page, and reduce the chances of costly miscommunication. Cost control, in particular, is also critical during this stage of the process.
Here are some questions you should consider reviewing with stakeholders:
- How do we write a project plan that aligns with company goals?
- What do stakeholders expect? What will be expected from them?
- How will you measure success?
- What are your resources?
- What assets or deliverables are expected out of this project?
Tip: Look beyond the stakeholders’ stated needs to identify the underlying desired benefits. These benefits are the objectives your project should deliver.
Step 2: Set and prioritize goals
Once you have a list of stakeholder needs, prioritize them and set specific project goals.
Not all needs are created equal, and it’s likely that resource constraints will prevent you from addressing all of them at the same time. Prioritization should be based on factors such as the potential impact on the project’s success, the urgency of the need, the availability of resources, and any dependencies or risks associated with the need.
Once you’ve prioritized the stakeholder needs, you can set specific project goals. Each goal should be clearly defined and align with at least one of the stakeholder needs. Use the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) framework to ensure each goal is clear and actionable.
Objectives and key results (OKRs) can be useful tools here. The objectives part of OKRs refers to clearly defined goals, while the key results are specific measures used to track the achievement of these goals. By defining your project goals as OKRs, you can create a clear link between what you want to achieve (the objective) and how you will measure success (the key results).
Once your goals are set, include them and the stakeholder needs they address in your project plan. This ensures that they are communicated to all team members and stakeholders. It also makes them easily shareable, which promotes transparency and alignment across the project team.
Tip: If you’re having trouble prioritizing, start ranking goals based on urgency and importance, or check out these helpful decision making tips.
Step 3: Define deliverables
Identify the deliverables and project planning steps required to meet the project's goals. What are the specific outputs you're expected to produce?
Tip: Set firm milestones for essential deadlines and deliverables. You’ll be able to track your progress once work begins to ensure you complete tasks on time and keep stakeholders happy. Wrike is the perfect tool for that!
Step 4: Create the project schedule
Look at each deliverable and define the series of tasks that must be completed to accomplish each one. For each task, determine the amount of time it will take, the resources necessary, and who will be responsible for execution.
You can use a RACI chart — a simple matrix to assign roles and responsibilities for each task and communicate who’s to do what to ensure a successful project outcome. RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed.
- Responsible refers to the person or people who will perform the task.
- Accountable is the individual ultimately answerable for the activity or decision. This is typically one person and is often the project manager or project sponsor.
- Consulted includes those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts.
- Informed are those who are kept up to date on progress, often stakeholders.
Take each team member’s bandwidth into consideration before adding to their workload. Clarify the tasks, responsibilities, and expectations of each person. Keep in mind that some team members may be working on more than one team or project concurrently — and if projects aren’t aligned, workloads can become too stressful and lead to delays and inefficiencies.
Next, identify any dependencies. Do you need to complete certain tasks before others can begin? Input deliverables, dependencies, and milestones into your Gantt chart, or choose from the many online templates and apps available. Be sure you also understand how to write a project management report for a summary overview of the project status.
Tip: Involve your team in the planning process. The people performing the work have important insights into how tasks get done, how long they’ll take, and who’s the best person to tackle them. Draw on their knowledge. You’ll need them to agree with the project schedule and set expectations for work to run smoothly.
Step 5: Identify issues and complete a risk assessment
No project is risk-free. Crossing your fingers and hoping for the best isn’t doing you any favors. Are there any issues you know of upfront that will affect the project planning process, like a key team member’s upcoming vacation? What unforeseen circumstances could create hiccups? (Think international holidays, back-ordered parts, or busy seasons.)
When developing a project plan, you should know how to manage risk in a project and consider the steps you should take to either prevent certain risks from happening or limit their negative impact. Conduct a risk assessment and develop a risk management strategy to prepare.
Tip: Tackle high-risk items early in your project timeline, if possible. Or create a small time buffer around the task to help keep your project on track in the event of a delay.
Step 6: Present the project plan to stakeholders
It’s important you understand how to present a project effectively. Explain how your plan addresses stakeholders’ expectations, and present your solutions to any conflicts. Make sure your presentation isn’t one-sided. Have an open discussion with stakeholders instead.
Next, you need to determine roles: Who needs to see which reports and how often? Which decisions will need to be approved, and by whom?
Make your project plan clear and accessible to all stakeholders, so they don’t have to chase you down for simple updates. Housing all project plan data in a single location, like a collaboration tool, makes it easy to track progress, share updates, and make edits without filling your calendar with meetings.
Communicate clearly. Ensure stakeholders know exactly what’s expected of them and what actions they need to take. Just because it’s obvious to you doesn't mean it's obvious to them!
Not looking forward to having an open discussion with your stakeholders? Here are some strategies to arm yourself against difficult stakeholders to keep the project planning process moving forward.
Tip: If your plan or schedule doesn’t align with stakeholders’ original expectations, communicate that now to avoid any nasty surprises or tense conversations down the line.
Rather than telling stakeholders their expectation or request is unrealistic, tell them what’s required to make it happen, including how much time, money, or team resources. Let them decide if it’s worth dedicating the extra resources.
A work management tool like Wrike can help you streamline stakeholders' management.
Project plan examples
To help you better understand what a project plan looks like, below are two examples:
Quarterly content project plan
This is a content project plan for a made-up fashion company called FashionCo.
This project aims to develop and execute a content plan for FashionCo’s fall season. The project will promote the brand’s new collection, engage with customers, and drive sales from July to September 2023.
The project includes the ideation, creation, and distribution of content across various platforms. It includes blog posts, social media posts, email newsletters, and promotional videos. It does not include any PR activities or customer service-related communication.
Work breakdown structure
- Content ideation: Brainstorming themes, topics, and formats for content
- Content creation: Writing blog posts, designing social media posts, scripting and filming promotional videos, and drafting email newsletters
- Content distribution: Posting to various social media platforms, sending out email newsletters, and publishing blog posts
- Performance tracking: Monitoring and analyzing the performance of the content to inform future content plans
- Content ideation: July 2023
- Content creation: July — August 2023
- Content distribution: August — September 2023
- Performance tracking: September 2023
Budget and resource plan
The total budget for the project is $100,000. This will be allocated as follows:
- Content ideation: $10,000
- Content creation: $60,000
- Content distribution: $20,000
- Performance tracking: $10,000
Quality management plan
Each platform will have a content playbook guiding the publishing and performance tracking activities. The content team will meet weekly for review and feedback sessions during the ideation, creation, and performance tracking periods.
The content team will hold weekly status meetings. Progress reports will be sent bi-monthly to involved stakeholders, and a monthly steering committee meeting will be held to share updates with senior management.
Change management plan
Any changes to the project scope, timeline, or budget must be proposed in writing and approved by the project manager and the steering committee.
The project will be overseen by a steering committee that includes top executives and department heads from FashionCo. They will approve all key decisions and changes to the project. The project manager will manage the content team for the project and liaise with the steering committee.
This is a product launch project plan for a software company called ABC Tech.
The objective of this project is to successfully launch ABC Tech’s new product, codenamed “Project Alpha.” The project will involve:
- Developing the software
- Testing it for quality
- Marketing it to the target audience
- Providing post-launch support
It is scheduled to run for 10 months, from July 2023 to April 2024.
The scope includes the design and development of “Project Alpha,” extensive testing, marketing materials creation, customer service staff training for post-launch support, and actual product launch.
It does not include any updates or revisions post-launch, as those will be handled as separate projects.
Work breakdown structure
- Software development: Design, coding, and testing of “Project Alpha”
- Marketing: Market research, marketing strategy, creation of promotional materials, and advertising
- Customer service training: Training materials development and training sessions for customer service staff
- Product launch: Event planning, invitations, and execution of the event
- Software development: July — October 2023
- Marketing (concurrently with final software testing): November 2023
- Customer service training: December 2023
- Product launch preparation and execution: January — April 2024
Budget and resource plan
The total budget for the project is $1,000,000. This will be allocated as follows:
- Software development: $400,000
- Marketing: $300,000
- Customer service training: $100,000
- Product launch: $200,000
Quality management plan
Quality will be ensured through regular code reviews during development and extensive software testing, including unit tests, integration tests, and user acceptance tests. There will be bi-monthly review meetings to assess the quality of all other aspects of the project, such as marketing materials and training effectiveness.
Monthly project status meetings will be held with all key stakeholders. The project manager will gather weekly updates from team leads and send a weekly progress report to stakeholders.
Change management plan
The project manager will maintain a change log to record all changes and their impact on the project. Any changes to the project scope, timeline, or budget must be approved by the steering committee.
The project will be overseen by the steering committee, which includes selected members from the contributing teams of “Project Alpha.”
How Wrike can help you create your project plan
To recap, project planning is the first step to executing successful projects. But this is not a small step — it’s a giant leap that will require some extra help in the form of project planning software.
Wrike can help you streamline your process, manage your team’s tasks, and get right into project execution, all within the same platform. To make creating your project plan even easier, we’ve built a project scheduling template to help you break down your project into manageable parts and track your progress as you execute.
From dynamic calendars to streamlined approval processes and real-time reports, Wrike makes project planning seamless. Click here to start your free two-week trial and kick off your project plan today.