Do you want to know how to plan a project so that things actually get done?
Improvisation is great for comedy, but getting a project done on time and within budget is no laughing matter. If you want to accomplish something, you have to set a course of action that ends with the successful completion of that project.
There are 12 steps that you need to take to plan a project, and most take place before you even begin the work on your project. Project planning takes work! If you don’t do the due diligence and proper preparation to start your next project off right, then you’ve already put a huge obstacle on your path.
Let’s get down to how to plan a project.
1. Know What Needs to Be Done
This sounds so obvious as to be silly to point out, but it’s usually the most overlooked step in project planning. You can’t accomplish a project if you don’t know what steps are required.
The scope of a project can change over time, but start by defining your goals and the general tasks that need to be done to accomplish those goals. This will keep you on target and not veering off on time-wasting tangents.
2. Who Are the Key Decision Makers?
You need to know where the buck stops, so to speak. Who are the important decision-makers, and the one who initiated the project? Do you know for sure what they want from the project?
You need to communicate with all relevant parties at the outset of your project to get their input so you can set your project up for success.
3. Set Up a Team
You know what you want to accomplish in the project, and now you have to figure out which people are able to help you complete all your tasks. Be sure you’ve defined key roles and identified people for every step of your project before you even start.
4. What’s Your Timeline?
It’s important to define a timeline at the very beginning of any project otherwise you have literally infinite amounts of time to complete it. Rarely is that the case in reality. Most of us have deadlines, and even if we don’t, we can’t afford to pay people indefinitely for their services.
Define a clear deadline based on the tasks you outlined and the people you’ve assembled. Get them to estimate how long they think their part of the work will take. If you can’t finish the project in the time you have scheduled, then you’re going to need to go back and reevaluate your resources and other items to ensure your project will be done on time.
5. Create Milestones
You’ve got your goals, your task lists and your team’s estimates. Now which of those tasks, when completed, might mark a major milestone in the overall project? Are there different phases of your project, like construction starting or QA or launch parties, that could be considered major milestones?
Mark these dates on a calendar or in project management software so you can always keep the big picture into focus and track progress over time.
6. Break Down Major Tasks
Look at those milestones and your starting task list and see if any of those tasks can be broken down into smaller steps. The reason is you want to make sure you’ve defined all the relevant steps in order to control the production of your project, and you haven’t overlooked anything. These tasks can then be assigned to your team.
7. Create a Schedule
Congratulations, you’re finally at a point in the planning when you can actually draft a schedule!
This is the first time you’re going to try and coordinate all the various pieces of the planning puzzle you’ve been working on. This is when you take all your tasks and assign to people with clear due dates.
Remember, as plans move along, things will change. That’s okay. The goal of a schedule is to help you and your team stay focused on delivering each task.
8. Track Your Progress
You can’t make a plan and set it in concrete. The refinement process is never really over until the project is complete. But you can’t refine what you can’t see, so it’s crucial to monitor the progress of the plan. There are several ways to do this.
If you use project management software, you can track the plan in real time with your team. Or there are project templates you can download and use to plug in your plan. These help you compare where you are in the project against where you thought you’d be at this time in the project, according to your plan.
See Also: How to Focus Your Mind on the Project
9. Always Be Documenting
The only way to keep up with the constant change that always occurs in the process of production is by having clear and steady documentation of that process. This saves you from making mistakes based on miscommunication or misunderstandings, and it helps you document anything that might go wrong.
Keep track of emails and purchases, and ideally use one platform for project communications so you have only one source to reference, instead of emails and texts and spreadsheets all scattered around.
10. Communicate Progress & Successes
This is important for you, your team and your stakeholders. By keeping everyone on the same page, you insure that everyone is working together and not against one another, and you help remind people that you appreciate their input and help.
By taking the time to plan in detail, you do a great service to yourself, your team and your project. For one thing, you reduce the headaches you’ll have to deal with as project leader. You’ll also make it easier for your team to do their job. And stakeholders will feel more secure knowing that you’ve got a plan that you’re sharing so they can stay abreast of the project in real time. That’s a plan everyone can get behind.
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Author: Jason Westland
Jason is the CEO of ProjectManager.com and is a leading subject matter expert in project management. He is the author of the best-selling book, The Project Management Life Cycle,