For any successful execution of a project, a proper project plan is needed.
Project Plan is often referred to as a guide for the successful execution of the project and control at every stage of the project lifecycle for all successful people.
To create a project plan, the manager sweats a lot as it has to be formulated before the start of the project.
It is a record that needs to be approved by various stakeholders involved in the project. It gives details about the project scope as well as its objectives along with the timelines, resources involved, and deliverables planned.
A properly created project plan helps to control the project schedule and delivery and also helps to assess and handle the related risks.
In The Article
Identify & Discuss With The Key Stakeholders
Who are the stakeholders?
Stakeholders are those who might influence the project OR might get directly or indirectly affected by the outcome of the project.
Stakeholders can be internal to the project manager or external to the project as the actual end-users. However, a project plan needs to be prepared to keep both internal and external stakeholders in mind.
Knowing the stakeholders
- This is the most challenging part of the project planning process
- The first step in planning a project is to know the stakeholders
- Identify all the stakeholders involved in the project
- In many scenarios, either one single individual or the organization will be the key stakeholder who gives the requirements
- After identifying the stakeholders, have multiple rounds of discussions with them
- Based on the discussions, understand the expectations of the stakeholders
The different project stakeholders typically include:
- Actual end users
- Project manager
- Project leader
- Other management teams of the organization connected to the project
Understand The Scope And Objectives Of The Project
Based on the discussions with the stakeholders, understand stakeholder’s objectives and expectations.
A project plan is very much needed to elucidate the stakeholder’s requirements into a tangible outcome.
Basically, the project plan should help the stakeholders understand What, Why, When, Where, Who and How kind of questions about the project
- Prepare a detailed list of the requirements of the stakeholders
- Review the list of the requirements with the stakeholders and ensure that there is no gap in the understanding
- It is preferable to take more iterations if needed, in finalizing the requirements with the stakeholders rather than undergoing changes in the later stages of the project
- It is always advisable to get a sign off from the stakeholders (whether it is an individual or the organization) once the requirements are gathered.
- This is very much essential to avoid any bottleneck in the later stages of the project lifecycle
Define The Deliverables Of The Project
- Once the scope and objectives of the project are discussed and finalized, determine the list of tasks that need to be completed in the project
- Remove all the tasks that are not in the scope
- Define the deliverables for each of the identified tasks within the scope
- Deliverables can be an outcome of one single task OR for a set of tasks
- While there can be many deliverables, understand what are the major deliverables of the project?
For Example: In a typical software testing project, Test Strategy, Test Estimate, Test Schedule, Test Plan, and Test Closure report will be some of the major deliverables
Develop A Project Schedule
- Once the detailed list of requirements is prepared, always prioritize the requirements as Critical, High, Medium or Low priority requirements. This categorization will be helpful in deciding the project schedule to focus on critical requirements first.
- For each task identified based on the scope, estimate the amount of time needed and number of resources needed to complete the task
- Cost of each task can be estimated using an average hourly rate for each resource
- Resource count is normally decided based on the budget available and timelines to be met
- While stakeholders can give the timeline requirements, project sponsors can give the details of the available budget.
- Denote the planned start date and planned end date for each task
- Denote the timeline for each of the deliverables associated with the tasks
- Identify the dependencies (if any). It is good to know all the dependencies – be its dependency on the customer OR any other project inter-dependencies.
For example Dependency on Customer Subject Matter Experts (SME) to provide clarifications to the project team and so on. Certain tasks might have dependencies on other tasks to get completed
- Based on the estimated time, the number of resources needed and the dependencies, you can create the project schedule. Detailed project schedule helps to arrive at the timelines for each deliverable
Develop A Staffing Plan With Roles & Responsibilities
- Once the resource count is estimated, the next step is to find out who are the resources to be involved?
- Resources will be mostly Internal resources (Full-time resources or Temporary resources or Contractors) while other resources like Customers, Vendors have to be identified to support as required
- Identify the owner for each of the identified tasks and the resources to be involved in each of the tasks
- All the resources need not be assigned to the project from the start to end
- Some resources might be needed throughout the project while some other resources might be needed only for a specific time period to complete a few specific tasks
- Once the resources are finalized, define the roles and responsibilities for each of the resources identified
- Usually, Project sponsor takes the responsibility to own and fund the entire project
- The project manager is responsible to create, execute, and control the project plan
- The team is the one who is actually involved in building the product
- End users who will actually use the product
- Others like quality analysts, procurement team and so on
Perform A Risk Assessment
No project is risk-free. A risk is an event that may or may not occur, but it can have a serious effect on the outcome of the project.
Risks could be anything like a key team member’s upcoming planned vacation or scope creep or lack of availability of the required materials or environment on time.
It is always essential to have a clear understanding of the risks involved in the project and how it impacts the quality of the product or the timelines and the probability of its occurrence.
Both the probability of occurrence of the risk and its impact will help to determine the highest risks that require attention immediately.
Hence a detailed risk assessment needs to be done to identify all possible issues in advance. This might help to prevent the risks from happening.
Proper risk assessment helps in saving the project execution time at all possible risks and mitigation are discussed at the beginning itself during the project plan preparation.
Sometimes it is also a good idea to have a contingency effort planned during estimation to mitigate unforeseen risks but still keep the project on track even if a risk does occur. This might help at least to minimize the impact of the risk even if it occurs.
Create The Project Plan Outline
The Project Manager should have clarity on the following details before proceeding to create a project plan
The following details form the outline of a typical project plan
Once the details are available, the project manager will be able to create a more effective project plan
The key details required are:
- Problem Statement – What is the need for this project? What is our objective?
- Proposed Solution – How are we planning to address the problem statement? What goals are we trying to achieve?
- Project Description – What is the scope of the project? What are the deliverables?
- Assumptions – What are our assumptions? The team may not have clarity on all the details required for the project execution at the beginning of the project itself. Certain assumptions have to be made to kick-start the project. For example Assumptions on Environment availability and so on
- Methodology – What is the methodology to be followed for the project execution? – like the Work Breakdown Structure
- Dependencies – What are the External or Internal dependencies?
- Resources – Who are the Resources identified and their roles and responsibilities?
- Project Schedule – What are the timelines for the tasks?
- Approval Process – What are the approvals needed from various stakeholders at each stage?
- Reporting Mechanism and Communication Plan – What is the communication process planned? What are the reports to be shared and its frequency?
- Budgeting – This is needed to finalize the resource count and the schedule, any license needs, to decide on the usage of existing tools, any new tools to be procured to ensure that the project cost is within the budget limit approved by the sponsor
Components Of A Project Plan
Project plan indicates undoubtedly who is accountable for managing the scope of the project and takes complete responsibility to own the scope
The main components of a project plan are:
- Scope Management
- Describes the project requirements
- Clearly segregates in scope and out scope requirements
- Project Scheduling
- Defines the Milestone for each of the deliverables
- Estimates the cost and resource requirements
- Resource Management
- Each project to definitely have a project sponsor and a project manager
- Identifies all the resources and their roles & responsibilities
- Financial management (Budgeting and Cost Management)
- To forecast with some confidence in the project spending against the budget approved
Creating The Project Plan Using The Right Templates
Need for a proper template
- While the management might be showing an urge to kick-start the project soon to complete the tasks, it is always advisable for the project manager to take time to create a proper project plan by choosing the right template
- As the project might undergo various changes during the project life cycle based on the business priorities, the template used to create the project plan should be flexible enough to accommodate all those changes without hindering the original plan
- Many times, a project will experience Scope creep
- It is also called a requirement creep
- This could be due to certain reasons beyond the control (like enforcement of any new law or rules or compliance, change in business priorities and so on) OR could be due to the increase in the project scope any time after the project begins
- Scope creep could also be due to lack of clarity on the project objectives initially, lack of communication between various stakeholders while deciding the project requirements initially and so on
- Scope creep is always a risk to many of the projects in meeting the timelines
- This can lead to cost overrun as well
- Hence keeping all such possibilities in mind, an appropriate template is always needed to ensure that it helps the project manager track the project with all updated requirements or task changes without any issues
Benefits of choosing the right template
- There are many templates available and every template has its own use
- The templates can be a simple one with a fixed timeline or a complex one like a dynamic Gantt chart
- Gantt chart kind of template will be useful for larger projects involving more number of people
- The Project Manager needs to choose the right template that is most apt for the project
- Many of the templates are available in excel format as well
- There is also software provided by Microsoft called Microsoft Project
- Microsoft Project is also widely used to create a project plan
- MS Project is part of the Microsoft Office family though it is not included as part of any of the MS Office suites
- Currently, there are two editions of MS Project available. One is the Standard version. Another one is the Professional version
- MS Project is saved with extension as .mpp
The different templates available are:
- Gantt charts are used to represent the scheduled tasks of the project against its timeline
- Using Gantt charts, it is easy to find out the project tasks, who is working on each task, the status of the current schedule, start and end date of the project, schedule dependencies and the % completed
- This chart can be used for project planning of all sizes though it is generally preferred for larger projects involving more number of people
Simple Gantt Chart
A simple Gantt chart showing the different activities that need to be done in a typical software development project and the timelines for each of those activities is given below
This Gantt chart helps us to understand
- The different activities involved in the project
- The timeline to start and finish each of those activities
- The duration planned for each of the activity
- Which activity overlaps and what is the overlap duration
- The start and finish date for the entire project
- The flowchart is a diagrammatic representation of an algorithm or workflow in logical steps using specific shapes. Steps are connected by lines and directional arrows
- Flowcharts show the sequence of stages in a project with the execution of one phase leading to the start of another phase
- The main limitation with Flowchart is that timelines cannot be added for each phase unlike Gantt Chart
- For a project of short duration in nature, Flowchart can be used
Work breakdown structure
- Unlike a Gantt chart, WBS segregate the project scope into granular level tasks
- WBS divides the project work into multiple smaller sub-activities (to the lowest level possible) that needs to be executed by the project team
- WBS will be more effective when the project tasks can be more precisely estimated
- The WBS makes the deliverables more accurate and tangible
Here pre-built Project Plan with Schedule and Variance templates can be used to create a plan using smart sweet.
Critical Path Method (CPM)
- Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT chart)
- Apart from this, there are action plan templates available – This template mainly includes the list of various actions to be implemented, resources who will implement them, timeline, its priority and the status
- Similarly, there are business plan templates available – This template mainly includes the list of various business goals to be achieved along with the plan
Present The Plan To Stakeholders And Hold A Kickoff Meeting
- Present the plan to stakeholders
- Give a walkthrough of the project plan to the stakeholders and also take their feedback as well.
- During the walkthrough, explain to stakeholders how the project plan will meet their objectives and what solutions have been proposed.
- Explain to stakeholders clearly on what is expected of them and also what is their responsibility.
- In case any additional support is needed from the stakeholders to meet their expectations, highlight the same.
- It could be the need for the extended timeline, more budget or more resources.
- Hold a kickoff meeting
- Once the project plan is baselined, set up a kick-off meeting with the team.
- It is always necessary to ensure a uniform assimilation of the details of the project within the team before starting the project.
- Discuss the approval process with the stakeholders – Approvals needed from different stakeholders at various stages of the project.
- Clearly, discuss and understand the reporting mechanism and communication Plan – Status Update and Reports to be shared with various stakeholders on a daily, weekly and monthly basis or as per the defined frequency
- Discuss the process with the group to change the contents of the plan if needed
- As the project makes progress, a project manager should remember to update the project plan on a regular basis
- A project manager should measure the progress against the timelines defined in the project plan
- This gives a view of the road ahead to the project manager and to the team