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The basics of an effective project plan

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I have had to remind myself that this current series of blog posts is predominantly aimed at those new to project management. So, whilst, discussion of the people in projects, and the attitudes and behaviours of the team and the project manager is important, many novice project managers, understandably, want to focus on the more tangible basics; building and improving their "hard" skills.

So I'd like to focus on the most essential of all aspects of project management – the project management plan.

Project management involves the management of a variety of tasks and the people responsible for those tasks. It includes planning and scheduling tasks and controlling the budget associated with delivering an end-product, in a finite time period. The final outcome will produce a significant change in an organisation or community and that change is what sets project management apart from business-as-usual management.

The project management plan is not just the schedule, although clearly this is an essential item, but is a plan for how the project will be managed so it includes:

  1. A summary describing the aims of the project and the expected benefits, including any assumptions or constraints.
  2. The processes that will be used to monitor and report on the status, and handle risks, change, quality etc.
  3. Documentation of the scope, requirements and budget as well as a time and dependency-based schedule such as a Gantt Chart.

In its simplest sense a project management plan will include the following elements:

Project aims  If the final deliverable of a project does not meet the requirements of the client then it has not been successful. Therefore, you must establish what those requirements are (and prioritising them).
Project deliverables These are the tangible items that will ensure the needs of the client are met and will include time estimates.
Project schedule A list of individual tasks along with how long they are estimated to take, who will complete them, any inter-dependencies and any important milestones along the way. There are many software packages to help you do this efficiently.
Resource requirements The project schedule will enable you to justify the project's resource requirements for time, equipment, budget and people. Identify individuals by name or skillset along with their responsibilities within the project.
Communication plan Who needs to be kept informed about project progress and how will this be communicated? Typically there will be various reports with differing levels of detail for different stakeholders that cover progress and planned work for the next period
Risk management  This involves the identification, monitoring and mitigating of risks.
Quality guidelines  You need to know what level of quality is expected and required so the definition needs to be detailed and measurable. It also needs to take into account available budget and resources.

Putting together an effective project plan is essential but so too is sticking to it throughout the course of the project or adapting it as needs change, whichever is most appropriate for a particular project.

Learn more about project controls and planning in APM Learning.

You may also be interested in:

This is a project management fundamentals blog written and sponsored by Parallel Project Training.


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  1. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 10 December 2014, 01:23 PM

    MartinThanks for spending the time to comment.I do quite often wonder if we over codify and complicate project management. Many of the best PM I have had the privilege to work with keep things very simple. Many of the processes are managed in an informal way and they focus on getting things done. I have written about this in other blog posts in this series, but for this post I decided to go back to basics.  This was, after all, the original concept for this series of blog posts. We have been working with some clients on what differentiates the best project managers and the rest. You wont be surprised to know this includes attributes such as demonstrating personal commitment, operating in-formal project controls, detailed industry knowledge, proactive stakeholder engagement and breaking the rules when required.The problem with these attributes is that they are easy to say but hard to evaluate and assess. A bit like being a good driver, everyone thinks they are better than average. Maybe I should adopt a policy of alternating between hard and soft topics. Paul 

  2. Martin Price
    Martin Price 09 December 2014, 03:21 PM

    PaulThank you for this reminder about planning. As you say, it is not uncommon for the less experienced project professional to confuse planning with scheduling.You refer to the preference of novices to learn 'the tangible basics' of PM that include planning.  I wonder if this is their own preference or that it reflects a convention assumed by much of the literature and in the content of PM professional qualifications. 'What to do', (e.g. methodology, systems and techniques) apply specifically to managing a project. 'How to do it' (e.g. organisation, communication, conduct, adaptation, uncertainty and collaboration) are aspects that are not - they are needed for managing any endeavour. The application of these behaviours are however particularly demanding and fundamenatal to a project's success. And the skill needed to deploy them is arguably 'harder' than the tiose needed to manage the process side of things.One of these two abilities cannot be successfully deployed without the other: they are mutually dependent and many career project managers are coming to realise this truth remarkably late in their professional development. For sure, project performance relies on what can be referred to as 'Complete Project Management', that together deploys both process and method through able human and organisational behaviour and rigour.Martin

  3. Kyle Scandrett-Whitlam
    Kyle Scandrett-Whitlam 09 July 2019, 03:20 PM

    Hi Paul, Really enjoyed reading this. I think it's always good to get a realignment on basic fundamentals from time to time. Thanks for the good work.