5 Steps to Create an Airtight Project Management Plan

Updated November 12, 2019

A project management plan defines how and when a project will be delivered, as well as the underlying details such as project budgets, team personnel, and possible pitfalls.

Creating a project management plan takes a lot of research and preparation, but with this plan creation guide, you’ll be able to create the perfect framework to present to your clients or stakeholders.

At a glance: How to create a process to manage your project

  • Step 1: Set up a meeting with the project stakeholders.
  • Step 2: Set goals and define project success.
  • Step 3: Define project roles and responsibilities.
  • Step 4: Develop a project schedule and cost estimates.
  • Step 5: Present your plan to the project stakeholders.

What is project management?

Project management is a process governed by a detailed plan and put into practice by a team for the purposes of achieving an objective. It’s just one segment of a company’s operations, but its processes are felt throughout the organization.

Project managers are the symphony conductors of projects. They direct and coordinate the personnel, money, resources, schedules, and scope of a project in order to ensure success, while the rest of the team acts on their direction.

Project management isn’t limited to certain industries. It’s a process used across all kinds of industries, each with their own unique styles and methods for achieving success.

When it comes to project management, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to completing tasks and coordinating a team. It’s up to you to decide the process that works best for you, your team, and your project.

What is a project management plan?

A project management plan is a document or series of documents that define the sequence of events, resources, personnel, and goals required to complete a larger-scale project.

This plan is never completely set in stone, as variables change throughout the execution process, which means you’ll find yourself making additions and alterations to your plan even after you complete the initial approval process. However, these plans tend to adhere to the principles of project management.

How to create a successful project management plan

When building a project management plan, it’s crucial to consider the many variables before writing your first draft.

Writing a plan is a multistep process that requires lots of preparation, research, and consideration of project management basics.

That’s why I’ve put together these five project management steps that’ll help you build the perfect project framework you can present to your project stakeholders.

Step 1: Set up a meeting with the project stakeholders

Before you even consider putting pen to paper in the planning process, it’s important to meet with the project stakeholders in order to learn what they expect from your team.

Project stakeholders are those affected by the results of your project. They are the key personnel who’ll judge your deliverables.

During this meeting, discuss:

  • The “why” for the project
  • Project goals
  • Project budget
  • Scope of the project
  • List of deliverables
  • The schedule

Pro tip: Take this chance to also address any potential pain points or roadblocks your team may encounter during this project, including scheduling conflicts or personnel shortages. It’s very important to set expectations during this meeting so as to avoid any confusion down the road.

Step 2: Set goals and define project success

Once you understand what your stakeholders expect from you, take this information and set goals around their needs.

Measure these goals using key performance indicators (KPIs), and set attainable goals for you and your team using these metrics:

  • Time spent: The amount of time each individual team member spent on the project.
  • On-time completion: The rate at which project tasks were completed by the given deadline.
  • Planned hours vs. time spent: The amount of time spent on individual tasks as well as the overall project versus the time estimated it would take to complete.
  • Number of schedule adjustments: How many times your team had to shift deadlines.
  • Cost performance index: A comparison of the budgeted cost of work already done versus the actual amount already spent.
  • Budget line items: A detailed list of individual expenditures.
  • Return on investment (ROI): A calculation measuring the value of a project against its overall cost.

Along with many others, these KPIs will help you set measurable goals that’ll help you now and when planning future projects.

Pro tip: Focus on using quantitative KPIs rather than qualitative. Quantitative KPIs like the ones listed above are truly measurable, whereas qualitative KPIs are subjective and difficult to track.

Step 3: Define project roles and responsibilities

Now that you’ve spoken to stakeholders, defined your goals, and set KPIs, it’s time to assemble your team to execute this project.

These roles include, but are not limited to:

  • Project manager(s): Who will build, execute, and manage the project.
  • Project sponsor(s): Who will own and fund the project. They will have review and approval responsibilities for all project tasks and goals.
  • Project team: Who will execute the project tasks. In most cases, they will not have review and approval responsibilities.
  • Industry expert(s): Who will help develop the project scope and set the requirements for the project.
  • Risk analyst(s): Who will assess the risks and challenges associated with taking on this project.

Feel free to operate outside of this framework since no two projects are exactly alike. Every project has its own unique needs, so keep those in mind when selecting roles for your team.

Pro tip: When selecting members for your team, don’t just look at their core skills; be sure to look for team members with excellent communication skills. When the going gets tough, you’ll need great communicators to tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Step 4: Develop a project schedule and cost estimates

You’ve established your project deliverables, your goals, and your team, so now it’s time to put together the largest aspects of your project plan: the schedule and budget.

This is accomplished through a seven-step process:

  1. Identify the tasks you’ll have to complete as well as their dependencies.
  2. Determine the resources needed to complete each task.
  3. Estimate the time needed to complete each task and dependency.
  4. Develop a critical path for completion of the project using tasks and their dependencies.
  5. Develop an estimate for the cost of each task, including materials and hourly rates for those involved.
  6. Put together a schedule that includes the tasks and all of their time estimates.
  7. Establish an initial project budget.

Pro tip: When setting up the schedule of your project, be sure to add weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with your team in order to stay on top of any changes or roadblocks they might be experiencing.

Step 5: Present your plan to the stakeholders

Once you’ve gathered everything you need in your project plan, be sure to go back to the stakeholders to lay out the process for them.

If you need to make corrections, it’s no big deal. Just make a note of the potential changes, reassess your project plan, then come back with your adjustments for approval from your stakeholders.

There will likely be multiple instances when your project management plan will require alterations and additions.

Pro tip: Use plenty of visuals when presenting your project plan to stakeholders. It’s important you maintain their attention, and while figures are important, try to convey overarching concepts with visual aids such as images, videos, and charts.

Should you use a project management software to plan?

Do you need project management software to create your plan? Perhaps not, but I highly recommend it since it can make the process so much easier and more efficient.

You might find yourself in a situation where your stakeholders have a say in how you manage your project.

So, I want to explore when you should use your own project management software to plan out your project and when you should use a system preferred by your stakeholders.

When using your own project management software makes sense

There are times when you know planning out a project will require a level of familiarity your stakeholders’ suggested software won’t provide.

Here are four situations in which using your own project management software makes sense:

  • You’ve invested a lot of money into your system: If you’ve put a lot of money into your own project management software system, it’s best not to let that investment go to waste.
  • You’ve built an efficient system around your platform: When it comes to delivering results to a stakeholder, efficiency is key. If your team is well-versed in a particular system, it’s best to stick with it; you’ll likely work more quickly or produce better outcomes or deliverables when working within a familiar system.
  • Your stakeholders are new to the platform they’re suggesting: No one should choose a project management software without doing lots of research, testing, and planning. If your stakeholders are suggesting a platform they themselves haven’t used extensively, it’s probably best to stick with your own platform.
  • Your team is very experienced with your system: Similar to the second point, it’s usually best to go with what you know. As they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

When you should use a stakeholder’s preferred software

If the reasons above don’t apply to you or your team, it can’t hurt to consider using the preferred software of your stakeholders for any of these four reasons.

  • You’re not committed to a particular software: If you’re not paying for a project management software already, then meeting your stakeholders on their terms and taking their suggestions might be the best course of action.
  • Your team has experience with many different software options: If your team is flexible and has planned and executed projects using lots of different project management tools, what’s the harm in trying out your stakeholder’s suggested software option?
  • Your stakeholders insist on it: Some clients and stakeholders aren’t very flexible. It’s best to not start a conflict if you can avoid it. However, be sure to inform the stakeholder that you might need a little extra time to familiarize your team with the new software.
  • The stakeholder offers to pay for their preferred system: This is rare, but if your client or stakeholder offers to pay for you to use their preferred project management software, it can’t hurt to try it out.

Need help picking out the right software for your project?

Now that you know exactly how to put together a project management plan, it’s time to decide which project management software might suit you best.

If you’re looking to adopt a new project management software for you and your team, we can help you make an informed decision with our product reviews and comparison pieces.

We review some of the most popular and critically acclaimed project management software options, including:

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