You can use this project plan template to define the scope, identify major deliverables, risks, constraints and the resources your project requires. This process will give you a concise project plan that will usually fit on 1 - 2 pages. Managers are likely to read this short document. Just follow these steps.
Project Plan Template – 1st Step – Define the Scope
You need to define the project scope as a deliverable with measurable acceptance criteria. to do that, you talk with the project sponsor to develop the scope statement and the associated acceptance criteria. Those criteria tell everyone exactly what the project must deliver.
The sponsor might say something like, “We really need to have this project cut costs for us.” You must immediately try to get to the acceptance criteria by asking, “How much cost reduction would make this project a success?”
When the sponsor says, “$15,000 of cost reduction,” you have the scope definition with an acceptance criteria that tells you how much cost reduction the project has to deliver. This is the key to the project plan template. You can then drive the rest of the project from that number.
This is a simple example but most project managers don’t ask the right questions.
Project Plan Template – 2nd Step – Define Major Deliverables
You then decompose the project scope into its major supporting deliverables. There are several different ways to decompose the scope into major deliverables. We teach all of them in our courses but the simplest is where the high level deliverables literally add up to the scope and its acceptance criteria. So in a conversation with the sponsor you might talk about how to break up the scope and the sponsor might say, “I want each department to develop their share of the overall savings.” During further discussion you might identify the savings amount for each of those departments. You use them as your high-level deliverables with the acceptance criteria being the dollar amount of savings each department has to produce. You see the major deliverables below.
Project Plan Template – 3rd Step – Identify Major Risks
Depending on the size of the project, you may invest a great deal of time identifying the risks that threaten the project. You can do this in brainstorming sessions with the project team and stakeholders. On a small project you might develop your list of risks over coffee. In either case, you’ll include them in the project plan along with ideas for mitigating those risks. Example risks you would enter into the project plan template are below:
- Layoffs may result in labor actions which disrupt operations
- Production may drop as much as 25% for 3 – 5 months.
Project Plan Template – 4th Step – Identify Project Team Resource Requirements
Using the major deliverables, you now identify the number of hours of work and the skill sets required to create each of those deliverables. You would total those estimates up to the level of the entire project and make very rough estimates of the people and skills required. Examples are below that you would enter into the project plan template:
- Bill – full time 3 months
- Mary – half time 2 months
- Raj – full time 3 months
- Matussa – quarter time 4 months
- Henry – full time one week
Project Plan Template – 5th Step – Decompose Individual Tasks
The last of the five steps in creating the project plan is to decompose those major deliverables developed in the second step. You break them down into smaller deliverables until you reach the level of a deliverable that’s an appropriate assignment for one team member. That’s the level of your work breakdown structure (WBS) and it completes the project planning process in the project plan template and you can move on to the scheduling process.
Project Plan Template in Practice
In many organizations, project planning is a combination of vague generalities about the objective of the project but the one thing that is rock solid is the completion date. That date is often the only measurable project result. Because project managers don’t know what the executives want them to deliver, they have no ability to exercise control over the scope of the project. And as a result, the objectives change weekly. Project team member assignments are vague and are also ever-changing. That is why estimating is so inaccurate and why 70% of projects that are planned this way fail.
Project Plan Template “Best Practices” In the Real World
Very often, project managers face a difficult organizational environment. The organization lacks the processes to do project management right and the executives don’t know how to play their role correctly. In these situations, the PMs need best practices that allow them to do things effectively, even though the executives and the organization’s processes are obstacles and not assets. The project planning checklist/template will help. The purpose of this intense project planning process is to make all the decisions before you start work. That approach of making the project plan and then executing it is much more efficient than a “plan as you go” process. But it is very difficult in many organizations.
For this approach to work, the organization, its executives and project managers must do things correctly. That is, the executives must specify exactly what they want the project to deliver. They cannot make the project assignment in vague generalities where the only thing that is specific is the due date. The organization must have processes for evaluating and prioritizing projects and giving them access to resources based on those priorities. Last, the project managers must know how to do top-down project planning. That means they are able to take the clear acceptance criteria, specified by the executive, and decompose it down to the level of specific assignments for each team member. Most organizations fail to meet one or more of these criteria and that is why the ideal project planning process is so rarely achieved.
Project Plan Template Steps Depending on the Scale of the Project
We have identified 3 tiers of project plans in the project plan template:
- Tier 1: Small Project Plans – Done within a department with the boss as the sponsor
- Tier 2: Medium Project Plans – Affect multiple departments or done for customers/clients
- Tier 3: Strategic Project Plans – Organization-wide projects with long term effects.
- Tier 1 – Identifying stakeholders is not necessary on an in-department project where the manager is the primary stakeholder.
- Tier 2 – Stakeholders across the organization must be identified so the project is not surprised by late arriving requirements. These cost more late in the project than they would have at the beginning.
- Tier 3 – Requires an elaborate process of surveys and interviews to identify internal and external stakeholders who may be affected by the project so their requirements can be considered.
Project Business Case
- Tier 1 – This is often skipped since formal project approval is not needed on an in-department project.
- Tier 2 – Organizations with sound project management processes require a business case to justify a project’s priority versus other projects in the portfolio.
- Tier 3 – The scale of financial and human resources almost always requires detailed justification and demonstration of the strategic impact of the project.
- Tier 1 – A 1-page Broadbrush Plan with achievement network, risks, resources and PM authority.
- Tier 2 – This project charter addresses the project acceptance criteria, business justification and rough estimates of the resource requirements (human and financial).
- Tier 3 – The size of the investment in these strategic projects usually requires extensive documentation of risks, benefits and impacts on other strategic initiatives and the entire organization.
Gather Project Requirements
- Tier 1 – Usually limited to a meeting with the boss where the PM defines the project’s scope and decomposes it into the major deliverables.
- Tier 2 – Stakeholders are surveyed for their requirements. Each project requirement is reviewed and either included or explicitly excluded from the project.
- Tier 3 – An extensive process of identifying and analyzing requirements gathered from the stakeholders. Includes assessing stakeholders in terms of their interests and their ability to influence the project’s success.
Project Scope Statement
- Tier 1 – A short statement of the project’s desired result and the acceptance criteria.
- Tier 2 – A more detailed scope statement that also covers assumptions, constraints and the major deliverables.
- Tier 3 – A full scope baseline development with exploration of alternative means of delivering the project scope.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
- Tier 1 – Decompose higher level deliverables into the deliverable for each team member’s assignment.
- Tier 2 – Decompose high level deliverables and use WBS sections from previous projects that are similar.
- Tier 3 – Usually developed in sections with the people responsible for that major deliverable doing the decomposition.
Project Plan Template Summary
This project plan template uses a five-step project planning process. The planning can be modified to fit projects of different sizes. You can learn to use this template in our online instructor-led Project Management Basics course.