What is project planning?
Project planning is the stage of the project management process that takes place at the beginning, after defining the project itself. During this stage, a project manager will outline how a project will be completed within the set-out timeframe and budget.
Critical questions about the project are thought about and answered during the project planning stage:
- What goals will the project accomplish?
- How much will the project cost?
- What are the outcomes or deliverables of the project?
- What is the timeline of the project?
- How will progress or success be measured?
- Project planning involves defining a project’s scope, stakeholders, timeline, risks, and schedule.
- This stage is one of the most important stages in the project management process and is critical to a project’s success.
- Project planning is important because it keeps you organized, helps you stay on track, and better prepares you for any problems that may come up during the project.
- The project planning process has 9 steps that take you from determining the budget, scope, and timeline of a project to creating a comprehensive project schedule that can be easily kickstarted.
Why is project planning important?
Project planning is a crucial part of the project management process for a number of good reasons. First, planning your project in detail keeps you and your team organized, which is important for any successful project. Project planning also helps you stay on track and avoid or at least be prepared for any problem that arises. By outlining all responsibilities and tasks, it can help improve how well your team works as well as make it easier to track progress or goals. Further, it ensures that resources are used in the best way to carry out these tasks. All of these reasons together will help drive a project’s performance to success, saving you time, money, and stress.
Before you embark on creating your project plan, first consider creating your own personal annual plan with our free course!
What is the project planning process?
The project planning process is made up of these 10 simple steps:
1. Determine the project’s scope, budget, and timeline
Scope: Determine what the project sets out to accomplish.
Budget: Determine the financial cost of this project (and be realistic) based on the project’s scope.
Timeline: Determine when you want the project to start and finish. At this stage, focus on how long the project should take; once you have these two dates (they don’t have to be set in stone), you can create a detailed schedule later.
2. Set clear goals
To begin your project planning, you must define your goals. It’s important to set objectives that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART). After setting these goals, make sure to prioritize them accordingly.
3. Determine the project’s deliverables
At the end of the project, what will you present to your stakeholders? This is the question that needs to be answered at this step. Whether it is a new process you’re introducing, or it is an ad campaign that will launch, it’s important to note the desired output of the project.
4. Outline the key tasks involved
To reach goals, every project has concrete tasks that need to be accomplished. Start by thinking about each of your defined goals and outline what tasks it would take to accomplish them. No task is too small to note – it all helps create the bigger picture later, and you can always streamline the plan after. Remember, this is just the beginning of your planning process.
5. Identify the stakeholders involved
Who is receiving the end deliverable? Who is working on the project? Is there another organization involved? Who do you need to contact about the project? These are all questions to think about at this step to define who is affected by the project.
6. Outline roles of stakeholders
It’s important to clearly define the responsibilities of stakeholders so that everyone involved knows what to expect. It’s important to meet with your stakeholders and see what their capacity is like or what interests they have in the project, so you can get a better sense of your resources. At this stage, effective communication is critical.
7. Assess the risks and mitigations
Based on your goals, stakeholder interests, and key tasks, you should then conduct research into all of these areas to identify potential issues that may come up. You could even use frameworks like the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to organize your thoughts. If you have a plan in place for these issues, it will make it easier to mitigate, helping move your project along.
8. Determine what tools you want to use for project management
There are many project management tools available at our fingertips. Online project management tools as Asana or Trello can help you stay organized and better visualize how the project plan and schedule will come to fruition. These tools can also help on a collaborative level as you can assign certain tasks to certain people and monitor everyone’s progress.
9. Create a well-defined project plan
A project plan should include an outline of the general process, determined outputs, detailed assignment of tasks, signoffs, resources needed, and major milestones or deadlines. These can all be managed in a project management tool or even a simple spreadsheet.
10. Create a comprehensive project schedule
To put your project plan into action, you need a timeline of when you will accomplish the various milestones. You can set up your project schedule in whatever fashion you’d like, just make sure to ensure it aligns with your project’s scope and is realistic.
When you have all of these steps completed, it makes it easy to transition to actually starting the project. A key thing to remember is to make continuous reassessments of your project, evaluating whether or not timelines or tasks need to be adjusted. Since projects rarely ever go exactly according to plan, it’s important to be adaptable when it comes to managing problems that may come up.
Once you’re well on your way with project planning, be sure to check out our article on the 7 different types of project management to kickstart your next phase.