As a project manager, you will be expected to come up with project plans. While plans certainly have their downfalls—they are hypothetical, constrain future ideas, and are perpetually out-of-date—they certainly have their uses. In fact, your company or client will need to review the project plan in order to determine when tasks will be completed, how much the project may cost, and validate the project deliverables/scope.
1. Ask The Right Questions— Then Ask Some More
Project managers know to question everything. Here are just a few of the questions you’ll need to answer to build out your project plan:
What are your intended outputs and deliverables?
What is the project’s scope?
What tasks are interdependent?
Who will be assigned to each task or job?
What approvals or actions do you need from your company or client?
What is your starting point? How will you track progress from there?
When is your intended launch/live date?
Keeping these in mind, you should begin to see a project course take shape. Think of the answers to these questions as the pillars of your work. Remember however, that no project plan is ever set in stone. The biggest question you need to constantly ask yourself is: How can I refine my plan as things change along the way?
2. Take A Project Management Course
Think of this as a skill that you will be able to put to use time and time again. A project management course will give you an overview of everything you could possibly need to know when starting a project. Project management is a useful skill to have in any corporate environment and it tends to look great on the resume. You have to understand the overarching goals, the milestones, the timeline, the teams, and how everything is intertwined. A project management course will more than prepare you for any project you may be tasked with in the future.
3. Know Your Planning Horizon
How far ahead can you conceivably plan? How long will the project take? How many variables/unknowns are there? For these reasons, and more, you may not be able to sketch out a fully functioning project plan from project start to project finish. So many things get in the way or force a change of course. This is completely normal. You may be able to carve out an uber-detailed first half of your project plan alongside a general, ready-for-anything, nebulous and flexible second half of your project plan. Chart what you know, what you are sure of—but don’t make stuff up when you aren’t sure or you might overcommit your team to unrealistic expectations.
4. Use The Right Tools
The right set of project planning tools can make things a whole lot easier for you. From agile tools (Kanban, Scrum, etc.) to project management, resource scheduling and time tracking—there’s software available that can help keep you on track and organized. Sure, the cheapest options are good old pen and paper or Google Sheets, but those don’t have the kind of functionality that the full-fledged project planning tools can offer. Want project scheduling? Try a tool like Asana, Microsoft Project Online, or Monday. Want to do away with spreadsheets? Consider Ganttic. Do your research; there’s something out there for everyone.
5. Know How To Write A Realistic Project Plan
Seems obvious, right? But if you’ve never written a project plan before this can be quite daunting. There are project plan templates available on the internet and I would recommend giving one a try if this is your first time crafting one. They will help you structure your plan in a way that makes sense. However, writing a good project plan also involves careful editing and proofreading. Have someone outside of your inner circle read through it—does it make sense, does it answer the right questions, are the terms and definitions clear throughout? And then, of course, have someone edit it for you to eliminate grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Any aspiring project manager will find that building a project plan is well within their existing skill set. With a bit of time and effort, you, too, can be a project planning pro.
Ben Aston is a digital project manager and founder of The Digital Project Manager, one of the fastest growing online resources for digital project managers. I've been in the industry for over 10 years at top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS, flash games, banner ads, eCRM and eCommerce sites across automotive, utility, FMCG, and consumer electronics brands.