What is a Project Plan?

What do you think of when you hear the term “project plan”? To the horror of professional project managers across the globe, most people think about just the project schedule. They envision a list of activities broken down by the person who is responsible to complete the task and how long it is expected to take. No more, no less.

This is where the collective sigh of project managers across the globe can be heard. *sigh*. Don’t people know that a project plan is SO much more than just the schedule? Don’t people know that a project would be hard-pressed to make it to completion with JUST a schedule? Don’t people know that there are other documents that MUST be included in the project plan? Don’t people know…well, you get the point…

Guess what? Most people don’t know the answers to the questions above. It’s not their fault. They’re not projecting managers. It’s hard to trace back where the confusion occurred between a project schedule and project plan, but when most people hear the word project plan they just think you are talking about the project schedule.

What can be done to enlighten them?

What is a Project Plan?

What is a Project Plan?

A Project Plan is the Who, What, Why, Where, and When of Project Management

For starters, you can begin with helping them understand that a project plan answers such critical questions as the Who, What, Why, Where and When a project will be complete. The project schedule is one part of that equation and predominantly answers the question “when” will this project be complete.

That leaves the following questions unanswered:

Who? This question is about who is involved in all aspects of the project. This ranges from who is responsible for initiating the project, who is the source of funding, and who are the resources that will actually be working on the project.

What? This question provides insight into what the project is all about. The answers to this question allow for a better understanding of what the final result looks like. Is it a new website? Is it a new cash register system or a new building? Answering this question as part of the project plan also serves as a good indicator for when the project can be considered complete and ready to close out.

Why? The answer to this question sheds light on the importance of the project. Why is this important to know?  If a project is tied to revenue and growth or cost cutting measures, it has a much better chance of seeing its way to completion and maintaining visibility in the eyes of its sponsors and people behind the project.

Where? This may seem obvious, but in today’s disparate and global economy it is important to know “where” the “who’s and what’s” will be taking place. Will everything be accomplished under one roof? Will it need to be outsourced? Will there be part of a team in one location and another part of the team in a separate location?

With answers to the above questions in mind, you can now move forward with assembling the actual “project plan”.

Components of a Project Plan

Depending on the size and complexity of your project, the final Project Plan could range from just a couple of pages long with headings for each of the sections below to hundreds of pages long. The following components of a project plan are also based on the assumption that the authorization to move forward (the project charter) and the solutions document have already been defined.

Scope – Identifies the project deliverables and how the related work will be accomplished.  The Work Breakdown Structure is a major piece of this section of the project plan and identifies the work that is to be done.

Time – This is the portion of the plan of which people are the most familiar.  This is the start of the project schedule where the work that needs to be done as identified in the Scope document is given time durations and assigned resources.

Cost – This portion of the plan defines budgets. These budgets will range from the cost of company personnel who will be implementing the project, to physical resources, to outside vendors.

Quality – The quality portion of the project plan will identify those aspects of the project that need to be carefully monitored to meet certain criteria and standards. It also will address the remediation measures necessary if something is found to be outside of these parameters.

HR – This portion of the plan deals specifically with who will be doing the work. Which team members will be assigned to which roles and how will they be managed.

Communications – Exceptional communication is the differentiator between a good project manager and an extraordinary project manager. This part of the plan outlines who knows what…and when.

Risk – Managing a project is a risky business and this portion of the plan is where the exceptional project managers are separated from the, uh… less than exceptional project managers. This section outlines what would be considered a risk and the plans that would be in place to mitigate these risks that could negatively impact a project.

Procurement – This portion of the plan deals with how any goods and services that are attained from outside the organization will be managed. Again, this section could be a couple of lines to a 2” thick document of rules and regulations that must be followed.

Now that you’ve had a chance to share the above information with your colleague, they should have a much better understanding that the project plan is not just the project schedule. The project schedule is one part of the plan (Time) and is nestled in between many other sections of the plan that are equally as important.

Putting the Project Plan Together

There is no science to putting the project plan together other than determining what works best for you and your team. Some will put the plan in a binder and include it in the middle of the room for all on the team to access. Others will store the plan and components of the plan online for everyone to utilize. The biggest thing that everyone needs to remember is that there is a plan that has been thought through, it addresses all aspects of the project, and they know where to get the details can be found.

The holistic view that a project plan that includes the above components provides is invaluable as clarity and accuracy are introduced. There is an expression in construction to “measure twice, cut once.” Putting such a comprehensive plan in place will have the same effect on any projects you manage.

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