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Project Planning

Project Plan Services (PPS) offer a number of project planning platforms including integration with your existing business practices, custom builds to suit your requirements, training and ongoing support to ensure optimum uptake and engagement of the project planning solution.

 

What is a Project Plan?

A project plan is a series of approved, formal documents used to guide project execution and project management. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among project stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines.

 

A project plan also referred to as a project management plan, presents a project’s who, what, where, why, how and when, providing full guidance over the project execution, reporting, management and end goal. The plan would look to also consider resource management, communications and risk management whilst reviewing and managing the budget, expenditure, baselines and results.

Why? - What is the problem or value proposition addressed by the project? Why is it being sponsored?

What? - What is the work that will be performed on the project? What are the major products/deliverables?

Who? - Who will be involved and what will be their responsibilities within the project? How will they be organized?

When? - What is the project timeline and when will particularly meaningful points, referred to as milestones, be complete?

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Due to the vast details involved in a project plan, many project managers and organisations look to integrate a project planning software that supports their business and project strategy. Allowing them to plan, execute, manage and report on the full life-cycle of a project.

 

How to Create a Project Plan

To ensure the success of any of your projects, a clear project plan is essential. Without this plan, projects are more likely to run into common project management issues such as missed deadlines, overspending of budget and scope creep. Though writing a project plan can often feel like a tedious task when you and your team want to hit the ground running, the effort will be highly rewarding throughout the project life cycle. It will also allow you to own templates to expedite the process for your next project. 

You can outline any project plan using these key steps: 

  • Define your project’s stakeholders, scope, quality/success baseline and criteria, the key deliverables, milestones, and requirements.

  • Create a project charter, work breakdown structure and a statement of work.

  • List the necessary project resources, such as personnel, equipment, salaries, and materials, then estimate their cost.

  • Organise your project team and define their roles and responsibilities.

  • Identify potential risks and assign deliverables to your team members, who will perform the tasks required and monitor the risks associated with them.

  • Develop change management procedures and forms.

  • Create a communication plan, schedule, budget and other guiding documents for the project.

 

Project Life Cycle Phases

Whatever the size of your project, there is always the potential for it to be very complex. It is important to break down all the necessary factors within the project plan to understand what is needed and when, creating a phased approach so nothing gets forgotten or implemented at the wrong stage. 

 

The Association for Project Management outline the following five phases of project management and of a project plan.

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Initiation
This first stage of a project is to define the business case and justify the project goals, how these will be achieved and the scope of the work.  This ensures the project stays on track and any changes are controlled. In this phase, those involved in the project will be assigned their responsibilities.

Requirements
Ensuring you have documented the requirements and aims in detail of your project will allow you to monitor and understand the timescales and constraints along with the criteria that will constitute a successful project and will be used to manage the expectations of the stakeholders. 

Planning
The project plan includes details about how the project work will be carried out, how it will be monitored and controlled, how communication will be facilitated and information about costs and timescales. But once a project is underway it is typically the project schedule where most attention is focused.

All tasks need to be scheduled in the most efficient order to ensure tasks with inter-dependencies are completed when required and to enable several tasks to be performed in parallel. There are many project management tools available to assist with scheduling, one of the most common being the Gantt Chart.

Execution
The person or group assigned to carry out a task will need to know, in detail, what the task involves as well as any dependencies and timescales, and will also need to understand the criteria by which each task is deemed complete.

Closure
Once there is an approved end product the project can be formally closed and a final review held to learn from both the successes and the mistakes and take that experience forward to the next project.

 

What is Project Planning Software

Project planning software has become an invaluable tool for project managers in recent years, as it provides them with the ability to maintain and automate the varying components both holistically and in detail.

 

Project planning software is a great tool to facilitate project management processes such as schedule development, team management, cost estimation, resource allocation and risk monitoring.

Beyond that, planning software also allows managers to monitor and track their plan as it moves through the execution phase of the project. These features include dashboards, for a high-level view of the project’s progress and performance, and in-depth reports that can be used to communicate with stakeholders.

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Choosing a Project Planning Software

Everyone needs to plan no matter what kind of team or organisation you work within. Planning can be difficult and this is where dedicated software helps.

In our experience planning software can sometimes be very over-engineered and this tends to switch people off. With that, it makes the use of that software more difficult and adoption of it more difficult. Therefore, planning software needs to be easy to use intuitive and simple in design.

Ideally, it should be web-based so you can share project plans and related information with other people easily without major licencing dependencies on other applications. The software should include a scheduling engine to allow for tasks to be connected through dependencies and for this information to be illustrated visually using a Gantt Chart for projects that follow a sequential set of stages.

Your chosen software should be flexible enough to cater for Kanban or Agile working, where work is broken down into ‘Sprints’ containing actionable items that, if not completed within the intended Sprint period can then be easily transferred to the next Sprint. The software should include the ability to set a baseline so that project progress can be measured against the intended agreed delivery time scales. It should also allow for template project plans to be saved as templates that can be reused easily for the next project. The software should include resource management capability and a timesheet functionality, with the option to track costs if necessary. Reports should be included to show project progress but also to consolidate project information from multiple projects for senior management review.

Finally, the project planning software should also cater for less formal projects or even pieces of work that are not projects i.e. ad hoc ongoing work or lists of activities that need to take place in an unstructured manner.

 

Creating a Project Plan with Smartsheet

To create a project plan (schedule) in Smartsheet select one of the existing generic templates or use a template that you've previously saved. For example, you can use the task list template for creating to do lists that need to be planned and managed or you can use the Agile planning templates for projects that need to run using an Agile methodology.

For traditional projects following a sequential lifecycle choose the project plan template which includes a Gantt chart. First, populate your project plan with your project deliverables, these are the specific items that will be delivered by your specific project. In addition to the specific deliverables, populate the project plan with the management deliverables, these are the activities that will be required to be undertaken to manage the project, for example project team meetings and dedicated time to draft, review and amend project documents.

Remember to involve the whole project team when building the project plan to ensure all project-specific deliverables are captured and that they relate back to the project requirements. Once you've listed all deliverables and any detailed sub-tasks, use the team to help estimate the duration for each of these tasks and then finally apply linkages between these tasks to create a dependent chain of activities. Smartsheet will calculate the dates that these activities need to start and complete by. Try not to be tempted to enter the dates yourself, let the software do this for you based on the dependencies between tasks that you enter. Having done this now review the dates, do the dates make real-world sense? Are there any key milestones that you need to insert? Now adjust the dates if necessary.

Consider adding in dependencies from other projects as well if you're likely to be impacted by somebody else's project plan. Switch on the ‘critical path’ feature in Smartsheet which will highlight the tasks that are deemed to be critical without any follow-on slack between their completion and the start of the next task. Reviewing the ‘critical path view’ helps you to understand whether the critical path has included the “real world critical” tasks that are key to project success. If it hasn’t, adjust the dates, durations and lead/lag time until these tasks appear on the critical path.

Assign resources to activities and finally with agreement from your stakeholders set the baseline for the plan so that you can track against what was agreed as you move forward. You are now ready to “work” the plan which means updating it on a regular basis e.g. daily, sometimes hourly but at least weekly.

Don't forget the project schedule is only one part of the overall project plan there are other things that you need to consider such as the risk and issues log, finance information, requirements documentation, design documents, stakeholder maps, test documents and data privacy impact statements just to mention a few. These elements can all be managed in Smartsheet by setting up additional sheets that collectively together form your comprehensive project plan.

 
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