Use a Project Plan Template for Your Next Project

Project performance suffers without careful planning, yet so many project professionals still rush the project planning step. Unrealistic expectations from sponsors, or a lack of understanding or patience from the project manager — the reasons are as numerous as they are bad. But the high cost of poor project performance is well documented. Failure to plan is certainly planning to fail. Project planning takes time and effort, but one way to expedite this crucial process is with the help of a project plan template.

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Why Use a Project Plan Template?

Project managers can simplify the starting point of every new project. Building a project plan from a template removes the burden of starting the project planning process from scratch, as well as the risks of missing important items. Here are some of the benefits of using a project plan template.

Maximize Previous Experience

In the course of managing company projects, it is highly likely that a previous project manager has created and made revisions to a template that captures unique nuances and subtleties, which resulted in successful project execution.

The project plan template is an organizational process asset that reflects the specific project management methodology that a company follows. This template adheres to the company culture and setting, like how it incorporates the proper way to get an approval or review a document.

Save Time and Effort

Starting from scratch is unnecessary. Copying from a similar project can be a shortcut, but a project plan template also takes into consideration lessons learned from previous projects, any updates in standards and conventions, project feedback, improvements, or modifications from the most recent projects across the organization. All these minimize the chances that the project team needs to make big changes later on.

Ensure Complete Coverage

A template can serve as a checklist so the team misses nothing. It helps a project professional at any level of experience to have the most comprehensive project plan possible. Also, every project manager gets an opportunity to discover and contribute to a version of the project plan template that others can benefit from.

Read also: Significance of Keeping Documentation in Project Management

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Project Planning Prerequisites

Working on a project plan includes activities such as as listing the work breakdown structure, assembling a team, and determining a project schedule. But the project planning phase only comes after the project initiation phase.

The activities in the initiation phase serve as the foundation for the project plan. But if the foundation is weak, then the project plan will be on shaky grounds. The team involve in the project should complete the following activities to make sure the project plan stays solid:

  • Feasibility study to identify the problem to solve
  • Project scope statement to identify and list the project deliverables, work packages, and high-level activities
  • Business case to compare costs against benefits
  • Statement of work to detail all deliverables, activities, and a timeline to complete the scope of the project

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Project Plan Template Sections and Components

The project plan template is a tool that enables project managers to create and complete a working project plan. However, the template will not complete itself and requires the participation of the project manager and the team. Project plans differ from company to company and depends on the type, size, and complexity of a project. A simple project plan template will have the following basic sections and components.

Project Scope

Write the project scope statement and identify the project deliverables, work packages, and activities to consider the project a success. Include also what is out of scope for clarity.

Milestones

As the project progresses, it will reach several key milestones. Set each milestone across the different phases of the project as the project moves toward completion. Identify and list all project milestones, then add a description and an estimated delivery date for each.

Project Phases

Divide the project into phases that it will undergo. Define these phases. The phases of a project fit the lifecycle of the project. It can be as few as four or as many as six, depending on the nature of the final product. Add a description for each phase and identify the sequence. Each phase will have its own set of milestones, deliverables, and activities.

Activities and Tasks

List all the activities to complete the project. For every phase of the project, identify the activities needed to reach the milestones and the final deliverable that completes the project. Break down activities further until they become manageable tasks and sub-tasks. Add an estimated duration to complete the task and assign a resource responsible for the completion of that task.

Gantt Chart

With all the collected information, it is now possible to create a Gantt chart to visualize the different phases of the project, the listed activities, the identified milestones, and the duration of each task. A Gantt chart can also clarify the sequence of tasks and identify dependency between tasks for the entire project.

Project planning and management software can automatically generate Gantt charts from lists and tables. They can provide more views and efficiently track project progress throughout the project lifecycle.

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Project Plan Examples

Project professionals can create a simple project plan template using spreadsheets or other productivity tools as long as it captures all the needed information.

Simple project plan template

However, as more businesses use project management best practices to deliver initiatives, project plan template formats have also increased. The project plan template samples below focus on one section more than others. Each project plan example details one type of information, such as the timeline, priority, or deliverable, but gives only a summary of other information not critical to the project.

Timeline-Focused Project Plan

In this project plan template, the main focus is on the the start, end, duration, and sequence of activities and tasks of the project. This project timeline template clearly shows the start and end of the project as a whole and its individual activities measured in weeks.

Timeline project plan template

Priority-Focused Project Plan

This simple project plan identifies the teams involved, the activities they need to complete, and the project schedule they have to work in the following months. But the project plan also identifies which among the tasks are high, mid, and low priority, so that teams can allocate their resources properly.

Priority project plan template

Read also: Project Management Best Practices: Prioritizing and Planning

Deliverable-Focused Project Plan

A project plan divided into its different phases can list the processes involved within each phase and the timeframe to complete the processes. Moreover, by identifying the deliverables expected by the stakeholder for each phase, it becomes an action plan template that teams can use to successfully reach a desired project goal.

Deliverable project plan template

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Importance of Project Planning

Project planning is a critical stage that all teams should spend time and effort, regardless of PM methodology used. Clients are eager to know when the team will deliver the project. A key stakeholder needs data on how much the project will cost. And team members would want to know exactly what they need to deliver and the manner of delivery. Project plans provide clarifying information and understanding to all stakeholders. The project planning process is more organized and efficient with a project plan template.

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Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose is a subject matter expert and member of the writing team for Project-Management.com and Bridge24. He has written hundreds of articles including project management software reviews, books reviews, training site reviews, and general articles related to the project management industry.