How to Write a Killer Project Plan: A Guide and Template

Ray Slater Berry
Ray Slater Berry • Jul 21st, 2020

How to write a project plan that gets things done

Project planning doesn't need to be as daunting as it sounds. A good project manager and a sturdy project plan are the two critical elements to managing a successful project. This article will guide you through the entire project planning process, from managing team members, to Gantt charts and project management templates you can use for any project. 

Short on time? Got a project to plan? Just go straight to the section that you need: 

1. What is a project plan?
2. What is project planning?
3. Why use a project plan?
4. Things to include in a project plan
5. How to create a project plan?
6. A project plan template
7. The best project management tools

What is a project plan? 

Before we begin, let's clear up the basics. A project plan is your go-to resource for the entire project at hand. It should give a clear outline of every step ahead to make your project a success and run as smoothly as possible. 

Just like a project report, a project plan is usually created and maintained by the project manager but is a resource referred to by the entire team. The project plan should clearly outline the project's mission, the timeline, deliverables, and much more.

What is project planning?

Project Planning is the act of filling out a project plan and preparing for the project at hand- it involves a certain amount of risk management. Most roles will incorporate some kind of project management, and it doesn't necessarily need to be an event- as most people presume is the case with a project management plan. 

A project can be anything that is a standalone piece of work. It can be implementing a new tool or work process, moving offices, migrating data- every company has some kind of one-off type projects that need planning to succeed.

Why use a project plan?

Without a sturdy project plan, your project is not set up for success, or prepared to cope with any unexpected circumstances that arise. A project plan should prepare for the unexpected as well as manage expectations.

What core elements should I include in a project plan? 

A project plan will vary depending on your business, your project at hand, and your team's working style. However, there are a few essentials that remain consistent in any project outline. The critical components of any project plan are:

Stakeholders

This includes any internal or external people or project sponsors involved in the project process. Make sure you record their name, title, core responsibility or responsibilities, and contact details.

Project team

Unlike the stakeholders, these are the team members that are solely responsible for the project's success. 

Important files & docs

Any relevant project documentation or digital files that will be a reference point throughout the project, including meeting minutes, product requirements, wiki pages, visual assets, the list goes on. 

Core dates 

So crucial to ensuring everyone stays on track. A timeline of events needs to be implemented and maintained as best as possible. A project could be a couple of weeks, but it could also be over a span of years. People need to be able to plan and juggle their workload considering the project at hand. 

Task lists

A very high-level task list needs to be in a project plan. Each task may have a separate list of actions within it, and this can be a breakaway document. The project plan should take a holistic view of tasks. 

Priorities 

Each project will have a list of tasks and, alongside the calendar, these tasks need to be prioritized. 

Let's take the role of a graphic designer, for example. That designer will have many elements they'll need to work on throughout the project process, and sometimes deadlines are not enough. The designer will need to prioritize what holds more importance and should be worked on first over other elements within his or her project schedule.  

Gantt view calendar

This calendar style is famous for project planning. It's a great visual aid to get an overview of different tasks and projects, how they'll overlap, and where they fall alongside other elements. If you can use a Gantt calendar, it's highly recommended for a greater project scope.

Milestones & wins

Project management will involve some kind of team management. No matter the size of your team, it's vital to identify milestones within the process. You'll find your team more motivated as each goal is in sight, rather than an end goal that seems "miles" away. 

Once you've identified milestones and your team reaches them, then celebrate. It's a win and deserves to be acknowledged. 

Assigned work 

The last core element to a project plan is work assigned and the person responsible for doing it. This element will give the project manager a good overview of the team and who is doing what. It will also be a resource for the project team, so they know whom to turn to for what. 

How to create a simple project plan?

A little further down this article, we've supplied you with a project plan template. However, remember this is not the be-all and end-all of project plans- you'll need to adapt it to your own needs. So, here are some things to consider when adapting your project plan template. 

Ask "outsider" questions

Take a step back from the project and ask questions as though you were alien to the project at hand and the company. The chances are you're not just going to be working with internal stakeholders but external contractors. 

These people won't know the lingo you use, nicknames you have for people on your team, or even department contact details. Ask yourself questions and explain the project for someone who knows nothing to ensure everyone has a clear work breakdown structure. 

Collaboration is key 

People excel better together. If you're a project manager and have a good idea of the talent you have on your team, consider how you can get people to work together to lift any project at hand and make the process easier. 

There's nothing wrong with delegation

A good project manager knows the strengths of delegation. You are not the only one responsible for the success of the project at hand. Don't be afraid to delegate. If you get stuck in the smaller tasks, it'll be challenging to maintain a holistic view of the project's overall progress. 

Expect the best, prepare for the worst

It's essential to stay optimistic in any project; your team will feed off of positivity. However, it's also essential to remain realistic and admit when things are not going to plan. Prepare for not hitting deadlines and exceptional circumstances, and you'll lead a more agile team to success. 

Stick to the mission 

As you begin to dive into the weeds of a project, it's so easy to get side-tracked by problems that arise, or tasks that you discover along the way. Make a note of them, certainly, but stay true to your project mission. 

Don't get led down paths that won't result in your project's success, and don't let your team go down those paths either. 

Timelines are there for a reason 

Any project timeline has been considered and set for a reason. Many people are relying on timelines- being late for one small task can have a domino effect on the rest of the project. 

A good workman never blames his tools 

Great tools can drastically help many project processes. What tools do you need to consider for the project at hand? Does your company already use these tools, or do you need to submit a proposal to pay for them? 

If there are new tools at play, then ensure your team has a thorough onboarding to make the most of them. More on this later. 

A project plan template

As promised, here's a project plan template that you can adapt to your own project needs. The template is super easy to work with and should be the core document that you and your team rely on to succeed. You've got this.

Try it live 👇

The best project management tools

We'll close out this article with some of the best project management tools to help guide you through any project.

Slite

Starting with Slite, use the knowledge base tool to centralize your team's knowledge and keep everyone aligned, no matter what the project at hand is. 

Use the project planning template we've provided above in collaboration with other templates. Ensure that your project processes are clear and shared with the right people. 

Trello

The perfect tool for task lists and project status information. This simple to use and free tool is great for small to medium teams that need an overview of the tasks at hand, people responsible, and deadlines. 

The drag and drop format makes it user-friendly, and the free plan allows a certain amount of file storage too; roadmap your project with a collection of lists, cards and boards. 

Loom 

A fantastic tool for remote teams that are looking for that personal touch when it comes to assigning tasks within the project process. While recording a video of the speaker, you’re able to screen record and talk someone through a task, document, or onboarding.

Zoom

Keep your team aligned with work and in-sync with each other by hosting regular video meetings. Most remote workers are familiar with Zoom; it's easy to access, works well across devices, has a free plan that can get a lot done, and hosts many people at the same time. 

The tool is great for checking in on your project team and building more personal relationships with project contractors.

Slack 

Not too many people know that you can invite people to your slack workspace, even if they don't have a company email address. It's one of the fantastic things about the tool. 

Consider building a project workspace within your company account and inviting every stakeholder to the channels they need to be aware of- whether they're part of your business or not. 

Team Gantt

The online Gantt chart software has been used by the likes of Amazon, Nike, Netflix, and Disney- and for good reason. Earlier on in this article, we stressed the importance of using a Gantt calendar to get a clear overview of projects and how they intertwine with each other. This project management software is built for precisely that purpose.

Adobe Suite

Also known as Creative Cloud, Adobe has such a powerful set of tools that there's a significant chance at least one of the tools will be of use to you in project management. 

You need to consider if you have the talent on your team to make the most of Adobe Suite. If so, at least one of the 20+ apps and desktop services will help bring your project to life. 

Lucidchart

Diagramming, whiteboards, and data visualization, all in realtime and all online. Lucidchart is a fantastic project management tool for teams looking for a visual aid to their project management. It allows for process mapping, org chart design, and much more to help your project management run smoothly. 

Toggl 

It can be hard to lay a timeline for every task within your project. It's good to set deadlines, but specific tasks may take longer or shorter time than initially anticipated. Toggl can track each task's timespan and give you back data to make informed decisions on future timelines and priorities. The tool syncs between devices and will help any project manager plan better.

Wrapping up How to Write a Project Plan that actually works 

Hopefully, you've gained a wealth of knowledge throughout this article. From questions to ask yourself when writing a project plan, token phrases to remember, all the way through to extra tools you can use to help lift your project management experience. 

Project management is no easy quest, and it's one that runs smoother the more you plan for it. We cannot stress enough the importance of giving yourself time to plan before diving into the project itself. In spending ample time on a project plan, you'll save time in the actual project process and lead a more dynamic and agile team to project completion.

Plan your project in Slite, and keep your team connected