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How to create a clear project plan

One of the critical factors for project success is having a well-developed project plan.

  • Step 4: Develop the project baselines.

    Scope baseline. Once the deliverables are confirmed in the scope statement, they need to be developed into a work breakdown structure (WBS) of all the deliverables in the project. The scope baseline includes all the deliverables produced on the project, and therefore identifies all the work to be done. These deliverables should be inclusive. Building an office building, for example, would include a variety of deliverables related to the building itself, as well as such things as impact studies, recommendations, landscaping plans, and so on.

    Schedule and cost baselines.

    1. Identify activities and tasks needed to produce each of the deliverables identified in the scope baseline. How detailed the task list needs to be depends on many factors, including the experience of the team, project risk and uncertainties, ambiguity of specifications, amount of buy-in expected, etc.

    2. Identify resources for each task, if known.

    3. Estimate how many hours it will take to complete each task.

    4. Estimate cost of each task, using an average hourly rate for each resource.

    5. Consider resource constraints, or how much time each resource can realistically devote to this one project.

    6. Determine which tasks are dependent on other tasks, and develop critical path.

    7. Develop schedule, which puts all tasks and estimates in a calendar. It shows by chosen time period (week, month, quarter or year) which resource is doing which tasks, how much time each task is expected to take, and when each task is scheduled to begin and end.

    8. Develop the cost baseline, which is a time-phased budget, or cost by time period.

    This process is not a one-time effort. Throughout the project, you will most likely be adding to and repeating some or all of these steps.

  • Step 5: Create baseline management plans.

    Once the scope, schedule and cost baselines have been established, create the steps the team will take to manage variances to these plans. All these management plans usually include a review and approval process for modifying the baselines. Different approval levels are usually needed for different types of changes. Not all new requests will result in changes to the scope, schedule or budget, but a process is needed to study all new requests to determine their impact to the project.

  • Step 6: Communicate! One important aspect of the project plan is the communications plan. This document states such things as:

    • Who on the project wants which reports, how often, in what format and using what media
    • How issues will be escalated and when
    • Where project information will be stored and who can access it
    • What new risks have surfaced and what the risk response will include
    • What metrics will be used to ensure a quality product is built
    • What reserves have been used for which uncertainties.

    Once the project plan is complete, it is important that its contents be delivered to key stakeholders. This communication should include such things as:

    • Review and approval of the project plan
    • Process for changing the contents of the plan
    • Next steps - executing and controlling the project plan and key stakeholder roles/responsibilities in the upcoming phases.

    Destination Success

    Developing a clear project plan takes time. The project manager will probably be tempted to skip the planning and jump straight into execution. However, the traveller who plans the route before beginning a journey ultimately reaches the intended destination more quickly and more easily than the disorganized traveller who gets lost along the way. Similarly, the project manager who takes time to create a clear project plan will follow a more direct route toward project success.

    Elizabeth Larson and Richard Larson, co-principals of Watermark Learning, have over 25 years each of experience in business, project management, business analysis and training/consulting

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