The Project Plan is a project manager’s most important tool. It is the road map that takes the project from starting point to completion. It is a common reference for all stakeholders to understand what is happening, when it is happening and by when it will be finished.
Project plans come with different levels of detail. A high level plan may only include a summary of the project, the basic phases and estimated completion dates. This plan may be needed by stakeholders to present to company executives, obtain agreement in principle for the project or negotiate for budget.
More detailed project plans are necessary as working documents for more complex projects. Many things can change during the course of a project and the detailed project plan can track and record project changes, and communicate the ongoing time and budget estimates.
A typical project plan will contain information on the following baselines or performance measures:
- Scope – the scope of the project describes what exactly needs to be built. The scope needs to be as accurately stated as possible to avoid unrealistic expectations from project stakeholders. Everyone involved in the project needs to have good understanding of the scope. Scope is very important for estimating the size of the work to be done. If things are left out of the scope, work can be underestimated and the project will run over.
- Schedule – also called the timeline. It sets out the start and end point of the overall project, and each of the phases in the project plan, or pieces of work to be done. The schedule may contain many concurrent work items for larger projects. And some work items may need to be completed before others can start. The schedule should be monitored closely for time slippage. Many small delays during a project can add up to a long delay at the end.
- Budget – is the money given to the project. Generally an accurate budget cannot be determined until the scope and schedule have been decided. That means you need to know how much needs to be built, how many hours/days/weeks it will take, and how many people will be needed to do it.Scope, schedule and budget are very closely linked to each other. For some project plans, the schedule is fixed to a non-negotiable delivery date, and the scope and budget may need to vary. Likewise if the scope of a project increases, the budget may need to go up to pay for the extra work or materials.
Other project plan items
A good Project Plan will also have some, or all of the following things in it:
- Requirements -a summary of the work requirements, and/or references to the documents that have the detailed requirements in them
- Resources – the people allocated to each piece of work. This could be programmers, business analysts, technical experts, designers, architects or construction supervisors
- Dependencies – the success of a project can be dependent on many factors. These dependencies should be written down in the project plan as early as possible. They may include political or environmental factors, resource availability, material shortages, workplace hazards, completion of other projects, budget delays or technical dependencies like specific hardware or software being available.
- Risk Matrix – this lists possible risks to the project and project plan. The risk matrix relates closely to your project dependencies and usually assigns a probability (as a %), as well as an impact (eg. high, medium, low) for each risk.
- Work Breakdown Structure – divides the project into phases, deliverables and work packages. Larger projects can have a few levels in the structure. The work breakdown structure should contain descriptions of each task, product or feature to be built.
Each project plan will have its own unique set of requirements depending on the size and nature of the project. There also may different versions of the project plan at a level of detail suitable for different audiences.
One thing is certain. The project plan will change as the project progresses and it will need to be updated regularly to reflect current progress.