Starting a new project is exciting — but it’s also a daunting prospect. Where do you even begin? You may feel tempted to just start working and figure out the specifics as you go along, but this is a risky way to tackle any project. You could incur delays because you missed important steps that you needed to complete nearer the beginning.
A better approach to take is to start by creating a project management plan.
What Is a Project Management Plan?
A project management plan is a document where you specify all the particulars of your project. This includes the scope, timeline, and objectives of the project, what resources you’ll need, what tasks the project will involve, and other particulars. It also states how you’ll implement the project and then monitor your progress. You should write your project management plan before doing anything else.
To make sure you don’t omit anything, follow these steps.
Step 1: Define the Main Goal of the Project
First, you need to know why you’re carrying out the project at all. You should have one main goal in mind, and it’s important to consider how this goal will impact all the stakeholders in the project.
Even if you already have a clearly defined goal, spend some time at this stage. You could, for instance, use the opportunity to conduct research that confirms why the goal is worth pursuing. You could also consider what activities are already bringing you closer to the goal and where there are possible areas for improvement.
Step 2: Identify Stakeholders and Find Out Their Requirements
Once you have a clearer idea of just what your project will be about, take the time to consider your stakeholders. You may have a Board of Directors at your company, but they are just one type of stakeholder. You also need to consider customers, employees, and anyone else impacted by the project, such as members of your community and other organizations, as stakeholders.
After you have identified your stakeholders, reach out to them and find out about their requirements. Talk about their expectations — and how you can ensure you’ll meet these expectations. In addition, discuss how you’ll measure success as well as what assets and deliverables you expect to achieve.
Note down all your findings and decisions in your project management plan. Make it clear where your priorities lie, as it’s possible that some wishes will need to take a backseat.
Step 3: Divide the Project into Tasks
Splitting your project into smaller tasks will make it more manageable. Think about any prerequisites for certain tasks and use this to set priorities on particular activities. Add all your tasks into a detailed timeline — a visual representation rather than a list can be helpful here, as many activities will run concurrently.
Step 4: Determine What Resources You Require
Now that you know what tasks you’ll be carrying out, assess your current assets and determine if you need to acquire any additional resources. This step requires talking to the employees you want to involve in the project.
Use the opportunity to gain a clearer picture of individuals’ availability and ability to work on particular tasks as well as their enthusiasm for specific activities. (Motivated employees will yield far better results.) Once you’ve completed this step, you may discover you have gaps you need to fill through outsourcing. Make a note the skills outsourced talent needs to have.
Step 5: Figure Out Scope, Timeline, and Budget
Use the feedback you received earlier from stakeholders to determine the scope, timeline, and budget of your budget.
Under scope, specify exactly what you will do. In this section, you can also mention any activities your project will not involve. Aim to find the middle ground between pushing your team beyond the limits and holding back even though you can believe they can go the extra mile.
Your timeline should estimate the length of the entire project, as well as major milestones along the way. Again, be as realistic as possible. It’s better to give your team slightly more time than you think they’ll need than expecting them to figure out a way to meet tight deadlines — and potentially disappointing stakeholders.
Finally, your budget needs to account for all the resources you’ll use. In addition to the financial investment, this includes the time, talent, and tools you’ll require for the project. Strive to be as accurate as you can with your budget — underestimating may cause the project to stall before you’re able to see any tangible results.
Step 6: Select Your Objectives and Deliverables
Objectives are separate from the main goal of the project: they are smaller targets that show you’re on the right track. Meaningful and achievable objectives are essential for ensuring the success of a project.
Equally important are the actual deliverables. These are the products and other results your project creates. They include the final product itself and items that support your completed project.
When creating a schedule, add buffers to the dates for your objectives and deliverables. This way, if you run into any challenges along the way that slow you down, these issues won’t have a major impact on the outcome of the project.
Step 7: Specify How Your Team Will Communicate
It’s a huge waste of time for everyone involved in the project to be constantly seeking out information. Using a project management tool like Asana is ideal for keeping all your documentation in the same place. It also gives team members a place to go to find updates, edits, and new information.
In your project management plan, also specify what cloud server you’ll use to upload files — Google Drive is a top option, as everyone on your team most likely has a Google account. Using the cloud will ensure that everyone is working with current information, which makes collaboration much easier.
Finally, you may like to have a communication tool like Slack. You can divide into different channels to discuss each aspect of the project and also communicate in smaller teams. Define these channels in your project management plan and specify a hierarchy for reporting on progress. Different aspects of the project will likely require employees to report back to different individuals.
Whatever tools you choose to use, avoid email entirely for managing your project. Messaging back and forth quickly becomes messy and makes it difficult to refer back to specific pieces of information.
Step 8: Develop a System for Checking Performance
Determine how you’ll measure performance throughout the project. It’s important to have regular checkpoints — these will help you make corrections before you start heading off track. In your project management plan, define baselines to which you’ll compare actual performance.
Step 9: Run a Risk Assessment
Even the best planned project is unlikely to roll out exactly as you expected. If you fail to take this into consideration, any issues that do crop up will be harder to resolve. This could lead to potentially devastating results. Use a risk assessment to identify any possible problems you may face at various stages of the project and specify what steps you’ll take to avoid these issues. In the case you’re unable to prevent them, specify what action you’ll take.
Your risk assessment should include aspects like:
- Tech failures
- Personnel (including time off and sick days)
- Changing regulations
- Competitors’ actions
It’s important to involve your entire team when writing a risk assessment. Other team members may have fresh insights — they may even identify problems you had never considered. Together, you can brainstorm ideas for effective mitigation and resolution.
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