As we progress in our careers and gain valuable experiences, we often find ourselves thrust into roles we knew little about, tasked with delivering value to our companies, clients, and even ourselves. Regardless of our current positions, the need to plan and oversee projects frequently arises. We strive to excel in our responsibilities, usually learning through the challenges we face. In our pursuit of professional growth, knowledge, guidance, and support become our allies.
In this series, I’ll guide you through the world of project management, breaking it down into five essential parts to make the journey more manageable. This will follow closely Richard Newton’s ‘Project Management Step by Step: How to Plan and Manage a Highly Successful Project’  which provides a clear and concise step-by-step process on how to structure, monitor and finish a project. I will use the book as a guide, coupled with my own personal experience in project management.
- Part 1: Starting a Project: Discover the core concepts of project management, including what defines a project, the role of a project manager, and the dimensions that shape your projects.
- Part 2: The Project Plan: Learn how to create a comprehensive project plan that serves as your roadmap to success, ensuring your projects stay on track.
- Part 3: Project Execution: Explore strategies for effectively executing your projects, managing teams, and overcoming unexpected challenges.
- Part 4: Project Delivery: Navigate the final stages of project management, ensuring that your projects are successfully delivered and meet all objectives.
- Part 5: Templates: Access a valuable resource in the form of templates and tools, simplifying your project management tasks and saving you time and effort.
Let’s continue on this journey of project management together with Part 2: The Project Plan. Click on the links above to navigate to the specific part you’re interested in, or follow the series sequentially to gain a comprehensive understanding of project management best practices.
Following from the project definition we are ready to move on in creating our project plan. A project plan is extremely important for numerous reasons: it helps you understand how long a project will take and how much it will cost, you can use your project plan to explain the project to other people. It allows you to allocate work to different people in the project and it serves as the basis to manage and complete your project.
To produce the project plan there are six activities involved. The first step would be to divide the project into its individual component tasks. The key here would be to keep dividing them until you reach the point where a task can be allocated to a person. The next step would be to estimate the length of time that each task would take, followed by ordering the tasks in their correct sequence. Once this is nailed down you need to determine the resources you would require meeting this plan (people, money, equipment, services) and determine the costs for each. When the time and costs are known you need to evaluate the resources that you have available at your disposal (i.e. people might not be available to work 100% on your project) and take this into account, refining and finalizing the project plan. When the plan is ready you need to be able to answer two important questions can you do the project and should you?
Breaking the project plan into actionable steps you can use the below as a guideline:
Step 1 Brainstorm a task list: start by brainstorming all the tasks you would need to do to complete the project. At this stage if you know anyone who has done a similar project, be sure to include them in the brainstorming session as their experience would be invaluable.
Step 2 Convert the task list to a skeleton plan: take all the tasks from the initial steps and transfer them into a more formulated plan, which is called the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
Step 3 Estimate times add dependencies and delays: convert your WBS into a schedule of activities by listing the required time for each task and their dependencies.
Step 4 Add in who will do what: allocate the tasks to the people available for the project. It’s essential to notice their availability to do the task and their skills.
Step 5 Build the plan into a schedule: once the tasks are finalized, the dependencies are added and the people involved are allocated you are ready to build the schedule by adding the start and end dates of the project.
Step 6 Work out costs: an important aspect of the project plan is also working out the required costs of the project which fall into two categories:
- Costs associated with running the project: this includes the required time of the people working on the project and anything you must buy to enable them to complete their work, including your work as the project manager.
- Costs associated with buying deliverables: this includes anything used to create your deliverables on the project.
Step 7 Add in contingency: We have planned the tasks and costs and time-required but we may be worried about errors we have made in our planning. At the same time once a project starts there are many things which could go wrong. To deal with these potential issues, we add what is called contingency to our project (i.e. set aside additional time and money to cover the possibilities of any flawed estimations or things going wrong. When adding contingency you must take into account how risky the project is and how much experience you have when tackling similar projects.
Step 8 Add in milestones: For any project lasting typically over a month it’s useful to split the project into milestones. Milestones are points in time identifying when an important stage has been completed. This helps track the high-level progress of the project as well as makes it easier to communicate the status of the project to people on the outside.
Step 9 Review and amend: Once the project plan is formulated you have a clear understanding of the budget required to deliver it. Before signing it off with the stakeholder there are three useful questions you need to ask yourself.
- Can you do it? Are the resources in time and money available to complete the project?
- Should you do it? You start planning the project with the scope of the project in mind. A project aims to solve a problem for the stakeholder. Now that you have the project plan in place does it make sense to continue with the project?
- Can you do it any better way? Now that the plan is in place is there any way to do it faster, cheaper or better? Examine the key items in cost and time and see if you can make any changes. Examine possibilities while thinking of the five dimensions of the project: time, cost, scope, quality and risk.
A useful reference for this stage is planning what is called the critical path of the project. The critical path of a project are the series of tasks that when laid out create the timescale of the project. Typically, tasks that are not on the critical path can be moved around without changing the length of the project.
Step 10 Review the plan with your project customer: The final step in the project plan is to go over the project with the project customer (stakeholder). The customer needs to understand the project plan (both the time and cost), review and accept it. At this stage, you know more of what is required in the project so you will need to have confidence in your plan. The customer would typically request things to be done more quickly, more cheaply and would question your need for contingency. The customer would need to understand that for the plan to change, sacrifices in the scope or five dimensions of the project (time, cost, scope, quality and risk) need to be made.
In Part 2 of our series on Project Management, we’ve delved into the critical process of creating a project plan—a pivotal step in ensuring the success of any project. The project plan is your roadmap, your compass, and your blueprint all rolled into one. It provides clarity on how long your project will take, how much it will cost, and helps you communicate your project’s intricacies to others. Moreover, it empowers you to allocate tasks efficiently and forms the foundation for managing and completing your project.
In Part 3 we will delve into the critical phase of “Project Execution” where we will guide you through the practical steps involved in turning your project plan into reality.
 Richard Newton – Project Management Step By Step How to Plan and Manage a Highly Successful Project Pearson Education Limited
 Project Management Institute – A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)
 Anna Mar – 130 Project Risks
 Wrike Inc – Project Management Guide: Glossary