In all honesty, it can be tough to create the perfect project plan. Anyone outside of project management would typically look at a project and only see two details – the start and the finish. As a project manager, however, you know that projects are filled with details like goals, milestones, schedules, and much more. To make your job easier, you should consider creating a simple project plan template, so that you can stay on schedule.
What is a project plan?
A project plan is a document that defines the project scope and outlines its objectives. No project plan is the same because no project is the same. There are, however, a few questions that your project plan template should aim to answer:
- What needs to be done?
- How will it be done?
- Who is doing what?
- When does it need to be finished?
If your project plan answers these four questions, then it’s doing the job. You may be thinking to yourself, “That sounds great and all, but the way I’m planning is fine.” While that might be true, a simple project plan template comes with many benefits to help your process. Which brings us to the next point:
Why should you create a simple project plan template?
If you’ve never used a project plan template before, you might be wondering how it can help you. After all, you’ve made it this far without it, how can something so simple make such a big impact? The answer to that question becomes quite clear when you consider that creating a simple project plan template:
- Saves time
Once you’ve created your template, you don’t have to waste time creating a new one every time a project comes up. You simply plug in all the details and start your project.
- Helps you plan for the big picture
When you create a simple project plan template, you’re able to strategically map out every step of the process and see the big picture more clearly.
- Ensures that you don’t forget anything
Projects include tons of details that can be easily overlooked. If you create a template, you won’t forget any of the necessary data to complete your project successfully.
Essentially, a project plan template helps you anticipate and prepare for potential obstacles. Templates can also help you answer difficult questions about a project, and ensure that everyone is on the same page from the start.
Now that you understand the importance of using a simple project plan template, it’s time to talk about how to create one. For the sake of keeping it simple, we’ll break this part down into steps.
Planning the process
As with any task in project management, a project management tool will help you with your project planning. Tools provide great features to help you schedule and organize your daily tasks.
For example, let’s take a look at Toggl Plan, a simple project planning tool that’s perfect for small and medium-sized teams.
Toggl Plan offers a feature called Project View. This feature is very helpful because it allows you to break your project into segments. As a project manager, you might have multiple teams working on different areas of the project with overlapping schedules, or even at the same time.
The research team might be looking into competitors’ websites, while the design team is coming up with something new and creative to present to your client. At the same time, the development team is working on the navigation of the website. You can see how all of these schedules can be hard to manage from one timeline.
With the Project View feature in Toggl Plan, you’re able to divide the project into segments so that you can manage each one separately. For cross-functional teams, this is especially helpful because every team member, no matter what segment they’re working on, gets a bird’s-eye view of the project. Doing it this way keeps everyone in the loop.
Creating a timeline
Timelines act as your guide in a project. They tell you what needs to be done, and when it should be completed. The timeline is the single most important feature of any project plan because it shows the estimated time a team member should spend on a task. If your timeline is off, then your whole project is off.
Keep in mind that projects change. Throughout the project, don’t be discouraged when you need to change up the timeline a little. It’s part of the job. You may have to edit something as minor as swapping tasks between two team members, or as major as pushing the deadline back. Be flexible and ready for anything.
When you get your first glance at Toggl Plan, you’ll notice that right in the center of it all is your timeline. This is a great layout because all your important deadlines and milestones are right in front of you. On the left, you have a column dedicated to adding the names of the team members helping you on your project. Then, if you take a look at the top of your timeline, you’ll notice dates spanning from left to right. These dates represent the window that your project fits into.
A project consists of many tasks. Luckily, for big projects, you have a team to back you up. Once the project plan is finalized and you understand what needs to be done to get to the finish line, you have to assign tasks to each team member. This is often one of the most time-consuming parts of creating a project plan because you have to make sure that each team member you assign is fit to complete the task and that you aren’t overloading anyone. If you make the right choice now, you can save yourself a lot of time in the future by not having to scrap a task and re-assign it.
With Toggl Plan, all you have to do is find the person you wish to assign a particular task to, look for the date the task starts on right above their name, click, and drag to the desired deadline date.
Once you’ve assigned the task, a window will pop up right in the middle of your screen. Here, you’ll add important details about the task. These details include custom colors, notes, start and stop times, and the name of the task. You can even estimate how much time it will take someone to complete a task and add the time estimate. This will help you ensure that everyone is working at capacity, and no one gets overloaded with more work than they possibly have time for.
Now that you have your project divided into segments, and you know who’s working on each task, it’s time to assign important milestones. If you’re unfamiliar with milestones, it’s a really simple concept. Milestones allow you to divide projects up into pieces. Each piece can then be managed separately with deliverables, budget, and strategies.
Setting a milestone is quick and easy. When you know that a deliverable is due on a specific date, find that date on the timeline, left click, and set it as a milestone. Now, that milestone will appear to everyone who has access to that timeline, and nobody will be confused about when they need to have their work completed.
Create a checklist
Checklists have proven to be one of the most effective ways to keep track of responsibilities. With Toggl Plan, you can create a checklist to help you navigate through a single task or the entire project.
Creating a checklist is simple. Remember that window that we discussed that pops up when you create a task? At the bottom of that window, you’ll see the checklist button. Click, and let the list making begin.
Evaluate your risks
It’s very important to identify the risks that may occur within your project and be ready to manage them. Here are a few examples of common risks that can really throw a wrench in your plans:
- Being too optimistic with time and budget estimates
- Unexpected budget changes
- Unclear roles and responsibilities
- Not understanding the needs of the client
- Changing the requirements and adding new requirements after the project has already started
- Faulty communication that leads to misunderstanding, decline in quality, and repeated tasks
- The lack of engagement of the team into the project
- Stakeholders leaving the project unexpectedly
In order to prepare yourself for these potential risks, it helps to write down all the risks you can think of, and come up with backup plans for each. If you ignore these risks, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. It pays to be ready.
Plan for success
The key to a successful project lies in planning. There are many different ways you can approach a project, but you should always start with a project plan to outline the objectives and goals that the project contains. To save time with project planning, create a simple project plan template that you can refer to again and again.
For all your project planning needs, Toggl Plan is the best solution. Its visual timeline and unique features allow you to navigate through any project, big or small, without any hiccups.