By: Brian DeVault

Managing a project without a detailed project plan is nearly impossible. That is why NETRIO has compiled a complete list of steps you need to take when creating a project plan that covers every step of the process in detail to ensure that your project has the greatest chances for success. Read on to learn how to create a great project plan from beginning to end.

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Project Initiation – Starting At The Beginning

Before beginning any project it is critical to understand what the company wants to achieve with the project. Whether it is merging two enterprises together, deploying a new service or product, switching to a new business technology, or any other project, you need to understand what the goals of the project are. That is why step one for any project is to clearly define the goals you hope to achieve at the completion of the project.

The second thing you need to do is set a scope for the project to ensure you are laser focused on the goals you defined in the last step. You will also need to define deliverables to make sure your team understands what it is that the project will be delivering. Ensuring that everyone involved understands exactly what the project will be accomplishing is vital to ensure the project stays on budget and schedule.

Next, you will need to define the roles and responsibilities for the players involved in the project and create an initial project schedule with realistic timelines and goals for the individual players in the project, as well as the project as a whole. The final step of the project initiation phase is to create a project charter that contains all of the information previously discussed to ensure everyone is on the same page right from the start.

Planning The Project

After your project charter is completed, it is time to begin the formal planning phase of the project. This will include refining the initial scope that you created in the project initialization phase, selecting the actual people who will be responsible for different aspects of the project, allocating budgets and resources to different parts of the project, creating a details timeline for different stages of the project, analyzing risk at different stages of the project to discover issues that may derail the project and putting a stop to them in advance, and creating quality assurance processes to ensure that the project deliverables are up to standard at every step of the way.

Project Execution

With your project plan completed it is now time for the project to begin in earnest. Your teams will begin to work on their individual tasks and deliverables and your job is to stay on top of every aspect of the project to ensure things are staying on schedule and on budget.

The first step in project execution is people management. Are your team members performing at an acceptable level and getting their tasks done on time? Are certain members of your team taking up too much time or pulling other team members off their tasks to get help? When a certain person or group of people are consistently becoming a problem that derails the project, it is your job to raise the alarm and make a change before the whole project is a failure.

Next, you need to measure if the project is moving at the right scheduled pace. Is your team hitting your deadlines, or do you need to adjust your timelines to be more realistic? Next, you need to establish and maintain weekly (or whatever cadence is appropriate for the project) meetings to check in on different teams’ progress. Finally, you need to communicate updates from these meetings with the appropriate stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page at every stage of the project.

Resource Leveling & Control

In nearly every project there are phases where activity is higher or lower and adjustments need to be made to ensure the appropriate amount of resources are being allocated in the right areas. At every phase of the project you should be measuring activity. How many people and hours are needed to accomplish a specific task at a specific time? Are there too many or too few people working on a task? How important are the different tasks that are ongoing at this time? All of these questions need to be taken into consideration at each phase of the project.

Next, you need to review your team’s performance to budget and performance to schedule. Are you going over or under budget at any phase of the project? Are you ahead or behind schedule at any phase of the project? All of these things need to be accurately assessed at each stage of the process before any intelligent decisions can be made regarding changes to resources.

Once you have a clear picture of the project and its different parts at the current time, you need to make changes to your team’s players or focus, whether that means adding new team members to different tasks, switching team members from one area of focus to another, removing team members, or providing new tools to get the job done, this all needs to be done often and with as much accuracy as possible to ensure your team is being as productive as possible.

Documentation & Risk Management

Near the beginning of the project you should create a schedule of documents that will need to be created, such as project updates and performance reports that can be communicated with your team and the project stakeholders to ensure everyone is in the loop on the status of the project and to ensure no stone is left unturned during the process. These documents should be templatized as much as possible to ensure you are not spending excess time on writing documentation versus actually managing the project.

You also should be assessing risk with each task and phase of the project to ensure nothing has the possibility of derailing the project. Examples of things that can derail a project include key team players leaving the company, going over budget, changes to the project plan from upper management, the wrong team members being assigned to specific tasks, and anything else that can unexpectedly cause the project to come to a screeching halt. You must be keenly aware of these possibilities and have back up plans in place should any of these possibilities come to pass.

Communication & Handoff To Long Term Support

Throughout the entire lifecycle of the project you will be required to communicate with team members and stakeholders. Communication can take two different forms: formal and informal. Formal communication can include things like Project Status Reports or Gantt charts that are sent through official channels to a wider audience and informal communication includes in-person conversations, emails, text messages, or any other faster and usually smaller circle of communication. You should have document standards in place that are templatized to speed up these types of communications to ensure you are not spending a large amount of your time creating the same types of documents or typing redundant emails again and again.

Finally, after the project has been completed, the final step is to hand off the project to long term support. Once the project is completed and handed off, you should communicate with stakeholders how they can request support, whether that is through email, telephone, or some other channel, as well as ensuring that dates are clearly defined for things like reviews and checkups. Next, you will want to review weekly, monthly, and long term meeting and reporting requirements as well as regularly occurring procedures (like onboarding and offboarding, etc.) to ensure everyone is satisfied with the project and that it will continue to be successful long after project completion.

This concludes our overview of the lifecycle of a project. We hope that this has been helpful for you when creating and managing your project. This blog post is part of NETRIO’s weekly Whiteboard Wednesday series. Follow along on Linkedin and YouTube each week as Brian and Mike discuss use cases, new technology, and trends.