Implementing any project or initiative is hard. And that’s an understatement. The bigger the undertaking, the more difficult everything will be. Which is why a project plan template is important — it serves as the primary building block and foundation upon which the project plan will be put together and set up. If the project plan is key to project implementation, then the project plan template enables planners and decision makers to create a set of standards and steps to take in order that every project and project plan is in-line with what the company or the organization stands for.
It’s important to remember that the project plan template and the project plan are hand-in-hand. It’s practically useless to have one without the other.
The lowdown on the project plan template and the project plan
Techopedia defines a project plan as a “formal document designed to guide the control and execution of a project.” The intent of a project plan is to show an initiative’s intended scope, simplify and organize communication among the project’s stakeholders, track the various goals, intentions, decisions and changes associated with the project, and even by extension, track the progress of a project’s development and implementation.
On the other hand, the project plan template’s goal is to standardize things, to enable managers, leaders, and decision-makers to have a go-to whenever circumstances and requirements change, which will be often. Having a project plan template will help you keep up and avoid starting over from scratch whenever something needs to be changed or something goes wrong at the planning or even implementation stage.
The project plan template can range from the intimately complex to the straightforward and simple. One frequently used and defining characteristic of the project plan is the Gantt chart. It’s a visualization of the project timeline and schedule, illustrated through a dynamic and horizontal bar chart. The chart also shows project progress (usually in comparison to the allotted timeframe for the project’s completion).
The nature of the project plan template is to be the static and stable foundation upon which the more dynamic and constantly-changing project plan is to be built upon.
Why project plans are important
It goes without saying, then, that project plans are an integral part of any initiative. Good project management means helping organizations deliver tasks and projects on time, meet the associated budgets, and creates a more cohesive working relationship between internal teams as well as between the company and clients. Project plans keep everyone in-sync and informed; everyone is on the same page. Properly managed projects are the key to an organization’s continued progress and development beyond the completion of the task or project at hand. So let’s look at some key reasons why project management is worth an organization’s time, effort, and resources.
It provides a sense of purpose and direction
In an article for Entrepreneur, Signet Education CEO and Co-founder Jay Bacrania writes, “More times than not, however, entrepreneurs — especially those just starting out — don’t prioritize their projects enough. Instead, they try to do everything at once. This is a bad idea.”
Project plans make everything organized, allowing for better prioritization of projects, usually though task management software. The reactive approach to things — which is basically simply responding to things as they come — is not only stressful, but can also be potentially needlessly expensive and costly, and can do long-term damage. Project planning enables managers and leaders to look at the big picture and consider the long-term effects of any decision they will make. Not all short-term decisions make sense in the long-term; and any company worth it’s salt will realize that the key to longevity and continued relevance in a constantly changing market is to always consider things in the long term. Project plans make sure that short-term goals and initiatives fit in with the direction the company wants to go in the future as well as help meet the organization’s long-term goals.
It helps bring teams and groups together
Project plans help bring teams together. Especially when different teams from different departments work together, it’s hard to coordinate efforts (which is an understatement) when there is no plan to help things gel. Everyone would operate at his or her own pace, heedless of the impact of each action and decision on the other team/s. This can spell disaster for any project, even more so when it comes to larger initiatives. A integrated plan helps teams fully and productively cooperate efficiently in joint projects. This helps for better time management (and employee timesheet) as well, which means more efficient and productive operations.
A good example is the way the military operates — while the Air Force, the Army and Navy are their own separate entities and can operate independently, they constantly need to coordinate their efforts at times, and with lives at stake, it would be irresponsible to operate without a plan in place.
It helps decision-makers adapt to changes
It may sound counter-intuitive, but plans (and ESPECIALLY a project plan template) helps managers better adapt to any changes and challenges they may encounter along the way. To some extent, good project planning help anticipate some of those changes and challenges, enabling the development or countermeasures or alternative plans. Planning minimizes mistakes and ensures a smoother handling of even unexpected events. This is a major part of what makes an organization an “agile” one. Moreover, the agile organization has a better chance of tapping into new opportunities afforded by market changes, keeping the brand and the company up-to-date and relevant.
The basic questions every project plan should answer
Why is this project being initiated? Break down the reasons the project is necessary. It may involve an issue or problem that needs to be solved, or maybe a growth or development initiative that is designed to propel the organization forward.
What exactly will the project be? Talk about definitions and boundaries; discuss scope and limitations. Every good project plan is detailed and specific, and knows what it should do, and can and cannot do. Many projects (and project plans, by extension) fall victim to being too vague and too big, which prevents the actual intent from being fulfilled. The “what” of the project plan enables managers to decide where to draw the line and define what exactly needs to be accomplished.
Another defining characteristic of the project plan is determining who will be involved. Especially in big projects, having too many voices can be devastatingly counterproductive. It is important for every project plan to define the personages who will fit into the various roles needed for the project or initiative to succeed. This helps make things more organized and helps make for a clearer direction going forward.
The when basically defines the different timelines for every stage of the project, aside from when it begins and when it ends. It defines the points of accomplishment or milestones of an initiative.
>> Recommended reading: Project planning: the 8 essential documents
4 Tips to help make an effective project plan
1. Engage with stakeholders
Many plans fail because the stakeholders aren’t often consulted. It is important for an initiative’s stakeholders to know what’s being done and developed, as well as the progress of the project in question. Creating rapport and engagement with stakeholders will allow them to better understand — largely in part through the project plan — what steps need to be taken and why. This helps for less interference and develops a sense of trust between all parties involved.
2. Don’t be afraid to confront ugly truths and realities
One of the things good planning should do is to help all involved have a reality check. Many initiatives have good intent, but are ultimately hindered by ambitions or goals that are either too lofty or too vague to accomplish. Any sort of project needs to define what can and cannot be done, as well as the time it will take to develop and implement it. Same goes for the budget. In business, budgets are crucial to the success or even launching of a project, but many become victims of the pitfall of not considering the budget constraints enough (or not being creative with the way funds can be used and maximized).
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate
We’ve already discussed engaging with stakeholders, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to project planning. Everyone should be kept in the loop, in order for things to go smoothly. Everyone should be regularly appraised of the progress and stages of the project, so that any kinks can be ironed out beforehand, any issues (either in the project itself or between teams or people working on it) can be addressed and hopefully resolved, and people will know what gaps need to be filled, both in the project and the associated workflow.
>> Recommended reading: Key Ways to Gain Effective Communication Skills
4. Utilize proper project management software
The potential and power of the project plan template and the project plan is maximized when you utilize the right software. Project management software like the one developed by Runrun.it, for example, enable organizations to save time and effort, as well as make planning more efficient and cost-effective.
Couple that with Runrun.it’s various work management applications and software, companies are assured of a more organized workflow — which benefits employees, the organization as a whole, and the clients. Through Runrun.it’s myriad of management software, things like task prioritization, progress tracking, time management and time tracking are made easier (but more useful through data generation, among other things) and more efficient. To see how it can work for you, check out the free trial here.