Project planning: What is it and 5 steps to create a plan

What is project planning?

Project planning is a discipline addressing how to complete a project in a certain timeframe, usually with defined stages and designated resources. One view of project planning divides the activity into these steps:

  • setting measurable objectives
  • identifying deliverables
  • scheduling
  • planning tasks

Supporting plans may encompass human resources, communication methods and risk management.

Enterprises often have an information technology project planning guide that identifies the processes used. Tools used for the scheduling parts of a plan include Gantt charts and PERT charts.

Why is project planning important?

Project planning is important at every phase of a project. It lays out the basics of a project, including the following:

  • scope
  • objectives
  • goals
  • schedule

Planning enables project managers to turn an intangible idea into reality. Key purposes of planning include the following:

  • facilitate communication and provide a central source of information for project personnel;
  • help the project sponsor and other key stakeholders know what is required;
  • identify who will perform certain tasks, and when and how those tasks will happen;
  • facilitate project management and control as the project progresses;
  • enable effective monitoring and control of a project;
  • manage project risk; and
  • generate feedback useful for the next project planning phase.
12 project management skills
Project managers must have a variety of skills. See the dozen that really matter.

What are the components of a project plan?

The three major parts of a project plan are the scope, budget and timeline. They involve the following aspects:

  • Scope. The scope determines what a project team will and will not do. It takes the team's vision, what stakeholders want and the customer's requirements and then determines what's possible. As part of defining the project scope, the project manager must set performance goals.
  • Budget. Project managers look at what manpower and other resources will be required to meet the project goals to estimate the project's cost.
  • Timeline. This reveals the length of time expected to complete each phase of the project and includes a schedule of milestones that will be met.

How do you create a project plan?

Project planning includes the following 10 steps:

  1. Define stakeholders. Stakeholders include anyone with an interest in the project. They can include the customer or end user, members of the project team, other people in the organization the project will affect and outside organizations or individuals with an interest.
  2. Define roles. Each stakeholder's role should be clearly defined. Some people will fill multiple roles, however.
  3. Introduce stakeholders. Hold a meeting to bring stakeholders together and unify the vision behind the project. The topics covered should include scope, goals, budget, schedule and roles.
  4. Set goals. Take what is gleaned from the meeting and refine it into a project plan. It should include goals and deliverables that define what the product or service will result in.
  5. Prioritize tasks. List tasks necessary to meet goals and prioritize them based on importance and interdependencies. A Gantt chart can be helpful for mapping project dependencies.
  6. Create a schedule. Establish a timeline that considers the resources needed for all the tasks.
  7. Assess risks. Identify project risks and develop strategies for mitigating them.
  8. Communicate. Share the plan with all stakeholders and provide communications updates in the format and frequency stakeholders expect.
  9. Reassess. As milestones are met, revisit the project plan and revise any areas that are not meeting expectations.
  10. Final evaluation. Once the project is completed, performance should be evaluated to learn from the experience and identify areas to improve.
Project planning steps diagram
Through these steps, an organization can ensure that a project plan is reliable and well-communicated.

What are the 5 phases of a project?

Projects typically pass through five phases. The project lifecycle includes the following:

  • Initiation defines project goals and objectives. It also is when feasibility is considered, along with how to measure project objectives.
  • Planning sets out the project scope. It establishes what tasks need to get done and who will do them.
  • Execution is when the deliverables are created. This is the longest phase of a project. During execution, the plan is set into motion and augmented, if necessary.
  • Monitoring and management occur during the execution phase and may be considered part of the same step. This phase ensures that the project is going according to plan.
  • Closing and review is the final Contracts are closed out and the final deliverables are given to the client. Successes and failures are evaluated.
Project lifecycle chart
Planning is the second step in the project lifecycle, but it affects all of the phases of the project lifecycle.

What are some project planning tools and software?

Project planning and project management software facilitate the project planning process. The best tools support collaboration among stakeholders, have intuitive user interfaces and provide built-in time tracking and invoicing.

Some project planning software tools include the following:

  • Asana offers different project views to suit a team's preferences.
  • ClickUp comes with several Agile-based features, including a custom automation builder that lets users create reusable task templates.
  • Freedcamp lets users organize their projects using a Gantt chart or Kanban
  • Hive has a template creation tool in the task management feature that speeds up task creation.
  • Scoro is a combination of tools and includes customer relationship management
  • Trello provides Kanban features, budget management, resource management and progress tracking features.
  • Wrike integrates with tools like Jira, Slack and Dropbox.

Learn more about the various tools that help with project management.

This was last updated in September 2021

Continue Reading About Project planning: What is it and 5 steps to create a plan

Dig Deeper on Digital transformation

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing
Data Center
and ESG