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How to Plan a Project - A Beginners Guide To Project Management

Updated on May 8, 2014

Project Planning Introduction

The basis of any successful project is well defined project plan. It is really worth investing the time early to develop your plan as a poor project planning is one of the greatest reasons for project failure.

Project planning is often overlooked as people want to get on with the work. However, a well defined project plan can help ensure your project delivers to time, cost and quality, the 3 drivers of any project.

I am going to go over the basics of setting up a project plan for you here, for more detail about planning and project management please check out my other hubs.

A Stakeholder map
A Stakeholder map

Understanding your Stakeholders Requirements

A projects success is defined by the satisfaction of its stakeholders and ultimate end users. A stakeholder can be anyone indirectly or directly impacted by the project.

It is key that you are clear on who your stakeholders are before kicking off your project. Stakeholders could be:

  • Customers
  • Managers
  • Your team
  • Parents of a school
  • Local government
  • Literally anyone who is affected by the delivery of the project

Now that you have identified your stakeholders you must assess their needs and decide who are the most important. You can do this by setting up a stakeholder map; here you define each stakeholder in terms of interest and influence. I go into more detail about this in a separate hub. Those who have high interest and influence, for instance the end user, are key to the success of the project and must be continually consulted and kept in the loop to ensure that they buy in to the project. You would do this through face to face consultation. Those with low interest and influence only need to be kept informed as they have a low impact on the success of the project, you could do this via email.

You need to assess the requirements of your key stakeholders via interview and consultation; this provides you with a clear list of objectives for your project. These objectives can then be recorded in your project plan.

Managing and planning projects with Prince2

PRINCE2 For Dummies
PRINCE2 For Dummies

Whatever your project - no matter how big or small - PRINCE2 For Dummies, 2009 Edition is the perfect guide to using this project management method to help ensure its success.


Key Deliverables

Using the objectives you have already defined, you can now create a list of outputs the project needs to deliver in order to meet those objectives. You must also specify when and how and when each item has to be delivered.

These deliverables can now also be included in the project plan with estimated dates for their delivery.


You now have project objectives and deliverables, so you need to define what activities have to take place to achieve those deliverables.

For each deliverable you must create a list of activities that need to be carried out. You must also identify the:

  • effort (hours or days) required to complete the activity.
  • resources (people) required to do the work.

You now have a list of tasks for each deliverable.


Certain activities cannot start before another has finished, for example you wouldn’t build the walls of a house before laying the foundations. You must identify all of the dependencies between your tasks to provide a logical flow of activities. This will then give you a good idea of the time required to achieve the deliverables that you defined earlier. You can now update the deliverable dates from earlier.

Great book on Planning and Project Management

Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams
Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams

When Fortune Magazine estimated that 70% of all strategies fail, it also noted that most of these strategies were basically sound, but could not be executed. The central premise of Strategic Project Management Made Simple is that most projects and strategies never get off the ground because of adhoc, haphazard, and obsolete methods used to turn their ideas into coherent and actionable plans.


Next steps

You now have the bones of a project plan and are ready to input the details into a software package like Microsoft Project or Primavera P6. These are highly functional packages and will help you take the next step, but they can be expensive. There are however loads of free downloadable packages from across the web that can help you get started.

Example project plan in Microsoft Project
Example project plan in Microsoft Project


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    • dommcg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      there are free packages such as ganttproject and openproj. They are fine if you are planning a small piece of work, but you would struggle if you were operating a 100 line plan or more. Plus they don't have much of the functionality of the professional products such as MS Project and Primavera. You can run macros, formulas text fields, flags etc in the professional products.

    • Rain Defence profile image

      Rain Defence 

      6 years ago from UK

      When you say there are other programs available to get started with planning before spending the big bucks on the pro packages, what would you recommend? What do the pro packages have over the free stuff?


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