Whether you’re an accidental, new or experienced project manager, you should know that the success of your project is directly tied to the quality of your project plan, and your abilities to communicate, manage and measure its implementation.
In this article, we offer a quick recap of the importance of a project plan, tips for developing an effective one, and advice for choosing software to ensure that your plan is followed.
Back to basics - what is a project plan?
A project plan is a dynamic document - commonly a spreadsheet or Gantt chart - that guides the project team, ensuring everyone has visibility into into the activities, tasks and goals assigned to them, so that they can work together to complete the project to specifications, on time and on budget.
It needs to:
Ensure that the project is worth completing - that it meets a strategic objective of the organization.
Clearly define what the project needs to deliver or achieve.
List the budget, activities, tasks and resources required to successfully complete the project.
Support project tracking and reporting
New project manager? You might like: New or accidental project manager? Here are the project management basics you need to know
What makes a good project plan?
Your project plan is the road map for everyone working on the project. It's a living document that carefully records and clearly communicates expectations, controls scheduling and delivery, and identifies and reduces risks.
A project plan can be simple or complex. This should be determined by the complexity of the project itself, your management style and reporting requirements, as well as the number of people involved.
Typically, a project management plan includes:
- Baselines for scope, schedule, and cost
- Project phases, activities and tasks: for example Initiation, Development, Operations and Launch, with associated task details listed for each phase and activity
- Project resources: this includes people, tools and spaces
- Project budget
Can I manage it in Excel?
If you have time to spare, and if your project isn't too complex, you can create and manage your project in Excel. You can download a project management template, or find a site - like this one - that tells you how to create a project plan in Excel.
Here are a few things worth noting before you go the Excel route:
- You'll need to add (and carefully) check formulas for things like project duration and budget tracking
- If one date changes, you'll need to manually update the project plan to make sure all dependencies are updated
- You'll have to manage task deadlines and status tracking manually - remembering to remind people to check to the project plan and to update project status
- You'll need to manage document versions carefully
PM software brings people together around your project plan
One of the biggest challenges with Excel for project management is making sure that people use it properly and regularly. As we saw above, it takes a lot of manual work to keep track of all the details and dependencies manually.
But there are so many good - and affordable - project management tools on the market today, that it hardly makes sense to use Excel. Using project management software is quicker, easier and much less risky. These send automatic task reminders, offer contributors an easy way to see exactly what's expected of them, and when. And they offer excellent real-time reporting capabilities.
What should I look for in project management software?
Modern project management tools automate many of the time-consuming elements of project management, including generating Work Breakdown Schedules, setting up project dependencies, scheduling and organizing tasks, and notifying and reminding people of their deadlines.
When investing your options, look for a solution that offers the following essential project management functionality:
- Task list view
- Gantt-chart view
- Critical path
- Contingency planning
- Risk mitigation
- Business process modelling
- What-if scenario analysis
- Task dependencies
For an even better experience, look for a solution that offers easy project scheduling. Look for:
- Portfolio management
- Interactive dashboards
- Sensitivity analyses
- Baseline variance management
- Cost tracking
- Access control
New generation tools, like Viewpath 4.0, take it a step further, offering predictive resource capacity planning tools. Graphical analysis of resource and role utilization helps project teams maximize resources in a dynamic environment. This allows managers to see where resources are being used across all programs and projects, as well as their forecast future use.
- Predictive resource allocation
- Visually-interactive resource charts
- Individual and team views
- Cross-project allocation
- Weighted planning
You might like: 6 things your project management software should do
Try our project management software
Viewpath offers all the above features and more. It's an intuitive online project management tool that takes the hassle out of managing any project.