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Creating your first project plan? It’s important to avoid including extraneous information and other noise in your project plans, to make sure key stakeholders can get the info they need quickly and without having to read a 50 page report. 

Here’s what to include in a project plan to achieve this goal, make sure the project team knows exactly what they are responsible for and by when, and complete a successful project. 

What Is A Project Plan?

The project plan outlines the scope of the project, project objectives, and project schedule. It’s a roadmap for stakeholders involved in the project and provides clear direction and expectations. 

A good one will provide clarity on three things:

  • What needs to be done
  • When it needs to be done by
  • Who will do what

This ensures that the project team members understand their role and how their work fits into the bigger picture of the overall goal. 

Project plans can be as simple as a scribble on a napkin or a few lines in Excel. However, they’re usually presented as a roadmap or Gantt chart, made in Smartsheet, Microsoft Project, or a similar alternative planning tool.

What To Include In A Project Plan

An effective project plan outlines how resources will be allocated, who’s responsible for generating results, and when each phase should be completed. 

The best project plans will typically include the following. You’ll find some of this information in your project charter or statement of work (if your project has one).

The first 5 items in this list can be laid out in a Gantt chart. In some project plans, the Gantt chart is the whole plan. In other cases, you’ll see a Gantt chart accompanied by written sections like scope statements, lists of requirements, and more (see items 6 through 9 in the list below). 

1. Phases of the Project

What phases are required to complete the entire project? Note: this is different from the phases in the project life cycle, which aren’t specific to any one project type. 

The phases you’ll need to include in your project plan are the ones specific to the workflow of the project you’re working on (what you’ll complete in the project execution phase of the life cycle). 

project life cycle going from content development to design development to QA and then launch
Here's what your project life cycle might look like.

This also may depend on which methodology your project will follow, such as agile, Kanban, or waterfall.

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2. Activities, Tasks, & Project Deliverables In Each Phase

Once you have your phases set, break them down into smaller tasks. It’s important to work with the project team that will be completing the work here, as they are more familiar with exactly what’s involved in designing a website page. 

You might break down the website design phase (for a simple website) into the following sub-tasks:

  • Design the navigation
  • Design the homepage
  • Design the about page
  • Design the contact page
  • Design the product pages
  • Etc.
task broken down into smaller pieces
Make sure to break down tasks into smaller chunks.

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a good way to start breaking down your tasks and activities.

3. Task Start Dates & End Dates

For each task that you defined in the last step, set a start date and end date. This might depend on a variety of factors—when your team members are available, how long it takes to get feedback from the client, or if there are any tasks that need to be completed before a specific task can start (see next step).

4. Task Dependencies

Make a note of which tasks depend on others to be completed before they can start. These are known as task dependencies. One example of a dependency is that in order to start coding the homepage, you need to design the homepage first.

It’s also worth defining the project’s critical path here. This is the order of activities that represents the longest path in a project, and determines how quickly the project can be completed. 

Once you know which tasks depend on others, you can order them according to their dependencies. The amount of time it takes to complete those tasks in that order is your project timeline. Tasks that don’t depend on others can be completed amongst the tasks on the critical path, without affecting the timeframe.

5. Milestones & Baselines

fingers walking along dots to represent milestones
Milestones are critical for understanding how you're tracking.

Project milestones are smaller project goals or checkpoints throughout the project, and can be used to keep track of project progress and report on project status. Each one should have a due date.

Your milestones might line up with the phases determined earlier, with certain approvals from project stakeholders or project sponsors, or some other element of your project.

6. Project Scope Statement

A scope statement denotes what exactly you’ll deliver, as well as what you won’t (what’s out of scope). You should also note any assumptions you’re making, as well constraints or limitations. 

Having this in an easy-to-reference place for both team members and clients will also help avoid scope creep.

7. List of Requirements

Include a list of all the project’s requirements, which you should have gathered in the requirements gathering stage, which usually starts before the formal project planning process begins. Depending on the type of project, you might have technical requirements, functional requirements, non-functional requirements, or other kinds of requirements. 

8. Risk Assessment

Assessing risk is an important part of planning. Usually, project managers use RAID logs or risk registers to keep track of potential risks and their risk management plans for each one. Keep a copy of this near or within your project plan. 

9. Project Budget

Include notes on the agreed-upon cost of the project or project estimate. Throughout the project, track progress against the budget—are you running over or under? Keeping this info in a handy place will help with this.

10. Metrics & KPIs

How will you know that you’ve reached the successful completion of the project? What does project success look like? Be sure to define these metrics using KPIs.

It’s also worth noting that there’s other documentation that often goes hand in hand with the project plan. While not part of the project plan itself, these documents are also often created during the project planning phase. This might include a quality management plan, communication plan, or a stakeholder management plan. 

Project Plan Template

Want to know how to create a project management plan with a timeline? One of the easiest ways to learn how to make a good project plan is to start by editing another one.

Here’s a project plan template and sample project timeline for a website project that’s way better than just a blank Gantt chart template (which you can find anywhere).

The project plan is part of our resource hub in DPM Membership, and it’s great because:

  • It includes 140 line items which you can add to and edit as-needed
  • It’s already detailed as a website redesign project plan
  • It comes with a filled-in sample, so you can see exactly how to fill it in and how each piece works together

The sample project plan works with Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, and a XML file which can be used across a variety of project management tools. The goal here is to help you get started! 

What’s Next?

For more on getting your project plan just right, check on how to create a project plan here, and find out why they’re important here.

Once your project plan has been completed, you’ll need to add all tasks, dates, and milestones into your project management software or project planning tool.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter for more practical tips to get you up and running and using best project management processes and practices for this project and your next project. 

By Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of I've been in the industry for more than 20 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony. Ben's a Certified Scrum Master, PRINCE2 Practitioner and productivity nut.

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