Project planning is about more than simply meeting deadlines and not going over budget. It provides a roadmap for your team to follow so they can hit essential milestones, optimize their workloads, and deliver awesome results.
With the right project planning system in place, teams can overcome barriers and optimize their workflows. In this guide, we’re going to break down:
- What project planning is
- The importance of effective project planning
- 3 project planning methods
- How to create a project plan
- A project planning example
Ready to get planning? Let’s begin.
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What is project planning?
Project planning is the process of identifying, prioritizing, and delegating the tasks and resources needed to complete a project.
Think of a project plan as a blueprint. It acts as a single source of truth for your team to know when their deadlines are, the milestone dates they should pay close attention to, and what their resource capacity is. Your project plan will guide your team and your decision-making process from the moment a project kicks off until it’s ready to be delivered successfully.
But it doesn’t stop there. As different needs arise, a project-planning blueprint can change or be updated as you go.
The right software makes this process—which can get a bit complex at times—a breeze to manage. You can create tasks, set deliverables, and track budgets without the messiness of old-school methods like Excel spreadsheets or shared Google Docs. With Float, you can allocate tasks onto your team’s schedule, track how much time they’re spending on them, and set budgets to manage your expenses as you make progress.
You can also check out our 15 downloadable project plan templates to help you throughout the project lifecycle.
"Every project and scheduled resource of our video production team is managed through Float. We needed a system to manage our growing project workflow and more importantly, our expectations of each other. To put it simply, if it’s not in Float, it’s not getting done!"
Why is project planning important?
Project planning is important because it helps you manage necessary resources and anticipate bottlenecks, increasing chances that the project will be completed on time and within budget.
More specifically, here are five benefits of effective project planning:
1. Enable team collaboration
Hands down, your project doesn’t happen without team collaboration. Project team collaboration can be made easier with resource management software. Unless you’re a team of one, putting methods in place to keep everyone in the loop is essential to executing projects on time, without overspending, and without sacrificing quality.
2. Prevent scope creep
Speaking of overspending, without a proper way to track and document your projects, it’s too easy to become a victim of scope creep. If not tracked and accounted for, any number of tasks or resources can start taking longer than expected and start costing more too.
In the end, scope creep can derail your project and makes you more likely to miss deadlines and let clients down. The right resource planning software can remedy the lack of proper planning that inevitably brings on scope creep (more on that later).
3. Stay on budget
The last thing resource and project managers want is to go over budget when executing a project. Not only does it put a strain on the overall company, but it’s also an easy way to overburden your employees with additional constraints that can lead to burnout.
Effective project planning ensures you don’t go down this route. For instance, Float lets you set project budgets based on either time or fees when managing your project resources.
It also lets you compare estimated versus actual hours worked with time tracking. This makes it easy to stay on top of overspending in real time—which is invaluable to project execution.
4. Make your team happier and prevent burnout
Burnout happens when you don’t manage your human resources mindfully. It’s one thing to track budgets and schedules, but it’s another to have a clear view of exactly how much any single team member can take on at once.
Big-picture calculations like these are hard to make without a comprehensive method in place that lets you take stock of the resources on hand—in this case, your team members—and where their baseline is in terms of what they can contribute. This becomes increasingly important if you’re multi-project planning.
Why is preventing team burnout paramount to your success? Besides keeping your people happy and fostering a culture of support, you want to avoid the very tangible financial costs that come with burnout.
According to a Gallup study, employees experiencing burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to end up in the emergency room.
5. Keep key stakeholders in the loop
The more informed your stakeholders are on a project, the happier they’ll be. Easy, right? Consider the fact that stakeholders can play a pivotal role in the direction of your project.
Without stakeholder input to help steer the ship, you’re left vulnerable to costly miscommunication and mishaps that could otherwise be prevented.
Thankfully, keeping stakeholders in the loop is easier with the right tools in hand. For instance, resource management software can give them easy access to information on where resources are going, what’s taking up the most resources, and how key tasks are being finalized.
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3 project planning methods
There are different ways and methodologies to plan projects. Let's get familiar with three valuable types of project planning methods you can use, according to your needs:
When you think of a waterfall, images of cascading water come to mind. The waterfall planning method follows the same pattern. To move on to the next step, you must complete each preceding step first.
Just as water can’t flow back up a waterfall, each step in the waterfall method is irreversible. Why is this? The waterfall method comes from a time before planning software existed, meaning it served to execute a more linear project planning process (you can’t lay concrete without leveling the area first, etc.).
This is why you need an ironclad method of documenting tasks and responsibilities. This way, you’re able to distribute that information so everyone on your team knows exactly what needs to be done and when.
In essence, the waterfall method makes certain projects easier to manage and can save you money by helping avoid the mishaps that disorder can cause. Pairing waterfall planning with software is when the real magic starts to happen.
Agile planning is iterative and more flexible. When you use agile planning to manage your project, you create detailed yet shuffleable plans on shorter timelines, called sprints.
Sprints can take anywhere from one to three weeks and make for flexible end dates. These sprints are usually made up of repeatable processes that can help support your team as they work through their designated tasks.
Agile planning is used a lot in software, but it can also be useful in many different settings. Instead of strongly prioritizing deadlines, agile planning prioritizes iteration and collaboration to arrive at maximum results.
Kaban project planning takes a less rigid approach to project planning. Instead of setting hard deadlines, it sets project tasks and allocates resources on a flexible timeline, usually within a range of days. It’s also a highly visual way to plan projects, as team members have access to the progress of a project in real time.
Out of the three planning methods, kanban tends to be the most popular method. Why? Because it lends itself to a variety of projects across many different industries. In other words, it’s a lot more accessible than other planning methods.
Kanban is best for a simpler project planning approach because of key features like:
- A template for workflow transparency
- Cards and columns to track progress
- Task prioritization
How to create a project plan
Creating an effective project plan can be broken down into a straightforward process. Here’s a closer look at what it takes to get through each step.
1. Set your project goals and tasks
Before you dive into plotting your project onto a timeline, you need to outline and allocate tasks and goals for your team.
This starts with talking to your project stakeholders (like the client you’ll be delivering the project to), as well as your team and team leaders who’ll be in charge of making it happen. These discussions should hash out the project’s needs, budget, deliverables, deadlines, etc.
When the project’s stakeholders are all on the same page, you can create a list of tasks and milestones your team needs to execute to deliver the project on time and within budget. Here’s a breakdown of tasks in Float for a rebranding project:
As you can see, the design and UX work must be completed before the team can proceed to their marketing tasks.
To prioritize which tasks should be worked on first, you can use the SMART principle to guide you. Which tasks are the most important and urgent to get the project delivered? Can they be measured, and how? Who will be in charge of getting each task done? When do you need each task delivered to make sure the project is completed on time?
Answering these questions will help you create specific deliverables and plot them on a timeline.
2. Create (realistic) project deliverables
The next step in planning a project is to set deliverables and make sure your team can actually get them done!
According to the Wellingtone study, attempting to run too many projects at once is now the main challenge organizations face. Realistic delivery dates ensure that your team's calendars aren't overwhelmed and that your projects are finished on time.
Plot the tasks you outlined in step one onto a project timeline, add a rough delivery date for each task and milestone, and then consult your team (this one is a biggie). Project manager Wes Jones recommends talking to your team in two steps:
👩💻 Approach your team individually. If you have a small team, speak with them individually first to see what they’re thinking. This makes everyone feel involved and gives them ownership over the work they’ll be doing. It also gives you a chance to discover any holes in your project plan and consider different perspectives.
👨👩👦👦 Then meet as a team. After you’ve gathered everyone’s input and crafted an initial plan, you need to take it to the full team so they can see how everything is starting to fit together. During these meetings, you can fine-tune things and make any necessary revisions.
3. Set a work breakdown structure
Now you want to break all your project tasks down into manageable pieces, which is basically what setting a work breakdown structure involves. First, you’ll want to start with the end goal in mind. That is, instead of working from a handful of tasks, work from your deliverables.
What will your finished deliverables be? Remember that your deliverables can also be things like a service or an event. What tasks do you need to complete? What subtasks are needed to complete those tasks?
You can get as granular or as general as you need to when setting a work breakdown structure. The important thing is that you account for what needs to be done and how it’ll be taken care of.
With Float, it’s easy to visualize your work breakdown structure with a live view of who’s assigned to what tasks. That way, you make sure you aren’t assigning tasks twice, and you’re getting rid of unnecessary steps in the breakdown process.
4. Plan resources
Resource planning is a crucial part of organizing your team. Here’s where a team lead will allocate tasks and deliverables throughout the team. By doing this, project managers can maximize the use of resources and track resource capacity to ensure they don’t spend more than is necessary.
Making resource planning a step in your project planning phase lets you:
- Maximize your budget spends
- Streamline your team workflows through resource forecasts and capacity reporting
- Take a more in-depth look at overspent budgets (and figure out what needs to be done differently for the next project lifecycle)
Let’s say one of your team members works part-time for three 10-hour days a week instead of the usual 9 to 5. Using resource planning, you can set their individual hours without changing the overall capacity of the rest of your team. This (along with setting rates for different team members) makes it easy to see when you can schedule tasks for your team and keep track of a project’s budget.
Resource calendars help ensure that your team is only scheduled when they’re available to do the work—which is why it’s a crucial part of any successful project planning.
Take it from Leah Zeis, an associate director at Buzzfeed: “It’s in Float that we start creating and assigning the editing tasks and resources to get the project delivered. We add information like the project due date and budget so that, at a high level, we can see what our resource capacity and availability are to schedule the right team for the job.”
Want to find out more about how resource planning can help you? Check out our guide to resource planning here. 📝
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5. Define task dependencies and bottlenecks
This is the step in the process where you can stop project mishaps before they happen. It’s important to remember that project tasks aren’t an island. In other words, they don’t exist without depending on each other in some way.
Dependencies are influenced by time, scope, and project cost constraints. Defining task dependencies and bottlenecks requires looking through what you have planned so far and identifying what tasks depend on what resources and the potential stalls or hold-ups they can create that could change project outcomes.
There are several different task dependencies worth spotting—like casual, external, or resource dependencies. Not all of them will always apply to every project.
- Casual dependencies. These are inevitable and will come up throughout your project as your team goes through its workflow. They’re less severe and more manageable and tend to follow a logical workflow. For example, you can’t install sprinklers until the equipment you ordered has arrived.
- External dependencies. As a resource manager, you need to be as ready as possible to deal with external dependencies. These can be things like depending on third parties to submit deliverables on time or procurement managers depending on third parties to have ample inventory of any given resource needed.
- Resource dependencies. Resource-based dependencies revolve around the availability of resources. Do you have enough in-house developers to work on a specific project? Is the agency you partnered with ready to take on the outsourced pieces of your project?
Once you pinpoint your project dependencies, it’s easier to identify and solve bottlenecks. Using project planning methods like Gantt charts make it easier to spot bottlenecks.
But beyond software, here’s where you can’t forget to communicate with your team—they’re the ones on the ground doing the work, so their feedback is invaluable when you’re trying to understand where in the process work starts becoming unmanageable.
6. Run a risk assessment. What happens if something goes wrong?
Manage enough projects, and you’re bound to have something at some level of severity go wrong. Such is life. Yet that doesn’t mean you can simply cross your arms and hope for the best.
Risk management prepares you for when projects don’t go as planned. To do this, it takes running a risk assessment. You can break it down into three steps:
- Risk: Take the time to sit down and make a list of all the things that could go wrong with your project.
- Probability: What are the possible chances each of the risks you’ve listed will go wrong?
- Impact: What outcomes can you expect if any of the identified potential risks go wrong?
A risk assessment helps you mitigate failure. Say you’re planning for a website redesign and you need branded deliverables by a certain date for developers to modify.
How can you plan for the scenario where the deliverables aren’t submitted on time? How will you free up your developer’s time at a later date to be able to complete the task?
A risk assessment safeguards the success of your project by helping you form the right questions and find the best answers to project risks. It’s why it’s so important not to skip this step in your planning process.
7. Plot your project on a final timeline
Finally, you need to take your rough plan back to your team to consult with them on the final details. While it may seem tedious, your team is worth it!
Before you can schedule your team their project objectives, you need to know:
⏱️ The amount of effort (hours or days) required for completing the task within a given timeframe so you can set project schedules
📅 Who has the capacity on their calendar to successfully cover the scope of the project
✈️ If there are any availability issues you need to know about (like a vacation or other time off) that may impact your project plan
📝 If they need any more instructions to help them get started and are aware of the communication plan
Once you've collected that information, you can set a concrete delivery date for each task and schedule it onto the assigned team member’s calendar. Using the right tool—like a Gantt chart—makes everything a lot easier at this part of the project planning process.
With Float, you can schedule tasks and deliverables to team members for entire projects in a snap. As your team members’ rates are tied to their individual profiles, assigning tasks also calculates how much of your budget each person will take up.
Once the project kicks off and tasks are completed, Float automatically tracks how much of the project budget is being used, so you can see how many billable hours you have remaining.
A project planning example
We’ve gone through the steps needed to plan your project—and by this point, you know the importance of effectively planning with the right tools. However, let’s dive into real-life examples of effective project planning in action.
As an architecture firm, Rice Fergus Miller takes full advantage of Float’s project phases feature, which allows it to shift and prioritize tasks easily. The project phases feature also enables it to track individual phase budgets by hours or by fees. “I love how I can drag the phase bar, and all associated bubbles in the schedule shift automatically. It’s a graphic way to shift a timeline,” says architect Jason Ritter.
The co-founder and consulting director of Eshop Guide, Patrick Rosenblatt, always seeks to avoid overbooking and stressing out his team members. With a project planning tool like Float, he’s able to successfully implement a project management plan.
“We use Float’s tabular view of our resources and planned activities to make sure we are never overbooked, but also to know when we have too little load,” Patrick says.
Project planning software can help your business
There’s no doubt project planning software comes with an endless amount of upside. You can track where all your resources are being used and when, keep your team from burnout, stay within budget, and seamlessly tackle multi-project planning.
Float was built to fit the needs of your team, whether you’re managing one big project or juggling multiple clients, and you need to know your project status and resource levels. You can ditch missing deadlines and unclear project resource expectations with the tried and true set of tools that Float offers.
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