A project manager’s guide to work planning: steps, tips & a real-life example

Your work plan is a roadmap of your project—see how you can use it to organize tasks, people, budget, and timelines.

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You have an overall project plan, but how do you translate that into something real? How do you figure out which resources to use and when? How do you know if you’re on track? How do you keep your team focused on what matters?

Work planning helps you get organized, stay focused, and hit your targets so you can succeed. With it, you can create a visual roadmap that your whole team can follow.

In this guide, we’ll dive into what work planning is and show you how to create a work plan that tames your project chaos.

What is a work plan?

A work plan is a roadmap that details exactly how a project will be completed. It’s an operational plan that helps you effectively manage resources, project milestones, budgets, and timescales. A work plan does this in a way that’s user-friendly and easy to share with stakeholders.

Think of your work plan as an action plan that breaks down your project into smaller tasks. These tasks are then assigned to individual team members or resources. With a work plan, you can see who is working on what and feel confident that your project is on the right track.

Your work plan should include the following elements:

  • Purpose and background of the project
  • Goals and objectives
  • Level of effort
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Budget
  • Risks, assumptions, and constraints

You can break your work plans down by day, week, month, or quarter. This gives you a better understanding of how they fit into your team members’ working days.

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Why do you need a detailed project work plan?

Any great work plan should help you stay on time, on budget, and on schedule. It’s a resource management tool that gives project managers a strategic overview of what’s happening daily.

That’s not the only upside to outlining a work activity plan, though. Creating a project work plan also gives you better, more useful ways to:

  • Identify resource/scheduling conflicts or challenges as they arise
  • Help your team stay focused and organized on their workload
  • Look after your team members’ workloads to avoid overscheduling or burnout
  • Identify where a project might go over budget before it happens
  • Report on progress to stakeholders
  • Unite your team to work toward a common goal to deliver a successful project in the right time frame

While project planning can help you plan and assign tasks, work planning takes it a step further. It gives you a more powerful, strategic way to understand and optimize your resources for both small and large projects. Your work plan outline becomes an invaluable document that helps you plan projects and track progress across many projects at once.

How to create an effective work plan

A detailed work plan is one of the strategic planning must-haves, but if it’s not already in your toolkit, don’t worry—you can have one set up in no time! Especially if you are using resource management software to gather data to build your plan of work. Here’s a walk-through of the planning process, from zero to awesome work plan (and you can use our free work plan templates to save even more time!).

1. Understand the project scope

Before you can create a work activity plan, you first need to understand the project as a whole. Review the project scope and make sure you’re comfortable with everything it involves. Study the timeline, milestones, deliverables, budget, and stakeholders. Read through the short-term and long-term goals to get an understanding of what success looks like.

Check whether you can make the project a success with what you have or if you need to rethink one or more aspects. Consider any challenges or constraints that you might face while managing the project. This can include a lack of resources for that period of time or a scheduling conflict with another project. Pay close attention to your project budget. While there might be some wiggle room, you want to come in on or under budget. Set your budget and stick to it with the help of Float’s resource scheduling tools.

Within Float, you can set a project budget by hours per project, fee by project, or hourly fee. Plus, you can do the same for phases—which is ideal if you’re working on a large, multistage project. Knowing your budget and setting it within your resource planning software gives you the best chance of staying on target.

Once you’re happy you can meet the project scope, you can start work planning. Think about the different tasks and teams involved, and consider how to build this into a fully-fledged project work plan.

2. Understand your available resources

To make your project happen, you’ll need the right resources at the right time. That means you need to know exactly who you have available and when.

The resources you need will depend on the project you’re tackling. Your human resources list can include full-time and part-time staff members, contractors, freelancers, or agencies. Beyond people, your budget, software, and materials are all other project resources to consider.

With resource management software like Float, you can quickly and easily see and assign resources to projects. It’s a smarter approach to capacity management, so you don’t end up overscheduling people or falling behind because you need an extra pair of hands. Float can help you track and manage your team members’ time, set their days and work hours, account for public holidays and vacations, and see at a glance if they’re approaching overtime hours.

Using a dedicated tool like Float helps set your project up for success. Right from the start, you’ll have an overview of your people, resources, and task schedule. This means you can handle challenges, conflicts, and capacity in a more strategic way.

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Pro tip

Float works extremely well in combination with traditional project management tools—think Asana, ClickUp, or Monday.com. Float is where people planners do their project planning and estimating and then schedule and allocate resources. Project management tools are for project managers who need detailed task lists to help their teams stay laser-focused on processes and execution.

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3. Break the project down into manageable tasks with deadlines

You can break every project down into tiny moving parts that take you one step closer to success. Here’s where you map these out to create a practical plan of work for your team to follow.

Think about all the tasks you need to complete to reach your project goals. Take your project objective or outcome and identify the major components. Next, split each area of the project into smaller tasks that you could assign to an individual. Once you have a list of tasks, figure out the best order to work on them. For example, you might need competitor research done before you can work on an SEO strategy. Create a program evaluation review technique (PERT) chart to help you create an achievable roadmap for your project tasks.

Assign each section of your new work plan to a department or team lead. This holds them accountable and gives them the responsibility to motivate their team. It also means that everyone knows exactly who is in charge of what, so you can streamline decision-making.

4. Schedule tasks for your team

Every task needs someone assigned to it, or it’s likely never to get done.

With tasks assigned to departments, it’s time to drill down further and make those individual tasks someone’s responsibility. Resource management software makes scheduling tasks to team members easy. In Float, all you need to do is click and drag on someone’s work schedule to create a new task. You can then name the task, assign a client and project, set hours, and assign your team members.

Sometimes tasks are a solo affair, but not always—which is why you can assign a task to lots of people or a whole team with a few clicks. This is great if you need others to check in on progress or if you’re happy to delegate management.

Assigning tasks is easy, but you can run into trouble trying to motivate others to complete them. Float offers email, push, and Slack notifications so your team can personalize how they receive their schedule. You can also map schedules to a user’s time zone, making it ideal for distributed teams. This personalized approach means your team members are more likely to stay engaged and get things done on time.

5. Check-in as the project work plan progresses

Any good plan only works if it’s followed. Be proactive and check in with your team members as the project moves along to identify issues before they become a major problem. Make it part of your daily routine to check in on your team’s progress. Review your plan of work to get a quick overview of whether tasks are being completed as expected or not, then follow up with individuals if you need to.

Float’s people reports are a great resource for reviewing progress. You can check in on budget spend, hours worked, overtime, time off, and more to reassure you that things are on track.

Here’s a quick video on how to monitor the progress of your plan in Float.

7 bonus tips to help you stick to your work plan

Introducing a new way of working always comes with a few obstacles. From tackling a lack of engagement to making the most of useful features, here are some tips to help guide you toward work-planning success.

1. Have staff members communicate when things are behind schedule

Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes things happen that cause a project to fall behind schedule. What matters is creating a work environment where your team members tell you as soon as they realize it’s an issue.

Have your team members check in with any challenges at your standup meetings. Ask them to be proactive about keeping you updated. Encourage your teams to request a call or meeting if they need to bring something to your attention.

These unscheduled calls or meets can be tricky if you’re working across different time zones. Use Float’s status feature to share where team members are working from and when they’re available. If you’re using Slack, you can sync your scheduled status, allowing you to schedule the conversation without leaving the app.

2. Plan around dependencies

There are some actions you can’t take without something else happening first. Plan around these dependencies to help you create the best route toward your goals.

Make sure you have a good knowledge of the order your team members need to complete tasks. As an alternative, check in with the department lead to confirm that the order of tasks makes sense. If it doesn’t, you’re likely to fall behind or run into scheduling conflicts.

Plan where tasks sit on your project timeline based on their dependencies. For example, plan your new feature testing well before publishing a new blog post about it. Check progress on your first task, too, so you know whether to delay the launch, which, in turn, would delay the publicity.

Planning around these links between tasks makes the whole process smoother for you and your project team. Take time to identify and account for linked tasks now to avoid conflicts later on.

3. Have staff track their time

With so many tasks to complete, you need to know where your team is spending their effort in real time. The only problem? Time estimates are notoriously nuanced. Sometimes we get predicted hours right, with work going as expected. Other times the actual hours worked end up being different from what we have planned for.

Ask your team to track their time against tasks so you’re able to see how this compares to your predictions. The time tracking feature in Float gives your team pre-filled timesheets based on their scheduled tasks. This means when the estimated time is correct, it’s easy to log your hours with a click.

Plus, when the actual hours worked were more or less, your team can simply adjust how many hours the task took and hit Log. Project managers can track their spend in real time to monitor progress and compare their estimates vs. actuals for their next project.

When a task takes longer or you identify a delay earlier in the process, your project can stall. Tracking your time from the start means you can spot these delays early before they can impact your final timeline.

Time tracking gives you a measurable way to understand how your resources are being used. Make this a key part of your work process so you’re strategic about resource allocation.

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Did you know?

You can get a live view of your project progress by tracking your team’s actual hours worked in Float. Compare your estimated vs. logged hours to monitor progress in real-time and create more accurate future work plans.

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4. Allow space in your work plan for the unexpected

Team availability can change at the last minute, clients can shift project scopes, and sometimes, you don’t fully know what you’re dealing with until a project is in flight. Make sure there’s room in your work plan to tackle any unforeseen issues without throwing the whole project schedule off.

Even the best of us can’t operate like machines, so it’s a great idea to give everyone breathing space between tasks. Don’t overschedule your team members—instead, space things out more than you think you might need. You can always adjust your schedule if you find they’re getting through things in good time.

It’s also wise to give your team members enough space between stages of the project or dependencies. If you’re relying on one person to complete the first stage, schedule the second stage to begin a week or two after. That way, there’s time to play catch up if you need to, and you won’t impact the final timeline too much.

The sweet spot recommended for resource utilization is 70 to 80% of a team member’s scheduled time.

5. Give allocations to placeholder roles

We don’t always have our whole team ready when a project kicks off. If you need someone to fill a role but haven’t hired them yet, account for this. Schedule these tasks using a placeholder role so you don’t forget about them.

It’s easy to miss something if one of your team members isn’t responsible for it yet. Forgetting about a whole area of a project can be disastrous, so make sure these tasks get assigned. While your new user won’t have a name yet, their presence will be visible on the work plan—helping the rest of your team stay organized.

Assigning tasks to a placeholder role also has another benefit. It means that when a new person joins your team, things are all ready to go. You can then update the work plan to feature their name and details, and it’s as if they’ve always been there—no last-minute scheduling of tasks and hours to fit them in.

6. Set budgets

One of the hardest aspects of any project is staying within budget. There’s always a problem that crops up or an exciting opportunity you hadn’t considered.

Within Float, it’s easy to set up your budget for a project. You can set this in hours or by dollar value—whichever makes the most sense for your project or business plan. Use this in combination with milestones for larger projects to make it easy to view progress by stage. Once you’ve set your budget up, you can check your progress against it.

With budget tracking and time tracking, you have a powerful way to see exactly what’s happening. You can estimate project costs and find out whether you’re likely to overspend (and by what date) and take action to fix it. The same goes for if you’re under budget, so you can commit more resources to your project.

7. Adjust your work plan when you need to

Your work plan doesn’t need to be set in stone. Don’t get into the habit of making changes every day, but don't be afraid to step in and extend a due date or re-prioritize tasks if you need to.

The right resource management platform gives you a streamlined way to make adjustments and communicate them. After all, if your team doesn’t know that an end date or deadline has changed, you’re going to run into problems.

With a tool like Float, it’s easy to make these changes in moments. You can click and drag to adjust hours, change the users on a project, or create new tasks. Once you’ve made updates, team members will receive notifications on Slack or via email.

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Pro tip

Type "@" followed by a person’s name on any allocation note to mention and notify them. Depending on the person’s settings, they will receive a notification via email, Slack, or mobile push.

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3 work planning examples (from teams who use Float!)

1. Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed is one of the biggest media companies on the planet—and it’s a company that moves fast, with hundreds of projects going out the door at any given time. With so many moving parts, everyone needs to know exactly what’s happening to hit deadlines.

This is how the people at Buzzfeed manage their creative team: when a new project is received, they complete a form with project details such as team members, estimated timeline, and deliverables. Afterward, the post-production team coordinators review the timeline and start planning in Float.

They create a new project and add high-level information like the project’s due date and budget. This information helps them identify team members with the necessary capacity and availability, as Float’s schedule displays who is available during the planned project dates. Then, they assign editing tasks to available team members who have the right skills.

The team often has to juggle new and ongoing tasks by assigning them to the most suitable team member available. Float’s Schedule enables them to see everyone’s current projects and choose the right person for new tasks.

They use the filter option to create and save views of their team members. For instance, they can open a saved view to find a video editor who is available for a few hours next week to add sound to a video.

People tag in Float
You can use the filter function to easily find a team member with the right skills for your projects.

Curious about how Buzzfeed uses Float to power such a resource-heavy team? Dive into the details with our full case study.

2. Show + Tell (formerly Impression)

Show + Tell is a full-service agency dedicated to creating exceptional digital experiences and pushing design boundaries.

Every week, the team at Show + Tell has a standup meeting to discuss the status of projects and plan work for the following week. The entire agency is present at the meeting to get a good idea of what is going on, ensure they are aligned on projects, and give the chance to everyone to pitch ideas and suggestions. With so many projects at different stages, there’s a lot to keep track of—so, the team uses Float as their single source of truth to drive the meeting.

To read more about how Show + Tell plans work and stay on top of task allocation, head over to this case study.

An example of work plan schedule in Float

3. Accounts & Legal

This London-based consultancy firm is one of the few that specializes in both accounting and legal services—and given the nature of their industry and the size of their clientele, they need to deliver work under strict deadlines and in-between many client calls.

...which, inevitably, makes planning work a challenge. Much like the Show + Tell folks above, Accounts & Legal use meetings to stay on top of plans and schedule; but instead of a weekly cadence, they run:

  • A monthly call, in which the team determines all the due dates and deliverables they need to hit, then goes through extra client requirements to work out the whole team’s priorities
  • A daily sync, in which someone shares their screen with the Float schedule, and everybody has a conversation around these questions:
    ✔️ What did we do yesterday?
    ✔️ Is there anything that took longer than anticipated or got done quicker?
    ✔️ What are we doing today and can it get done?
    ✔️ Does anyone need any support?
    ✔️ Is there any capacity or is anyone overloaded with work?
Float’s work plan schedule for Accounts & Legal

A better way to manage your work plan

The work planning process doesn’t have to be complicated, though. With the right resource management platform, you can build your work plan faster and make it easy to manage.

With Float, you can see at a glance what your team is working on. It’s easy to update deadlines, reassign tasks, and move new projects into a gap in your schedule. You can track your budget and make strategic decisions based on real-time data and knowledge. It’s the smarter way to do work planning!

Ready to revolutionize your approach to work planning? Jump on board and manage your work plans with Float, the #1 tool for resource management.

Start your free trial.

FAQs

Who should be organizing project work plans?

As the project manager, you are on the hook for developing the project work plan.

Traditionally, the project sponsor writes the charter, and then the project manager adapts the charter into a work plan for the team. In theory, the project hasn’t officially kicked off at the charter stage, so there is no project manager yet. Therefore, the person commissioning the project is responsible for the charter.

The difference between theory and practice? In my 15-year career, I have yet to work on a project where I didn’t write the charter. Bottom line: project managers are responsible for it all!

Which key elements are generally included in a work plan?

Here are some elements often included in work plans:

1. Purpose and background – Sets the stage for what the project is trying to accomplish, the context behind it, and the business drivers

2. Goals and objectives – What are the goals for this project? How do these goals align with company objectives? What does success look like?

3. Level of effort – What is the expected level of effort for this project? What is the high-level timeline, including milestones and deliverables? What is the work breakdown structure (i.e., the list of activities required to complete the project?)

4. Roles and responsibilities – What are the roles on this project, who is assigned to these roles, and what activities will they perform?

5. Budget – The expected project costs by phase. Who is funding this project? What are the funding sources? How does the budget align with the estimated level of effort? These initial estimates will help you track finances throughout the project.

6. Risks, assumptions, and constraints – What are the risks that could derail the project? What are the assumptions at the project’s outset? What are the known constraints?

How to write a work plan?

Remember that the work plan is formed from the project charter. So you’ll need to dedicate a bit of real estate upfront to remind the reader what the project is about and why it’s essential.

While you should absolutely share the project charter with your team, the primary audience for that document is executives. The charter grounds the project in the company strategy and explains the business drivers. It deliberately doesn’t say too much about execution—that’s where the work plan comes in.

The work plan is a blend of the visionary and the tactical. It’s geared towards the team members who are engaged in project delivery and helps set them up for success throughout the project lifecycle.

Once you’ve oriented the reader, pivot from the big-picture goals and strategy to the details of execution. Focusing on the tactics is important for two reasons:

1. To avoid regurgitating the charter and

2. To make the work plan useful to its intended audience.