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What every project manager should know about project plans

Project plans are essential for managing and executing projects successfully. Yet, many project managers don’t know what a project plan is or why it’s important. In this blog post, we’ll answer those questions and more. You’ll learn about the different types of project plans, what goes into each one, and how to use them to keep your projects on track. By the end of this post, you’ll have a solid understanding of project plans and be able to start using them effectively in your work.

A project plan is a document that describes in essence:
– how the project will be made/put together,
– how to check and control the project while making deliverables,
– and how to finish the project successfully.

importance of a good project plan humour
Write comprehensive Project Plans that will impress Stakeholders

Projects need plans because they’re complex undertakings that require careful coordination and execution. Without a plan, it’s all too easy for things to go off the rails.

A good project plan accounts for every step of the project lifecycle, from start to finish. It includes clear milestones and deliverables so everyone knows what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. It also identifies who is responsible for each task and sets out a timeline for completing the work. Of course, no plan is perfect, and things will inevitably change as you progress through the project. But without a plan, it would be much harder to adapt and be agile to those changes and keep the project on track.

Types of Project Plans

There are four main types of project plans:

  • high-level plans
  • master plans
  • detailed plans
  • backup plans

Each type of plan serves a different purpose in the overall management of the project. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

1. High-Level Plans

A high-level plan gives an overview of the entire project from start to finish. It includes key milestones and deliverables but does not get into too much detail about individual tasks or deadlines. High-level plans are useful for getting buy-in from stakeholders on the big picture but can be less helpful when it comes time to execute the work.

2. Master Plans

A master plan is like a high-level plan on steroids. It goes into much more detail about every aspect of the project, including individual tasks, deadlines, resources, risks, and dependencies. Master plans can help keep track of all the moving parts of a complex project but can be hard to maintain as changes occur throughout the course of the work. Professional project managers in this case use project management software like Microsoft Project and Primavera in tandem. These applications track progress, implement changes and recalibrate even the most complex of changes in your master plan.

3. Detailed Plans

A detailed plan is similar to a master plan but with even more granular information about individual tasks and deliverables. Detailed plans help ensure that everyone understands their specific roles and responsibilities within the project. In this case, it is important to keep team members updated so they don’t feel overwhelmed by too much information. Daily stand-up meetings are one of the ways agile project managers keep their team members abreast of information and get first-hand feedback on progress and challenges to the work.

4. Backup Plans

A backup plan keeps the project on track in case things go off course. This plan is often part of a detailed risk management strategy. Backup plans can take many different forms in risk management but typically include contingency funding, alternate suppliers, or additional resources that can be called upon if needed. Backup plans are an insurance policy against unforeseen problems/risks arising during the course of the work—but should only be used as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.

How to write a high-level project plan

Many different elements go into a project plan. The first step is to identify the goals of the project. Once the goals have been identified, the next step is to create a timeline for the project. The timeline should include milestones so that progress can be measured. After the timeline has been created, the next step is to identify the resources that will be needed for the project. These resources can include people, money, equipment, and materials. Finally, the last step is to create a risk management plan. This plan should identify any potential risks that could impact the successful completion of the project and should also identify how these risks will be mitigated.

Considerations for a high-level project plan

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What are we attempting to do?
  • Who is important in defining what we are doing, and why we are doing it? Have we spoken at length with them? If not, after working out who is important, return to question 1.
  • Who will pay the final bills? What are their written needs in order to make payment?
  • How much work is needed?
  • Who will be doing the work?
  • What equipment or materials must be bought in order to complete the project?
  • How much budget & cash flow is available for doing the project?
  • What are the targeted timelines and deadlines for the project deliverables?
  • What are the levels of quality and grade that are required for the project?
  • Who will oversee the work done on the project to assure quality?
  • What possible unknowns could occur on this project?
  • Who do we need to communicate with on the project, in what way, and how often or what are the triggers for the required communication?
  • How are we going to make sure that updates to the project plan are not haphazard, in other words, that changes made to the project are checked and controlled?

How to plan a complex project

The answer to this question is not easy, nor is it short. A good place to start is reading the PMBOK® Guide, and once you’ve completed this, read Navigating Complexity. There are a variety of tools available to you when it comes to planning and scheduling complex projects. Two of the most popular options are Microsoft Project and Primavera.

Using Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project is a popular scheduling tool that is often used in conjunction with other Microsoft products, such as Excel. One of the most useful features of Microsoft Project is its ability to create Gantt charts. Gantt charts are a visual representation of a project’s timeline that can be used to track the progress of a project, a must-have for complex projects. Another benefit of Microsoft Project is that it has a wide range of features and options that allow you to customize your schedules to meet your specific needs. However, one downside of Microsoft Project is that it can be complex to use, particularly if you have not come on our Project Management with Microsoft Project course.

Using Primavera P6

Primavera P6 is a scheduling tool that is commonly used in engineering and construction projects. One of the benefits of Primavera P6 is that it offers many features specifically designed for these types of projects. For example, Primavera P6 includes tools for managing resources and risks as well as earned value management tools. Another benefit of Primavera P6 is that it has flexible scheduling options that allow you to create schedules based on different criteria, such as duration or budget. The Primavera interface can be tricky to navigate but we make it all make sense for you with our Planning and Scheduling with Primavera course.

Regardless of which tool you choose, both Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 are excellent options for creating schedules for complex projects. The important thing is to choose the tool that best meets your specific needs.

Standard procedure for project management software

  • Step 1: Input the project schedule from your detailed master plan or project chatter.
  • Step 2: Use the software to create a more detailed project schedule, including a network diagram of your project, task constraints, resources, costs and so on.
  • Step 3: Use the software to perform resource levelling, which will help you ensure that your project is completed on time and within budget.
  • Step 4: Enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your complex project is scheduled perfectly and changes can be updated with a click of a button!

How to plan a project successfully

Project success is very closely linked to key stakeholders, their written requirements and being able to deliver the entire project scope on time, according to budget/cashflow, to an appropriate level of quality, having dealt carefully with any significant risks and with a careful, deliberate hand on the appropriate usage of resources.

Before one can answer this question accurately, you need to define what constitutes success on your project – and for each project, this can vary quite a lot.

Project Success Factors

The first step in defining success is understanding all of the factors that contribute to it. Here are some key things to keep in mind:


One of the most important factors in determining project success is understanding the needs and expectations of your key stakeholders. What are they looking for from the project? What are their goals and objectives? Once you have a good understanding of what your stakeholders want from the project, you’ll be in a much better position to deliver a successful outcome.


Make sure you understand the project’s objectives and deliverables. What exactly needs to be accomplished? Be sure to get this in writing from the stakeholders.


Work with your team to come up with a realistic timeline for completing the project. Keep in mind that unforeseen issues can always arise, so build some flexibility into the schedule. Again, make sure the stakeholders sign off on the schedule.


Develop a budget for the project and make sure you have approval from the stakeholders. Keep track of expenses throughout the project so you can stay within budget.


Meet or exceed the quality standards expected by the stakeholders. This should be defined upfront so there are no surprises later on.


Carefully identify and manage any risks associated with the project. Doing so will help avoid potential problems down the road.


Properly utilize all available resources, including human resources, financial resources and technological resources. Make sure you have what you need before starting the project.

Other factors include unrealistic deadlines, inadequate resources and a lack of clear objectives.

Steps to ensure project success:

  • Understand what the key stakeholders want from the project. This means taking the time to sit down with them and discuss their specific requirements in detail. Once these requirements have been documented, it is important to create a realistic schedule for delivering the project scope on time.
  • Ensure that adequate resources are available to complete the project. This includes both human resources and financial resources. If there are insufficient resources available, it will be difficult to deliver the project on time and to the required quality standards.
  • Set clear objectives for the project. These objectives should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). By setting clear objectives, it will be easier to track progress and identify any potential problems early on.

By following these steps, you can increase the chances of successfully delivering your next project from a well-formulated plan.

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