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Elements of a Written Project Plan

written by: Bruce Tyson • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/26/2010

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything,” acknowledging the frustration that seems inherent with project planning. Knowing how to write a project plan is to know those frustrations as well as the role planning has in the success of the project.

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    Be Prepared to Re-Plan

    Before you get started writing your project plan, you need to have your mind prepared for the likelihood that your plan will change. You will also need to know how to manage that change. Whilelightbulb  managing a project, you will uncover factors that you did not foresee. Also, you may be handed down changes in specifications and deadlines that send you back to the drawing board. Such changes can be challenging, especially when you’ve already invested a lot of work into the project. No one likes to have to sit down and spend time reworking a project plan, but – as it is almost inevitable – a prepared mind will help you take such a requirement in stride.

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    Project Plan Overview

    The successful project plan will establish the project’s objectives, define the methodology for achieving those objectives, and document the roles and commitments of key participants. Whether you write your project plan from scratch or use a project planning template, every plan should include the elements listed here.

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    Assumptions

    Laying the groundwork for the project plan requires a documentation of all the stipulations and assumptions that are foundational to the project. This helps make the plan comprehensible and helps track down errors in estimates and other elements of the plan should something go wrong. When defining your assumptions, make sure you confer with the project’s participants to make sure there is consensus that the assumptions are correct. If you don’t have agreement on the things you stipulate, you will find that your project plan is unstable and could lack the support of key participants.

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    Problems

    A project plan should document what problems the project is supposed to address. This is important because a failure to understand what the problem is will result in a great plan that solves the wrong problem. It’s worth taking some time to interview all the people with knowledge of the problem so that you can accurately write an assessment as part of your plan.

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    Mission Statement

    Project planning should include summarizing what the purpose of the project is, who the project is being done for, what the goals of the project are, and how those goals are to be realized. The steps involved in the creation of the mission statement can vary from very formal (for large projects) to informal (for smaller projects), but you should never manage a project without a mission statement as part of the plan.

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    Project Strategy

    As you write your project plan, you need to add a section that describes in detail your approach to completing the project. The strategy employed for getting the project done will likely need to meet with management’s preferences; else, you’ll have to re-plan your project. Things to consider here are whether employees or subcontractors will be doing the work, what technologies will be used, and whether you will create the components for the project within the company or will you purchase them. Naturally, the strategy will depend on what kind of project is at hand, who you’re planning the project for, and other unique variables.

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    Project Scope

    Scope creep is something that many project managers dread. Often, the longer a project takes to complete and the more people involved in it, the more the project tends to incorporate tasks and goals that were not part of the original plan. Similarly, product features often expand during the life of a project. A project scope statement can help protect the project by defining what is included in the project and what all parties expect from it.

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    Project Objectives

    Targets for the projects performance, profitability, quality and other goals need to be written in the objectives section of your project plan. This helps prevent any misconceptions about the project. You can even include SWOT a analysis here too.

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    Obligations

    Finally, a section of the project plan should be dedicated to documenting the reports, updates, documentation, prototypes, drafts, and other deliverables that you are required to provide to the customer. Failure to account for these requirements could result in breach of contract with the customer, financial penalties, or other undesirable results. Delivering required materials and information to the customer as the project progresses is essential to its successful completion.