HOW TO PLAN A PROJECT

HOW TO PLAN A PROJECT IN 4 SIMPLE STEPS

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks you need to complete before your next big launch? Or maybe you are not sure how to organize your team to get things done? In this article I show you how to plan a project in 4 simple steps.
 
If you’re struggling with organization, you may need to put a little bit of time aside and do some planning. But sometimes when I speak with small business owners and startups about planning I hear things like:
 
“I don’t have the time to make a plan, I’ll just go with the flow. I’m good at improvising”
“ I’m not too sure that all of this preparation will eventually pay off”
“ I’ve never been too good at organizing things
“Is this even necessary? I don’t even know where to start from”
 
I get it. You are the creator. The visionary. You want to focus on growing your business. Planning sounds a bit like a waste of time for you.
 
But let me tell you one thing: IT REALLY PAYS OFF.
  
It really does! But don’t think of planning as this never-ending document that is set in stone and that nobody could ever touch or change. That is NOT how kick-ass entrepreneurs tackle planning. 
 
In this article, I show you how you can put together a project plan that will allow you to launch your next project with ease.
 
But before we start let’s answer a question: Why creating a plan?
  • Planning is essential if you want to organize your team, tasks, and timing.
  • It will help you to focus on your goals and avoid getting distracted.
  • Planning will help you track progress and will increase project transparency.
  • And most of all… it will improve team communication.
 
So that said, let’s get started! 

 

WHAT FORMAT SHOULD I USE?
There are different ways in which you can plan your project. You need to understand your process and determine what works best for your team. 
 
  • SOFTWARE – Are you launching an application? Then creating an agile project plan may be the best option for you. I’ve written a very detailed guide describing the steps I follow to deliver digital products using Agile methodologies. It follows the Design Thinking approach which works very well for innovative products. Have a look at it here.

 

  • DIGITAL PRODUCT – Are you launching an online course, membership site or a digital info product? Are you running a series of webinars or trying to get your marketing efforts organized? You may want to use Kanban which can fit a variety of projects or a Gantt Chart if you want to have a high overview of the tasks and dependencies in a timeline. Calendar format is another option that it’s widely used for editorial projects (if you want to get your blog posts organized, this is for you!)
 

Kanban board

kanban-board-sample

Gantt chart (image by teamgantt)

gantt chart view

 Calendar view
calendar view
 
Always remember that main reason for having a project plan in place is to improve communication. 
An efficient plan needs to communicate:
    •  The process.
    •  Deliverables.
    •  Main milestones.
    •  Deadlines
    •  Dependencies
    •  Tasks’ ownership.

 

HOW TO PLAN A PROJECT? 
So, the moment of truth! You’ve set aside some time for planning, so now what? First of all, don’t do this alone. A great project plan should be built in collaboration with your team. Why? Because they are the experts. They know how long it will take to complete your tasks and what potential issues you may encounter.
  
For example, you may have a rough idea as to what type of graphics or videos you need, but it is your designer who is going to give you a better estimate based on your requirements. 
Let’s see how to plan a project in 4 simple steps:

 

1) PRE-PLANNING STAGE 
Take pen and paper and start writing your answers to the following questions. 

GOALS 

What results do you want to get? Describe what you want to achieve and why.

  • Assess your ideas: You may have a lot of ideas but you need to make sure that the idea you want to develop fits your vision and makes sense to be developed right now.
  • Prioritize your goals: What is a priority? What’s important and urgent? These questions can help you decide to focus on specific goals.
  • Pro tip: Have you implemented a similar project before? Look at the lessons learned and how you can make it better this time.

TEAM 

Do you have a team? How many people do you have? What are their availability and skills?

  • Get to know them. It is very important to understand what is their communication style and what is the reason why they are in the project.
  • Learn about your team. If you don’t know your team, schedule short meetings with them and learn what are their motivations and what things you have in common. These will give you insights as to how you can work with them better.

 

DEADLINE

Do you have a deadline? Is it flexible? What will happen if you don’t meet it?

  • Even if you don’t have to launch on a specific day and time, setting a deadline will help you get a sense of direction and will keep you going. Some people tend to procrastinate if they don’t give themselves a deadline. Set a realistic one and stick to it.

 

Fail Neil Patrick Harris GIF by bubly

 

2) DRAFT YOUR PROJECT PLAN 
Start rough. Don’t expect to craft the perfect project plan from the very beginning. Take pen and paper and do some sketching. I love technology but for me, nothing beats pen and paper. It helps me focus and think better about what I need to deliver.
 
Using paper seems “less formal” than writing on my computer so I have less pressure. Also, it allows me to quickly draw timelines, arrows, comments, questions… Once I have a few sketches on paper and I have a good idea of what my plan is going to be, I transfer it to an online PM tool/software.
 
For your first draft, consider the following: 
      • What is the general process.
      • What are the main deliverables.
      • What resources do you have.
      • What are the deadlines.

 

Review your ideas with your team. Do not dictate a process. Start a conversation. It will help with accountability and the team will understand your plan better.

 

 
3) REFINE YOUR PLAN

What’s the deadline?

As I said before, you need to have one. It can be flexible, but without a deadline, you won’t be able to track progress (or start planning your post-launch tasks).

  • If the deadline is time sensitive, work backwards. If you don’t have much time then you may need to leave out certain things. Try to be realistic about what you can achieve with your resources. 
  • If you can have a more flexible deadline, then take into account your teams’ availability and plan accordingly.

What are the main milestones?

Identify them and assign a deadline to each of them. Remember that some tasks will take longer than others. Make sure you are realistic with the deadlines. There is nothing worse than being unreasonable with your estimates. It will put a lot of unnecessary pressure on your team and you can end up with a half-baked product.

  • Example: if you are launching an online course, you need to know when each of the tasks has to be completed by so that you have everything done before your deadline. An example of tasks breakdown could be:
    • Create written content.
    • Create scripts for video content.
    • Proofread content.
    • Record and edit videos.
    • Upload course content to LMS (Learning Management System).
    • Automate emails for users.
    • Create landing pages.
    • Create and schedule Facebook ads.
    • Schedule social media posts and webinars to promote your launch.
    • Create QA documentation for customer support.

Determine a budget for each milestone

Get a quote from your team members and create a simple budget sheet. Consider if you want to pay by the hour or by the project.

    • Pro tip: Set some money aside to cover unexpected costs during your project. Even if your plan is very accurate, it is very unlikely that your estimated budget will exactly match your real expenses (especially if you are launching for the first time). Adding a 10% extra to your budget will typically cover any extra costs that might come up. If the project is very risky, then consider adding a 20%.

What are the project management tools that you are going to use? 

This will depend on the format that you have chosen at the beginning. I recommend the following online PM tools because they are very simple to use and the learning curve is NOT steep. 

  • Trello – My go-to PM tool, it suits almost any type of project and it is very visual. You can create checklists and automate cards to repeat every so often.
  • Asana – Another simple way to organize your tasks and subtasks.
  • TeamGantt – Want to have a birds’ eye view on your project and see dependencies at a glance? Then use a Gantt Chart.
  • Airtable – If you love organizing stuff in spreadsheets, this is for you. Have a look at these templates.

How are you going to track progress? 

Many PM tools have features that allow you to track progress. Below you can see how Trello lets you know when a task is due soon or overdue. 

  • Pro tip: Consider having a daily catch up via video. If this is hard to do due to time difference then you can use Slack. Create a channel to be used only for your daily huddles or use apps like Standuply. A weekly meeting with your team is a great way to bring everyone to the same page.

 

past-due-trello

Who does what?

Each team member should take ownership of a task or group of tasks. Take into account their experience and availability.

Scheduling

Schedule all tasks and assign them to your team.

  • Big tasks will have subtasks. You can create checklists to keep it organized.
  • Each task should have a deadline. A group of tasks will allow you to reach milestones.
  • Ask your team for feedback on your schedule. Is it realistic?

Dependencies

What are the main dependencies that you can identify right now?

  • For example, you need to create the script for your videos before you can start recording them. Therefore video recording depends on having the script ready.

Any risks?

What are the potential risks or problems that you can identify right now?

  • Don’t worry, it is often not possible to predict everything that will go wrong, especially if it is your first launch. Just do your best.
 
Once you’ve gone through all of the above, review everything again with your team. Based on their feedback, see if you need to make any changes or adjustments.

 

4) TRANSFER YOUR PLAN TO AN ONLINE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOL
Once you are clear on the above go ahead and transfer your plan to your PM tool of choice.
  • Create a card for each task. If the task is too big, split it into smaller tasks.
  • Create checklists with all the steps your team needs to follow to complete the task. If you are not able to do this for every single task, ask your team to create it.
  • Don’t forget to add deadlines and owners.
  • Monitor progress every day and always look at how you can improve the current process.
  • Use Slack to communicate with your team on a daily basis.

 

So, you made it! Now you know how to plan a project! Following these steps will make you feel more relaxed and in control and your team will be able to complete all tasks with ease.

Have you ever created a project plan before? What was your biggest struggle? Comment below!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*