What Is Project Planning? Benefits, Tools, and More

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Project planning is an essential part of project management. Discover more in this guide to what it is and how to create a plan.

[Featured image] A project manager reviews the process and goals of the project plan.

What is project planning? 

Project planning refers to the phase in project management in which you determine the actual steps to complete a project. This includes laying out timelines, establishing the budget, setting milestones, assessing risks, and solidifying tasks and assigning them to team members. 

Project planning is the second stage of the project management lifecycle. The full cycle includes initiation, planning, execution, and closing.

Read more: How to Make a Project Plan in 4 Steps

Components of a project plan

During the planning phase of the project management lifecycle, you'll determine the steps to achieve your project goals. This is the "how" of completing the project.

The components of project planning are: tasks, milestones, people, documentation, and time. This step involves outlining your project scope, objectives, and timeline to make sure all stakeholders are on the same page.

Tasks: Tasks are activities that need to be accomplished within a set period of time. These are assigned to different members of the team according to their role and skill set.

Milestones: To go along with tasks, milestones are important points within the schedule that indicate progress. They tend to signify the completion of a deliverable or phase of the project.

People: A project plan also includes the people working on your team and their roles. It's important that each team member understands their role and the tasks they're responsible for completing. Ensuring that everyone is clear on their assigned tasks frees you up to focus on managing the project, ultimately creating a sense of personal responsibility for team members.

Documentation: During the project planning phase, it is a good idea to draft a project plan that links to relevant documentation. Besides your project plan, you can include documents like a RACI chart (Responsibility Assignment Matrix), which defines roles and responsibilities for individuals on your team. Another document is your charter which defines the project and outlines the details needed to reach your goals. You can include a budget and risk management plan, if relevant.

Time: Project plans should include the estimated duration of the project. How much time will be spent on each part? The schedule will be the anchor of your project plan. It includes dates for starting and completing tasks, and dates (deadlines) for reaching specific milestones. Indicating the project's start and end dates will help situate this project among competing priorities, and helps determine resources (including people) needed and when you'll need them.

Check out this video that outlines the components of a project plan:

Benefits of project planning

Project planning is important because it helps form the steps needed to complete a project successfully. Planning helps teams avoid potential problems and roadblocks to ensure the project stays on track. These are some benefits of a good project plan:

  • Helps ensure projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the required standard

  • Facilitates effective communication between all members of a project team

  • Helps identify potential risks and issues at an early stage

  • Helps you communicate your vision and objectives to your team

  • Keeps everyone focused on the goal

Tools used in project planning

Project planning tools can be manual using tangible items like pen and paper. They can also be software tools that produce visual elements that can connect teams across departments and time zones. A Gantt chart and a risk register can be conceived manually or on software.

  • Gantt chart: A horizontal bar chart in which members can see what tasks must be completed in what order, and how long each is expected to take

  • Risk register: A chart that lists risks associated with the project, along with their probability, potential impact, risk level, and mitigation plans

Project management software for planning

Project planning software helps you track and manage your project from start to finish. It can help you plan your project, assign tasks, track progress, and more. Project software has become more sophisticated and using cloud technology enables anyone to access the project data anywhere.

Here are some planning tasks you can perform with project management software:

  • Prioritize, organize, and allocate responsibilities using charts and graphs.

  • Create a timeline with milestones and task dependencies.

  • Keep track of your progress, costs, and resources.

  • Adjust timelines and maintain flexible scheduling as obstacles arise.

  • Share project plans with relevant parties.

  • Prepare data-driven reports and updates for stakeholders.

Each project planning software has its own unique features and benefits. Here are some of the most popular options:

1. Asana

This is a great option for small businesses, because it offers features like task management, time tracking, and file sharing. You can create projects and assign tasks to team members. It even has a built-in calendar so you can plan your upcoming workload.

2. ClickUp

ClickUp is a cloud-based software for managing projects, teams, and tasks. You can create projects, organize tasks, assign tasks to team members, track progress, and much more. ClickUp also offers integrations with other popular apps, including Trello, Jira, Google Docs, and Slack. 

3. Freedcamp

Freedcamp is a web-based project management tool designed specifically for people who need help managing multiple projects at once. It features task lists, calendars, file sharing, and other features needed by teams who want to collaborate on a project simultaneously. 

4. Hive

This is a very simple and easy-to-use project management tool that's great for teams of any size. It offers time tracking, progress reporting, and task management features. You can also integrate Hive with other tools like Slack, Google Drive, and Jira.

5. Scoro

This is another popular project management tool with many great features like Gantt charts, resource planning, and issue tracking. You can also add comments on tasks, assign tasks to specific users or teams, and collaborate with them through chat.

6. Trello

Trello is a popular free project management app for managing projects and collaborating with teams. With Trello, you can manage projects across teams or solo efforts using cards representing tasks or ideas for future projects. The tool offers flexible sharing options so team members can collaborate on specific cards from anywhere.

7. Wrike

Wrike is a project management and collaboration tool that allows you to manage projects from start to finish. It has a clean, easy-to-use interface and features like time-tracking and resource management. Like other tools, Wrike can integrate with other tools like Slack and Gmail.

Learn project management with Google

Whether or not you want to become a project manager, learning how to make a project plan and keep team members on track is important to many jobs. Google offers the popular Project Management Professional Certificate that covers the basics of project management, from traditional and agile methodologies. Over 75% of Google Career Certificate Graduates in the US report an improvement in their career trajectory (e.g. new job or career, promotion or raise) within 6 months of certificate completion.

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