How to Make a Project Plan in 4 Steps

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A project plan contains the schedule, tasks, roles, and other key information of a professional project.

[Featured image] A project manager meets with her teammate in the office to work on a 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, which includes initiation, planning, execution, and closing.

What is a project plan?

A project plan is a document that lays out the key information of a project. This can vary depending on the organization and project. The components of a project plan typically clarify:

  • Scope and goals: A project plan should clarify what the project aims to achieve.

  • Schedule: The schedule outlines when the project will start and end, how long tasks are expected to take, and when milestones should be reached.

  • Tasks and milestones: Tasks are the components of work that must be completed to achieve milestones and, eventually, the entire project. Milestones are a set of tasks defining the end of a project phase. For example, completing a website prototype in a project to redesign a company’s website would be considered a milestone.

  • People: A project plan generally defines which individual is in charge of what task.

  • Documentation: A project plan might include links to other important charts and documents, such as RACI charts, project charters, budgets, or risk management plans so that key information is easily found.

Project plan template

A template can provide project managers with a starting point that they can customize to their needs. Many are available for free download online, like this project plan template, from the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate, which uses Google Sheets. Other templates use Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Microsoft Excel.

Google Project Plan template

Image from Google Project Management: Professional Certificate.

How to create a project plan

Your exact project plan might look different depending on the preferences of the project manager and the organization. Generally, however, you can start with determining your timeline before solidifying tasks, milestones, and roles and compiling other important documents.

1. Determine a timeline.

The cornerstone of the project plan is often the timeline or schedule. A timeline should include the date you’ll begin and expect to end the project, how long it’ll take to finish each task and milestone, and the dates you expect tasks and milestones to be completed.

Project managers often begin creating schedules around hard constraints determined by stakeholders. Do you need to design and produce a new toy before the holiday shopping season? You’ll want to make sure your schedule reflects this. Be sure to speak with team members to understand how long each task typically takes. You may also want to include time buffers for tasks involving risk.

Tools at this stage you can use include:

  • Gantt chart

  • Work breakdown structure

2. Build out tasks and milestones.

Once you know when tasks, milestones, and the whole project should be completed, you can determine what resources are needed at what point in the project and which of your team members will work on each task. This exercise is called capacity planning. 

You can also use this time to determine a project's critical path, which is the minimum number of tasks you must complete to meet the project goal.

3. Establish roles.

In this phase, solidify the tasks each team member is assigned and communicate with them to ensure they’re informed and have their questions answered.

If you created a RACI chart in the project initiation phase, this is a good time to refer to it. 

4. Link to important documents.

A project plan often becomes a central document that is frequently referred to as the project progresses. It might be a good idea to attach or link useful documents. If your project plan is in a spreadsheet, you might link to other documents in separate tabs for easy access.

Important documents might include:

  • Project charter

  • Project budget

  • Communication plan

  • RACI chart

  • Risk management plan

  • Change management plan

Watch this video from the Google Project Management Professional Certificate to learn more about the components of a project plan.

Getting started in project management

Creating a project plan is one step in ensuring a project is carried out successfully. There are many other tools and phases you’ll want to have some knowledge of as you pioneer your first project.

Consider the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate to learn project management essentials.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

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