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What is a Project Management Plan and How to Create One

By Midori Nediger , Dec 11, 2023

Project Management Plan Blog Header

Have you ever been part of a project that didn’t go as planned?

It doesn’t feel good.

Wasted time, wasted resources. It’s pretty frustrating for everyone involved.

That’s why it’s so important to create a comprehensive project management plan   before your project gets off the ground.

In this guide, we’ll explore how to create and design a successful project management plan.

We’ll also showcase easy-to-customize project plan templates you can create today with our user-friendly drag-and-drop editor. Let’s get started!

  Click to jump ahead:

What is a project management plan?

5 things you need to know before creating a project management plan, what should a project management plan include, how do you write a project plan, project plan best practices, project management plan templates and examples, common mistakes to avoid when creating a project management plan.

A project management plan is a formal document that defines how a project is going to be carried out by outlining the scope, goals, budget, timeline and deliverables of a project. Its crucial role lies in ensuring the project stays on course.

You write a project plan  during the project planning stage of the  project life cycle , and it must be approved by stakeholders before a project can move on the execution stage.

If some of these terms are new to you, you can get up to speed with this post on project management terms . 

This means your project plan must be engaging, organized, and thorough enough to gain the support of your stakeholders.

project management business assignment

Further Reading : New to project management? Read our blog post on the 4 stages of the project life cycle .

The importance of a project management plan

A well-developed project management plan sets the foundation for a successful project by providing a roadmap that guides the project team toward successful project completion. A good project management plan can ensure that:

  • Project objectives and goals are clearly defined and understood
  • Project scope is effectively managed
  • Resources are allocated efficiently to maximize productivity and minimize waste
  • Risks are identified, assessed and mitigated
  • Project tasks and activities are well-organized and executed in a timely manner.
  • Communication among team members , stakeholders and project sponsors is effective and transparent
  • Changes to the project are properly evaluated, approved and implemented
  • Lessons learned and best practices are documented for future reference and improvement
  • Stakeholders are engaged and satisfied with the project outcomes
  • The project is delivered within the specified timeline, budget and quality standards

Before diving into creating a project management plan, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the project objectives and the expectations of stakeholders involved.

Without a firm grasp of these fundamental elements, your project may face significant challenges or fail to deliver the desired outcomes.

Here are key points to consider when creating a project management plan:

  • Project Objectives: Clearly understand the project objectives and what you want to achieve. Identify the desired outcomes, deliverables and the purpose of the project.
  • Scope of the Project: Determine the boundaries and extent of the project. Define what is included and excluded to ensure clarity and prevent scope creep .
  • Stakeholders: Identify all stakeholders who will be impacted by or have an interest in the project. Understand their needs, expectations and level of involvement.
  • Resources: Assess the resources required to execute the project successfully. This includes human resources, budget, equipment and materials. Determine their availability and allocation.
  • Risks and Constraints: Identify potential risks, uncertainties and constraints that may affect the project. Understand the challenges, limitations and potential obstacles that need to be addressed.

Now that you have these key areas identified, let’s get started with creating your project plan.

Before you start assembling your own plan, you should be familiar with the main components of a typical project plan .

A project management plan should include the following sections:

  • Executive summary: A short description of the contents of the report
  • Project scope & deliverables: An outline of the boundaries of the project, and a description of how the project will be broken down into measurable deliverables
  • Project schedule: A high-level view of project tasks and milestones ( Gantt charts are handy for this)
  • Project resources: The budget, personnel, and other resources required to meet project goals
  • Risk and issue management plan: A list of factors that could derail the project and a plan for how issues will be identified, addressed, and controlled
  • Communication management plan: A plan for how team and stakeholder communication will be handled over the course of the project
  • Cost and quality management plan: This section encompasses the project’s budget, cost estimation,and cost control mechanisms. It also includes quality assurance and control measures as well as any testing or verification activities to be performed.

Basically, a project plan should tell stakeholders what needs to get done, how it will get done, and when it will get done.

That said, one size doesn’t fit all. Every project management plan must be tailored to the specific industry and circumstances of the project. You can use a project management app for smoother project planning.

For example, this marketing plan looks client facing. It is tailored to sell the client on the agency:

project management business assignment

Whereas this commercial development plan focuses on specific objectives and a detailed timeline:

Light Commercial Development Project Management Plan Template

With those basics out of the way, let’s get into how to write a project management plan that’s as engaging as it is professional.

Further Reading : If you’re looking to create a proposal, read our in-depth business proposal guide. Then try our job proposal templates or business proposal templates .

To write a successful project plan, follow these 5 steps below to create an effective project plan that serves as a valuable tool for project management:

1. Highlight the key elements of your project plan in an executive summary  

An executive summary is a brief description of the key contents of a project plan .

I t’s usually the first thing stakeholders will read, and it should act like a Cliff’s-notes version of the whole plan.

It might touch on a project’s value proposition, goals, deliverables, and important milestones, but it has to be concise (it is a summary, after all). First, make sure you develop a proof of concept .

In this example, an executive summary can be broken into columns to contrast the existing problem with the project solution:

project management business assignment

The two-column format with clear headers helps break up the information, making it extremely easy to read at a glance.

Here’s another example of a project management plan executive summary. This one visually highlights key takeaways with big fonts and helpful icons:

project management business assignment

In this case, the highlighted facts and figures are particularly easy to scan (which is sure to make your stakeholders happy).

But your executive summary won’t always be so simple.

For larger projects, your executive summary will be longer and more detailed.

This project management plan template has a text-heavy executive summary, though the bold headers and different background colors keep it from looking overwhelming:

Green Stripes Project Management Plan Template

It’s also a good idea to divide it up into sections, with a dedicated header for each section:

project management business assignment

Regardless of how you organize your executive summary, it should give your stakeholders a preview of what’s to come in the rest of the project management plan.

2. Plot your project schedule visually with a Gantt chart

A carefully planned project schedule is key to the success of any project. Without one, your project will likely crumble into a mess of missed deadlines, poor team management, and scope creep.

Luckily, project planning tools like Gantt charts and project timelines make creating your project schedule easy. You can visually plot each project task, add major milestones, then look for any dependencies or conflicts that you haven’t accounted for.

For example, this Gantt chart template outlines high-level project activities over the course of an entire quarter, with tasks color-coded by team:

project management business assignment

A high-level roadmap like the one above is probably sufficient for your project management plan. Every team will be able to refer back to this timeline throughout the project to make sure they’re on track.

But before project kickoff, you’ll need to dig in and break down project responsibilities by individual team member, like in this Gantt chart example:

project management business assignment

In the later execution and monitoring phases of the project, you’ll thank yourself for creating a detailed visual roadmap that you can track and adjust as things change.

You can also use a project management tool to keep your team organized.

Further Reading:   Our post featuring  Gantt chart examples  and more tips on how to use them for project management.

3. Clarify the structure of your project team with a team org chart

One of the hardest aspects of project planning is assembling a team and aligning them to the project vision.

And aligning your team is all about communication–communicating the project goals, communicating stakeholder requests, communicating the rationale behind big decisions…the list goes on.

This is where good project documentation is crucial! You need to create documents that your team and your stakeholders can access when they have questions or need guidance.

One easy thing to document visually is the structure of your team, with an organizational chart like this one:

project management business assignment

In an organizational chart you should include some basic information like team hierarchy and team member contact information. That way your stakeholders have all of the information they need at their fingertips.

But in addition to that, you can indicate the high-level responsibilities of each team member and the channels of communication within the team (so your team knows exactly what they’re accountable for).

Here’s another simple organizational structure template that you can use as a starting point:

project management business assignment

Create an organizational chart with our organizational chart maker .

4. Organize project risk factors in a risk breakdown structure

A big part of project planning is identifying the factors that are likely to derail your project, and coming up with plans and process to deal with those factors. This is generally referred to as risk management .

The first step in coming up with a risk management plan is to list all of the factors at play, which is where a risk breakdown structure comes in handy. A risk breakdown structure is a hierarchical representation of project risks, organized by category.

This risk breakdown structure template, for example, shows project risk broken down into technical risk, management risk, and external risk:

project management business assignment

Once you’ve constructed your risk breakdown structure, you’ll be ready to do a deep dive into each risk (to assess and plan for any triggers and outcomes).

Streamline your workflow with business process management software .

5. Plan ahead: create project status reports to communicate progress to stakeholders

As I mentioned earlier, communication is fundamental in any project.

But even so, something that’s often overlooked by project managers is a communication management plan–a plan for how the project team is going to communicate with project stakeholders . Too often, project communication defaults to ad-hoc emails or last-minute meetings.

You can avoid this by planning ahead. Start with a project kickoff meeting and include a project status report template as part of your communication plan.

Here’s an example of a simple project status report that you might send to stakeholders on a weekly basis:

project management business assignment

This type of report is invaluable for communicating updates on project progress. It shows what you’ve accomplished in a clear, consistent format, which can help flag issues before they arise, build trust with your stakeholders , and makes it easy to reflect on project performance once you’ve reached your goals.

You might also want to include a broader status report for bigger updates on a monthly or quarterly basis, like this one:

project management business assignment

The above template allows you to inform stakeholders of more major updates like new budget requirements, revised completion dates, and project performance ratings.

You can even include visualization of up-to-date project milestones, like this example below:

project management business assignment

Want more tips on creating visuals to enhance your communications? Read our visual communication guide for businesses . 

Before you dive in, remember: a clear and adaptable plan is crucial for project success. Here are some best practices to keep your project plan on track:

  • Use headers, columns and highlights to make your executive summary easy to read
  • Plot your project schedule with a Gantt chart (with tasks color-coded by department or team member)
  • Use visuals like organizational charts and risk breakdown structures to communicate across your team and with stakeholders
  • Pick a flexible template that you can update to align with stakeholder requests

A project management plan is probably the most important deliverable your stakeholders will receive from you (besides the project itself).

It holds all of the information that stakeholders will use to determine whether your project moves forward or gets kicked to the curb.

That’s why it’s a good idea to start with a project management plan template. Using a template can help you organize your information logically and ensure it’s engaging enough to hold your stakeholders’ attention.

Construction project management plan template

Time is money, especially with construction projects. Having a construction plan template brings order to the chaos.

Instead of staring at a messy pile of construction stuff, you’ve got a plan that breaks everything down into bite-sized pieces.

And let’s not forget the paperwork. Construction projects have rules and regulations to follow. Your project plan helps you stay on the right side of the law with all the necessary documentation and compliance measures.

Start with a meticulous project overview, like in the second page of this template:

project management business assignment

Though you may think this project will be similar to others you’ve done in the past, it’s important to nail the details.

This will also help you understand the scope of work so you can estimate costs properly and arrive at a quote that’s neither too high or low. Ontario Construction News has great advice on this process.

Simple project management plan template

This simple project management plan template that clearly lays out all of the information your stakeholders will need:

project management business assignment

Simple project management communication plan template

A key part of project management is making sure everyone’s in the loop. A project communication plan ensures everyone knows how, where, who and when the team will communicate during the course of the project. Also construction scheduling is a critical aspect of the project management plan as it helps to ensure that all necessary tasks are completed within the allocated time frame and budget.

The key is to figure out what kind of communications is valuable to stakeholders and what is simply overwhelming and won’t lead to better decisions.

This template clearly outlines all of these factors to help manage expectations and eliminate confusion about what will get communicated and when:

Simple Project Management Communication Plan Template

Commercial development project plan template

The below project management plan template is simple and minimal, but still uses a unique layout and simple visuals to create an easy-to-read, scannable project overview.

This template is perfect for building or construction management , or any technical projects:

Nordic Commercial Development Project Plan Template

When picking a project plan template, look for one that’s flexible enough to accommodate any changes your stakeholders might request before they’ll approve the project. You never know what might change in the early planning stages of the project! You can also use project management tools to help you with your planning !

Creating a solid project management plan is crucial for setting your project up for success. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Lack of clear goals: Don’t just have a vague idea of what you want to achieve. Define clear, SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) for your project. That way, everyone will be on the same page and it’ll be easier to measure progress effectively.
  • Unrealistic timelines: Be optimistic, but also realistic. Don’t underestimate the time required for tasks. Factor in potential delays and buffer time when creating your project schedule.
  • Scope creep: New requirements mid-project can affect deadlines and budgets. Plan the project clearly upfront, and take into consideration any changes that might come up.
  • Poor communication: Communication is key throughout the project lifecycle. Regularly update stakeholders, team members and clients on progress, roadblocks and changes.
  • Ignoring risks: Things don’t always go according to plan. Identify potential risks upfront and have a mitigation strategy in place for each one.
  • Not involving stakeholders: Get key stakeholders involved early on. This helps manage everyone’s expectations and that you have the buy-in you need for success.
  • Neglecting resource constraints: Don’t overload your team or underestimate the resources needed. Carefully consider the skills, time and budget available when planning your project.
  • Micromanaging: Trust your team! Delegate tasks effectively and give them the autonomy they need to do their jobs.
  • Failing to document: Keep good records. Document project decisions, plans and communication. This helps maintain transparency and ensures everyone has access to the latest information.
  • Not adapting to change: Be prepared to adapt your plan as needed. Projects are rarely static, so be flexible and willing to adjust your approach based on new information or developments.

So, that’s the scoop on project management plans! I hope this piece will help you to avoid confusion, keep expectations in check and be ready to tackle any bumps for your upcoming projects.

If you ever need a revision, just follow the steps we talked about, use those best practices and you’ll have a plan that sets your project up for a win. Just remember, even the best plans need some tweaking sometimes. Be flexible and adjust as needed and you’re good to go!

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Project Management

15 free project management templates for teams in 2024.

Haillie Parker

February 12, 2024

Looking for new project management templates?

Whether you’re tracking multiple projects or need more insight into the project plan ning process, details are essential. That’s why project management templates save managers and teams alike a ton of time when jumpstarting the latest concept or project plan.

Project management templates prevent teams from starting from scratch with every new project, streamline existing processes, and help members think more proactively about how they’re carrying out their daily tasks. 

Plus, they’re loaded with features to manage the heavy lifting for you. Whether it be through workflow automations, pre-built workflows, plug-and-play process documents , or tracking project deliverables, organizing tasks and documents will always create a more manageable system.

There are hundreds of templates out there to complement virtually any project management software —but not every free template will suit every project! In this article, we’ll cover everything project management templates can do for your team, the must-have features, and 15 customizable templates to enhance your project management process in ClickUp!

What is a Project Management Template?

Features to look for in free project management templates, 1. project management template by clickup, 2. high-level project management plan template by clickup, 3. project management timeline template by clickup, 4. project manager template by clickup, 5. project schedule template by clickup, 6. project charter template by clickup, 7. schedule blocking template by clickup, 8. project management status report template by clickup, 9. agile scrum project management template by clickup, 10. project management meeting tracker template by clickup, 11. creative & design template by clickup, 12. budget project management template by clickup, 13. project management playbook template by clickup, 14. construction project management template by clickup, 15. planning a project template by clickup, start project planning with free project management templates.

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Project management templates are designed to help teams save time and work more efficiently with pre-built workflows, project views, and tasks to expedite the early stages of your project through to completion. 

Kind of like the most complicated Mad Lib you’ll ever find, project management templates make it easy to plug your information into tailored project management structures so your team can simply start .

The best templates are also customizable, align seamlessly with your current processes and tech stack, and help create a standardized approach to all of your projects going forward. 

These templates are also rather complex with ready-made frameworks for creating tasks, project schedules , and proper documentation. You’ll reap a laundry list of benefits to continue streamlining and scaling your project management best practices including:

  • Increased efficiency through better organization
  • Effective time management to stay on track
  • Consistent documentation to align teams on current projects and make sense of past work
  • Improved collaboration between members, managers, and stakeholders

But what does this pre-packaged project plan framework look like?

There may be a plethora of project management templates to choose from, but not all pack the same punch! There are several key features to keep an eye out for to ensure your template will lead your team to success.

These features are critical for creating a proper project plan, project prioritization , tracking, and task management—and they can come in many forms! 

When searching for your next project management template, invest in the template that provides the following features (and more!):

  • Project scope and objectives to document the key goals, deliverables, and overall process
  • Multiple project views including Gantt charts, Kanban boards, project timelines , interactive checklists , calendars, and more to manage projects from every angle
  • Resource management and allocation to stay on top of your project budget and materials
  • Task prioritization and management to organize your workflows and keep track of your project progress all the way to completion 
  • Clear project controls and reporting to ensure the project team is on track to hit your project management KPIs and that stakeholders stay informed
  • Team collaboration tools to help project members stay connected, improve team relationships, and boost the overall quality of work 
  • Tons of integrations to bring all of your other work tools into your project template for more informed updates and easy access toward a successful project

These features lay the groundwork for a high-quality project management template, but there may be additional features that suit your team’s unique processes for better planning and project execution . Keep these features in mind as you browse through 15 of the best project management templates for the only productivity tool that can really do it all—ClickUp!

15 Free Project Management Templates for Project Managers

Use the features above to consider your team’s needs and typical project requirements to determine the project management template that serves you best! With the 15 customizable and free project management templates listed below, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect template for any use case. 

Project Management Template by ClickUp

Failing to plan equals planning to fail in project management, but the Project Management Template by ClickUp simplifies this hefty challenge with a designated and pre-built Space to manage your work in organized Folders broken up by project phase . If you’re brand new to project management, this template might feel a bit overwhelming, but we’re here to break down this comprehensive resource so you can:

  • Visualize and track your project resources
  • Assign, manage, and prioritize your tasks with multiple workflow views
  • Sync with stakeholders and work with the team without breaking a sweat

And more! This free project management template is your all-in-one solution with a flexible List and Kanban-like Board view to plug in your task information for immediate progress tracking. Plus, there are six custom task statuses to convey whether any action items are in progress, open, or done. 

Productivity really comes into play with this template’s additional ClickApps ! Access seven key functionalities by viewing or opening tasks including:

  • Time tracking
  • Custom Fields
  • Dependency warnings
  • Multiple assignees

And more—no matter what pricing plan you use!

High-Level Project Management Plan Template by ClickUp

The High-Level Project Management Plan Template by ClickUp is designed to define and track your team’s long-term goals, KPIs, and final product from a bird’s-eye view. 

This beginner-friendly project management template keeps things a bit simpler than the first project management template but still packs a major punch with its List view. With three custom statuses and five pre-set Custom Fields for stages, approvals, and progress toward completion, managers can visualize a comprehensive pulse-check on the project status , even from a single glance.

The five flexible views are where this high level project management template really shines—including a ready-to-use Deliverables List view, multiple Kanban board s, a detailed project timeline, and of course, a Getting Started Guide to expedite your set-up process.

Project Management Timeline Template by ClickUp

And for all of our visual-first project managers, the Project Timeline Whiteboard Template by ClickUp will be your new go-to! Whiteboard project management is all the rage—and for good reason! Using this highly visual and collaborative tool, you can quickly plot your project’s major activities by stage and by week to help the team stay on track.

Plus, ClickUp Whiteboards are the only digital whiteboard software with the ability to take any text, shape, or note, and convert it directly into an actionable task. That means you can act on your workflow from your whiteboard without ever having to re-update statuses or click away from your work. 

And since the work is already so neatly organized on your whiteboard, this project timeline template is the ideal resource to have on hand for stakeholder meetings and presentations so you avoid any project risks.

Project Manager Template by ClickUp

As valuable as the previous project management templates are, you need a solid understanding of project management best practices and fundamentals before you can use them to their fullest extent. The Project Manager Template by ClickUp is here to help you achieve that knowledge. 

This ClickUp Doc template provides the framework for a Statement of Purpose (SOP) essay for those in pursuit of higher education degrees like an MBA or MSc. These programs are critical for covering the basics and the nitty-gritty of project management, and this free template is the perfect stepping stone for highlighting the qualifications, unique skills, and experience you already possess to help you succeed in such programs.

Project Schedule Template by ClickUp

Designing your team’s project schedule can be a daunting task—especially for more complex projects and cross-functional team s. The Project Management Schedule Template by ClickUp simplifies this task with a formatted List to break down everything from your project phase to potential bottlenecks. 

While this is a List template, that’s not the only project view you’ll find applied to your Workspace. You’ll also see a pre-built Table view to assess project risks or issues, a project schedule using Timeline and Gantt view, and a Kanban board to visualize individual task statuses.

Using that Kanban board with ClickUp’s Board view, you’ll also have immediate access to key information through Custom Fields so you know the exact project status just how you designed it. So as you look at the big picture of your tasks, you can also quickly grab details like contributors, the risk level, progress rate, and more.

Project Charter Template by ClickUp

A project charter is a short formal document that describes your entire project and is created as you build your project plan. It plays a major role in defining your project scope , deliverables, key players, budget, and the work to be done. 

This Project Charter Template by ClickUp makes this easy with a detailed outline applied directly to a ClickUp Doc. In the pre-formatted sections and tables, you’ll be prompted to fill in all of the information you need to get your project off the ground and set in motion. 

Schedule Blocking Template by ClickUp

As a project manager, you need easy but functional strategies to keep track of your project status and timeline so you know what task each team member needs to work on and the allotted time left to stay on schedule. One of the best ways to achieve this is by time-blocking!

Use this Schedule Blocking Template by ClickUp to assist you in monitoring your past, current, and upcoming events. By applying this List template to your Workspace, you’ll instantly have access to four custom statuses, five Custom Fields, and a whopping seven project views including:

  • List view for upcoming activities
  • Form view for scheduling requests
  • Monthly, Daily, and Weekly Calendar views for optimal time management

Project Management Status Report Template by ClickUp

The Project Management Status Report Template by ClickUp will keep your stakeholders well-informed and your executive projects on track through its seven flexible work views, 11 Custom Fields, four custom statuses, and more. 

This beginner-friendly project status report template was created to help you better oversee multiple projects at a time, so you can quickly grab the key takeaways of any project from any view. And with so many Custom Fields to attach important information to every task, you can quickly filter, sort, and locate action items or things like resource allocation and project budgeting across everything with ease.

Agile Scrum Project Management Template by ClickUp

Sometimes it can feel like Agile teams are working around the clock to iterate, iterate, and iterate again. It requires a ton of strategic planning, a powerful project management tool, and the Agile Scrum Management Template by ClickUp to ensure everything goes off without a hitch every time! 

This monster of a template applies a designated Space for Agile Scrum teams to find solutions and standardize the delivery of their products—including backlogging, sprint planning, standups, reviews, and retrospectives so you nail all project phases.

This project planning template starts you off on a structured ClickUp Whiteboard to map your user flows and team workflows. From there, you can begin creating, delegating, and tracking tasks using 30 loaded task statuses! Not to mention, you’ll also have access to 13 ClickApps for sprint points, time tracking, priorities, work-in-progress limits, time estimates, dependencies, Custom Fields, and much more.

Project Management Meeting Tracker Template by ClickUp

Meeting minutes are extremely helpful for remembering your next steps and key takeaways, but tracking your meetings in a flexible list ensures a smoother planning and preparation phase when managing any project requests. The Project Management Meeting Tracker Template by ClickUp is perfect for staying on top of important check-ins like quarterly reviews, weekly 1-1’s, project kick-off meetings, and more.

Creative & Design Template by ClickUp

Creative and design project management is where things start to get a bit dicey!

Project details pivot and design or creative teams face multiple rounds of feedback to ensure stakeholders are pleased with the results. And since design requests can be interpreted a thousand different ways—the edits can get a bit extreme at times.

The Creative & Design Template by ClickUp is a must-have Folder for all creative teams.

This creative and design template starts with a collaborative ClickUp Whiteboard and guides you through the entire creative process with pre-built end-to-end workflows to document and execute requests of any kind.

Budget Project Management Template by ClickUp

In project management, determining the project budget is crucial for any project’s success.

Project budget templates can help a project manager analyze expenses, make strategic resource allocation decisions, and identify risks when managing multiple projects! That’s why it’s so important to have a resource like the Budgeted Project Management Template by ClickUp handy for every new concept. 

Think of this template as the best-kept secret for numbers project management. This user-friendly and intuitive tool is ideal for tracking project schedules and multiple activities so you stay within the pre-defined resources and requirements for any project.

We’ve seen plenty of List and Space project plan templates already, but the Project Management Playbook Template by ClickUp has a bit of a different approach to handling project plans! With a pre-made Folder for your Workspace, this beginner-friendly plan template will be your project manager’s new best friend for standardizing the preparation process for any type of project. 

It hinges on aligning your project goals with your company’s overall objectives and traditional operations, so all team members feel ready and qualified to tackle their tasks at hand. This is especially true for cross-functional team members who must accommodate a range of daily processes.

The simple project playbook template works like a playbook and will set consistent expectations and bring some much-needed predictability to everyone’s daily schedule.

Construction Project Management Template by ClickUp

Like any software team, construction project management professionals have a ton on their plates, all the time. The Construction Project Management Template by ClickUp was designed for all construction site managers to oversee complex builds, updates, dependencies, and schedules. 

But that’s not the only person who’d benefit from this template! This Space-level template brings an advanced set of features like 30 task statuses, 14 Custom Fields, 11 ClickApps, and five project views to help contract admins, draftsmen, and contractors streamline their planning and scheduling processes.

ClickUp's project planner template allows you to manage communications, progress, and delivery to hit your goals

The Planning a Project Template by ClickUp uses your Workspace to its fullest potential by creating tasks in any List and then easily moving them to other Lists. 

Project planning templates help teams achieve their goals within the given scope, schedule, budget, and resources. It enables stakeholders to easily track project status through visually appealing and easy-to-understand project schedules so they best plan around changes while proactively managing risks. 

ClickUp’s free project plan template helps project managers keep their project on track from start to finish. Use this template to ensure everyone on your team has access to the same information, expectations, decisions, and assumptions.

Any one of these 15 templates will get your project where it needs to go—because they were all designed by ClickUp !

ClickUp is the only productivity platform powerful enough to centralize all of your work across apps into one, collaborative workspace. With dozens of free project management features, an ever-growing Template Library , and more than 1,000 integrations , ClickUp can create solutions for teams of any use case.

Get started with any of the templates to tackle your next project plan or to take control of your project timeline when you sign up for ClickUp today !

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project management business assignment

How to write an effective project plan in 6 simple steps

Deanna deBara

Contributing writer

If you’re a Type A personality, project planning might sound like music to your ears. Setting deadlines, organizing tasks, and creating order out of chaos — what’s not to love?

The reality is that project planning isn’t for everyone. In one survey by Association for Project Management, 76% of project professionals said their main project was a source of stress . Poor planning, unclear responsibilities, and overallocation are often the culprits behind the stress. 

An effective project plan helps teams stay within budget, scope, and schedule, while delivering quality work. In short, it gets you to the finish line without the stress.  

What is a project plan?

A project plan, also known as a work plan, is a blueprint of your project lifecycle. It’s like a roadmap — it clearly outlines how to get from where you are now (the beginning of the project) to where you want to go (the successful completion of the project). 

“A project plan is an action plan outlining how…[to] accomplish project goals,” says Jami Yazdani , certified Project Management Professional (PMP), project coach, project management consultant, and founder of Yazdani Consulting and Facilitation . 

A comprehensive project plan includes the project schedule, project scope, due dates, and deliverables. Writing a good project plan is key for any new, complex project in the pipeline.

Why Are Project Plans Important?

Project plans allow you to visualize your entire project, from beginning to end—and develop a clear strategy to get from point A to point B. Project plans steer stakeholders in the right direction and keep team members accountable with a common baseline.  

Project plans help you stay agile

Projects are bound by what is traditionally called the “iron triangle” of project management . It means that project managers have to work within the three constraints of scope, resources (project budget and teams), and schedule. You cannot make changes to one without impacting the other two.    

Modern-day project management has shifted to a more agile approach, with a focus on quality. This means that resources and schedules remain unchanged but a fixed number of iterations (flexible scope) helps teams deliver better quality and more value. 

A project plan puts this “agile triangle” in place by mapping out resources, schedules, and the number of iterations — sprints if you’re using a Scrum framework and work in progress (WIP) limits if you’re using the Kanban methodology . 

As Yazdani points out, “Project plans help us strategize a path to project success, allowing us to consider the factors that will impact our project, from stakeholders to budget to schedule delays, and plan how to maximize or mitigate these factors.” 

Project plans provide complete visibility

A project plan, when created with a comprehensive project management software , gives you 360-degree visibility throughout the project lifecycle. 

As a project manager, you need a single source of truth on team members and their project tasks, project scope, project objectives, and project timelines. A detailed project plan gives you this visibility and helps teams stay on track.

screenshot of a Jira Work Management project board

Project plans also help to get everyone involved on the same page, setting clear expectations around what needs to be accomplished, when, and by who. 

“Project plans create a framework for measuring project progress and success,” says Yazdani. “Project plans set clear expectations for…stakeholders by outlining exactly what…will [be accomplished] and when it will be delivered.”

Project plans boost engagement and productivity

A well-written project plan clarifies how each individual team member’s contributions play into the larger scope of the project and align with company goals. When employees see how their work directly impacts organizational growth, it generates buy-in and drives engagement , which is critical to a project’s success. 

“Project plans provide…teams with purpose and direction,” says Yazdani. “Transparent project plans show team members how their individual tasks and responsibilities contribute to the overall success of the project, encouraging engagement and collaboration.”

How To Write A Project Plan in 6 Steps

Writing a project plan requires, well, planning. Ideally, the seeds for a project plan need to be sowed before internal project sign-off begins. Before that sign-off, conduct capacity planning to estimate the resources you will need and if they’re available for the duration of the project. After all, you want to set your teams up for success with realistic end dates, buffer time to recharge or catch up in case of unexpected delays, and deliver quality work without experiencing burnout .

Based on organizational capacity, you can lay down project timelines and map out scope as well as success metrics, outline tasks, and build a feedback loop into your project plan. Follow these project planning steps to create a winning plan:      

1. Establish Project Scope And Metrics

Defining your project scope is essential to protecting your iron, or agile, triangle from crumbling. Too often, projects are hit with scope creep , causing delays, budget overruns, and anxiety.

“Clearly define your project’s scope or overall purpose,” says Yazdani. “Confirm any project parameters or constraints, like budget, resource availability, and timeline,” says Yazdani.

A project purpose statement is a high-level brief that defines the what, who, and why of the project along with how and when the goal will be accomplished. But just as important as defining your project scope and purpose is defining what metrics you’re going to use to track progress.

“Establish how you will measure success,” says Yazdani. “Are there metrics, performance criteria, or quality standards you need to meet?”

Clearly defining what your project is, the project’s overall purpose, and how you’re going to measure success lays the foundation for the rest of your project plan—so make sure you take the time to define each of these elements from the get-go.

2. Identify Key Project Stakeholders 

Get clarity on the team members you need to bring the project to life. In other words, identify the key stakeholders of the project. 

“List individuals or groups who will be impacted by the project,” says Yazdani. 

In addition to identifying who needs to be involved in the project, think about how they’ll need to be involved—and at what level. Use a tool like Confluence to run a virtual session to clarify roles and responsibilities, and find gaps that need to be filled. 

Let’s say you’re managing a cross-functional project to launch a new marketing campaign that includes team members from your marketing, design, and sales departments. 

When identifying your key stakeholders, you might create different lists based on the responsibility or level of involvement with the project:

  • Decision-makers (who will need to provide input at each step of the project)
  • Managers (who will be overseeing employees within their department) 
  • Creative talent (who will be actually creating the project deliverables for the campaign) from each department. 

Give your project plan an edge by using a Confluence template like the one below to outline roles and responsibilities.

confluence template preview for roles and responsibility document

Define roles, discuss responsibilities, and clarify which tasks fall under each teammate’s purview using this Confluence template. 

Getting clarity on who needs to be involved in the project—and how they’re going to be involved—will help guide the rest of the project plan writing process (particularly when it comes to creating and assigning tasks).

3. Outline Deliverables

Now is the time to get granular.

Each project milestone comprises a series of smaller, tangible tasks that your teams need to produce. While a big-picture view keeps teams aligned, you need signposts along the way to guide them on a day-to-day or weekly basis. Create a list of deliverables that will help you achieve the greater vision of the project. 

“What will you create, build, design, produce, accomplish or deliver?” says Yazdani. “Clearly outline your project’s concrete and tangible deliverables or outcomes.” Centralize these deliverables in a Trello board with designated cards for each one, like in the example below, so you keep work moving forward.

trello board that shows tasks organized into status columns

Each card on a board represents tasks and ideas and you can move cards across lists to show progress.

Defining the concrete items you need your project to deliver will help you reverse-engineer the things that need to happen to bring those items to life—which is a must before moving on to the next step.

4. Develop Actionable Tasks

Task management is an important component of any project plan because they help employees see what exactly they need to accomplish. Drill down those deliverables into actionable tasks to assign to your team. 

You can use either Confluence or Jira for different task management needs. If you want to track tasks alongside your work, like action items from a meeting or small team projects, it’s best to use Confluence. But if a project has multiple teams and you need insight into workflows, task history, and reporting, Jira makes it easy.      

“Let your deliverables guide the work of the project,” says Yazdani. “Break down each deliverable into smaller and smaller components until you get to an actionable task.” If a major deliverable is a set of content pieces, the smaller actionable tasks would be to create topic ideas, conduct research, and create outlines for each topic.  

Once you’ve broken down all of your deliverables into manageable, assignable subtasks, analyze how each of those tasks interacts with each other. That way, you can plan, prioritize, assign, and add deadlines accordingly.  

“Highlight any dependencies between tasks, such as tasks that can’t be started until another task is complete,” says Yazdani. “List any resources you will need to accomplish these tasks.”

When a task has multiple assignees, you need to streamline the workflow in your project plan. Say the content pieces you outlined need to be edited or peer-reviewed. A couple of articles may need an interview with a subject matter expert. Lay down a stage-by-stage process of each piece of content and pinpoint when each team member comes into play so you prevent bottlenecks and adjust timeframes.     

5. Assign Tasks And Deadlines

Assign tasks to your team and collaborate with employees to set deadlines for each task. When you involve employees in setting workloads and deadlines , you increase ownership and boost the chances of delivering quality work on time.  

After all, you want to move projects forward at a steady pace, but you also want to make sure your teams stay motivated and engaged. So, when writing your project plan, make sure to “set realistic and achievable deadlines for completing tasks and deliverables,” says Yazdani. “Highlight dates that are inflexible and factor in task dependencies. Add in milestones or checkpoints to monitor progress and celebrate successes .”

project management business assignment

Use Jira and Confluence to create tasks that live alongside your project plan or meeting agendas.

Once you map out all of your tasks and deadlines, you should have a clear picture of how and when your project is going to come together—and the initial writing process is just about finished.

But that doesn’t mean your project plan is complete! There’s one more key step to the process.

6. Share, Gather Feedback, And Adjust The Project Plan As Necessary

While steps 1 through 5 may make up your initial writing process, if you want your project plan to be as strong and complete as it can be, it’s important to share it with your team—and get their input on how they think it can be improved.

“Share the plan with your project team and key stakeholders, gathering feedback to make adjustments and improvements,” says Yazdani. 

A tool like Confluence helps knowledge flow freely within teams and departments, leading to better teamwork, higher collaboration, and a shared understanding of priorities. Coworkers can use comments, mentions, notifications, and co-editing capabilities to provide and discuss feedback. 

After you gather your team’s feedback —and make any necessary adjustments based on that feedback—you can consider your project plan complete. Hooray! 

But as your project progresses, things may change or evolve—so it’s important to stay flexible and make changes and adjustments as needed.

“Expect to update your plan as you gather more information, encounter changing requirements and delays, and learn from feedback and mistakes,” says Yazdani. “By using your project plan to guide your activities and measure progress, you’ll be able to refine and improve your plan as you move through the project, tweaking tasks and deadlines as deliverables are developed.”

Download a  template to create your project plan and customize it based on your needs.

Example of a simple project plan 

A project plan doesn’t have to be a complicated spreadsheet with multiple tabs and drop-down menus. It’s best to use a project planning tool like Confluence — or at least a project plan template — to make sure you cover every aspect of the project. A simple project plan includes these elements:

  • Project name, brief summary, and objective.
  • Project players or team members who will drive the project, along with their roles and responsibilities.
  • Key outcomes and due dates.
  • Project elements, ideally divided into must-have, nice-to-have and not-in-scope categories.
  • Milestones, milestone owners, and a project end date.
  • Reference material relevant to the project.

Project plan Confluence template

Best Practices For Writing Effective Project Plans

A project planning process can quickly turn into a mishmash of goals and tasks that end up in chaos but these best practices can give you a framework to create a project plan that leads to success.

Use Other Project Plans For Inspiration

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel for every new project! Instead, look to other successful project plans for inspiration—and use them as a guide when writing the plan for your project.

“Review templates and plans for similar projects, or for other projects within your organization or industry, to get ideas for structuring and drafting your own plan,” says Yazdani.

To get started, use a Trello project management template and customize it for your project plan by creating unique lists and adding cards under each list.


Build your team’s ideal workflow and mark each stage of the project plan as a list, with cards for each task. 

Get Your Team Involved In The Process

You may be in charge of spearheading the project. But that doesn’t mean that you have to—or even that you should—write the project plan alone. 

“Collaborate with your project team and key stakeholders on crafting a project plan,” says Yazdani. “Input into the project plan supports buy-in to project goals and encourages continued engagement throughout the project.”

With Confluence , you can organize project details in a centralized space and build a project plan collaboratively.

Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy Of The Good

You may be tempted to write (and rewrite) your project plan until you’ve got every detail mapped out perfectly. But spending too much time trying to get everything “perfect” can actually hold up the project. So don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good—and instead of getting caught up in getting everything perfect from the get-go, stay willing and flexible to adjust your project plan as you move forward.

“Focus on outcomes, not plan perfection,” says Yazdani. “While it would be awesome for the first draft of our plan to require no changes while also inspiring our team and ensuring project success, our goal shouldn’t be a perfect plan. Our goal is a plan that allows us to successfully deliver on project goals. Responsiveness to changing needs and a shifting environment is more important than plan perfection.”

Use the right tools to succeed with your project plan

Writing a project plan, especially if you’re new to the process, can feel overwhelming. But now that you know the exact steps to write one, make sure you have the tools you need to create a strong, cohesive plan from the ground up—and watch your project thrive as a result. 

Atlassian Together can help with project planning and management with a powerful combination of tools that make work flow across teams.

Guide your team to project success with Atlassian Together’s suite of products.

Advice, stories, and expertise about work life today.

Project Management Plan: Samples, Examples & Free Template

Learn how to create a project management plan that actually works and ensures you get your project over the line on time and on budget, with samples and examples

Table of Contents

What is a project management plan, what is a project management plan used for, what are the main elements of a project plan, how to write a project management plan, sample project management plan outline, using our project management plan template to build your project plan, project management plan: faq's.

A project management plan is a comprehensive document that outlines how a project will be executed, monitored, controlled and closed. For project managers and their teams, it's the ultimate toolkit for achieving their objectives while managing day-to-day pressures such as time, cost, scope, resourcing and risk. This guide outlines what a project management plan is used for, why it's important , and offers a step-by-step guide on how to make one that actually works.

Your project plan document is where you go deep on the ins, outs, overs, and unders of your project. It's where you break this vision down into the day-to-day execution of your project, covering everything you need to do to reach your project goals.

A detailed project plan will plot out everything from timelines to budget, resourcing to deliverables, and more, giving you a blueprint of what needs to be done (and when) that you can use to guide — and assess — your project.

The key components of a project management plan are:

Project Objectives

Scope Statement

Schedule Management

Cost Management

Resource Management

Communication Plan

Stakeholder Management

Procurement Management

Closure Criteria

Project Organization

Ready to get down to business? Here are 5 key things you need to do when writing a project plan.

1. Identify the baselines for your project

Before you begin writing a project plan, you need to make sure you have the basics down. Start by identifying the baselines for the project’s scope, schedule and cost, as the rest of your project planning will need to fit in around those constraints.

As mentioned above, these baselines should already be roughly outlined in your project charter — but here’s where you really start to map them out and create accurate estimates. And the more detailed, the better, because these are what you’ll be using for comparison to measure how your project performs.

2. Identify your project dependencies

Or in other words, ask yourself: what needs to happen before this other thing can happen? Identifying your project dependencies at the outset of your project means you can plan your timelines more efficiently, spot potential blockers, and ensure that you avoid unnecessary delays.

3. Identify project stakeholders

You’ll already have done the groundwork for this in your stakeholder analysis, but as you flesh out your project management plan and think through the phases of your project in more detail, you’ll likely start to find more project stakeholders at each phase.

Now is also a good time to go deeper on which stakeholders need to be informed and involved at which stages, for a more comprehensive stakeholder management plan you can use at each phase of your project.

4. Identify project milestones

What are the key markers of your project’s progress? It can be a concrete deliverable, the end of a phase in a stage-gate process — whatever milestones make sense to you, breaking your project down into manageable chunks, each with a defined goal, helps to keep the team motivated, allows you to celebrate each achievement, and signposts how the overall progress is coming along.  Learn more about using Milestones here .

planned vs actual milestones Teamwork

5. Identify who’s responsible for what

Once you start to get a big-picture understanding of the work that’s needed and the resources you have to complete it, you can start deciding who should do what. Giving each item an owner is essential to getting things done. No more “oh, was I supposed to do that?” — once you identify who’s responsible for what, you can ensure accountability and transparency.

The 5 Stages of Team Development

The 5 Stages of Team Development

All teams develop according to some natural patterns and using that knowledge, you can offer some guidance to build the kind of team that communicates well and finds better ways to collaborate and achieve the goals you’ve established. Here’s what you need to know.

Now let's go through a sample project plan. In the below example, we highlight the main sections of the plan and what needs to be included in each one to set your project up for success.

Section 1: Executive summary

The executive summary offers a concise overview of the entire project. It includes key highlights such as the project's purpose, objectives, scope, timeline, budget, and major stakeholders. It's often the first section stakeholders read to get a high-level understanding of the project.

Section 2: Project introduction

This section sets the stage by providing context and background information about the project. It explains why the project is being undertaken and introduces the main objectives and scope of the project.

Section 3: Project objectives

Here, the project's specific goals and objectives are outlined in detail. Objectives should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) to provide clarity and guidance.

Section 4: Project scope

The scope section defines what is included and excluded from the project. It helps prevent scope creep by establishing clear boundaries and also mentions any assumptions and constraints that may affect the project.

Section 5: Schedule management

This section details the project's timeline, including milestones and deadlines. It breaks down the project into tasks and identifies task dependencies. Often, visual representations like Gantt charts are used for clarity.

Section 6: Cost management

Here, the project budget is presented, including cost estimates for various project components. It may also outline cost control measures to ensure the project stays within budget.

Section 7: Quality management

This section focuses on the quality standards and objectives for the project. It describes quality control and assurance processes, as well as any inspection and testing procedures that will be implemented.

Project management template

Save time on setup without sacrificing attention to detail. With our project management template, you can quickly create project management plans that help you complete your project on time and on budget.

Section 8: Resource management

In this section, the project team is introduced, and roles and responsibilities are defined. It addresses resource allocation, scheduling, and, if applicable, procurement needs.

Section 9: Risk management

The risk management section identifies potential risks and uncertainties that could impact the project. It discusses risk assessment, prioritization, and mitigation strategies to reduce the impact of these risks.

Section 10: Communication plan

The communication plan outlines how project information will be shared with stakeholders and team members. It specifies communication methods, frequency, and reporting channels to ensure effective communication throughout the project.

Section 11: Stakeholder management

This section lists project stakeholders and analyzes their interests, influence, and expectations. It also outlines strategies for engaging and managing these stakeholders to ensure their needs are addressed.

Section 12: Procurement management

If procurement of goods or services is involved, this section explains the procurement strategy, vendor selection criteria, and how contracts will be managed.

Section 13: Change management

Change management procedures are detailed here, including how changes to the project scope, schedule, or other aspects will be requested, evaluated, approved, and communicated.

Section 14: Closure criteria

Criteria for determining when the project is complete and ready for closure are specified in this section. It may also include plans for project handover and post-project evaluation.

Section 15: Project organization

This section describes the project team's structure, roles, and responsibilities, ensuring everyone understands their positions and reporting lines. It may also mention external stakeholders and their roles if applicable.

Once you’ve documented your project management plan, bring it to life with a project management tool that will help you to stay on track, keep your team accountable, and promote transparency.

Here are 3 ways you can use Teamwork.com to supercharge your project management plan.

Add your supporting documentation to Teamwork Spaces


Use the Teamwork.com and Teamwork Spaces integration to link a project in Teamwork.com with a space in Teamwork Spaces, so your important project documents are only ever a click away.

Some documents you might want to add in addition to your project charter and project management plan include:

Scoping documents

Risk assessments

Change management plans

SOPs for important project processes

List of stakeholders and their roles

Outline of approval processes

Communications management plan

Any other best practices documentation or supporting info as necessary

You can even embed task lists into your pages and mark tasks as complete right from Teamwork Spaces, so you can keep work flowing without even needing to switch tabs.

Start adding your Milestones

Break down your work into Milestones and task lists that are going to help you reach them. With Teamwork.com, you can assign an owner to each Milestone, map out your Milestone due dates and see them represented in the project calendar, and even get a full change history for milestones so you can track any edits.

Visualize your task dependencies with a Gantt chart

Gantt chart-style views are a useful way to get a visual representation of your tasks and their dependencies, allowing for better scheduling and resourcing. In Teamwork.com, you can drag and drop to quickly rearrange your project schedule , without throwing everything out of order or straying off-plan.

Remember: software should support the way you work, not dictate it. So regardless of methodology or team type, create a project plan that works for you and your team — and find a tool that helps you put it into action.

Use our project plan template

Now that you know how to create a project management plan that actually works, you’re ready to implement using our team management software . To help you get up and running quickly, we’ve created a ready to use project plan template . Our project template will help you quickly create project plans that ensure all of your projects are completed on time and on budget

What is a project management plan template?

A project management plan template is a pre-designed framework that provides a structured format for creating a project management plan. It serves as a starting point for project managers and teams to develop their specific project plans, saving time and ensuring that key project management components are properly addressed.

How can a template help you build a great project management plan?

A template can help you build a great project management plan by saving time, ensuring comprehensive coverage of project management aspects, and incorporating industry best practices and visual aids for clarity. They also support collaboration, version control, and customization to fit the unique needs of each project, making them a valuable tool for project managers in achieving successful project outcomes.

What is the main purpose of a project management plan?

The main purpose of a project management plan is to provide a comprehensive and structured roadmap for successfully executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing a project. It serves as a central document that outlines project objectives, scope, schedule, budget, quality standards, resource allocation, risk management strategies, and communication approaches.

What tools do I need to help manage a project plan?

To effectively manage a project plan, you'll need a set of tools and software that cover various aspects of project management. These include project management software, communication and collaboration platforms, file and document management solutions, time and task tracking apps, and budgeting and financial management tools.

What steps are involved in the project planning process?

The steps involved in the project planning process include defining specific project objectives and scope, identifying deliverables and key milestones, budgets, risk assessment and quality control measures. It should also include a communication plan and stakeholder engagement strategies.

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project management business assignment

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  • Project planning |
  • What is project planning? (Plus, 7 ste ...

What is project planning? (Plus, 7 steps to write a successful project plan)

Julia Martins contributor headshot

Organize your projects with project plans to keep things on track—before you even start. A project plan houses all the necessary details of your project, such as goals, tasks, scope, deadlines, and deliverables. This shows stakeholders a clear roadmap of your project, ensures you have the resources for it, and holds everyone accountable from the start. In this article, we teach you the seven steps to create your own project plan.

Project plans are essential to keeping your project organized and on track. A great project plan will help you kick off your work with all the necessary pieces—from goals and budgets to milestones and communication plans—in one place. Save yourself time (and a few headaches) by creating a work plan that will make your project a success.

What is a project planning?

Project planning is the second stage in the project management process, following project initiation and preceding project execution. During the project planning stage, the project manager creates a project plan, which maps out project requirements. The project planning phase typically includes setting project goals, designating project resources, and mapping out the project schedule.

What is a project plan?

If you're still unsure about what a project plan is, here's how it differs from other project elements:

Project plan vs. work plan: A project plan and a work plan are the same thing. Different teams or departments might prefer one term or another—but they both ultimately describe the same thing: a list of big-picture action steps you need to take to hit your  project objectives .

Project plan vs. project charter: A project charter is an outline of your project. Mostly, you use project charters to get signoff from key stakeholders before you start. Which means your project charter comes before your project plan. A project charter is an outline of a simple project plan—it should only include your project objectives, scope, and responsibilities. Then, once your charter has been approved, you can create a project plan to provide a more in-depth blueprint of the key elements of your project.

Project plan vs. project scope: Your project scope defines the size and boundaries of your project. As part of your project plan, you should outline and share the scope of your project with all project stakeholders. If you’re ever worried about scope creep , you can refer back to your pre-defined scope within your project plan to get back on track.

Project plan vs. agile project: Agile project management is a framework to help teams break work into iterative, collaborative components . Agile frameworks are often run in conjunction with scrum and sprint methodologies. Like any project, an Agile project team can benefit from having a project plan in place before getting started with their work.

Project plan vs. work breakdown structure: Similar to a project plan, your work breakdown structure (WBS) helps you with project execution. While the project plan focuses on every aspect of your project, the WBS is focused on deliverables—breaking them down into sub-deliverables and project tasks. This helps you visualize the whole project in simple steps. Because it’s a visual format, your WBS is best viewed as a Gantt chart (or timeline), Kanban board , or calendar—especially if you’re using project management software .

Why are project plans important?

Project plans set the stage for the entire project. Without one, you’re missing a critical step in the overall project management process . When you launch into a project without defined goals or objectives, it can lead to disorganized work, frustration, and even scope creep. A clear, written project management plan provides a baseline direction to all stakeholders, while also keeping everyone accountable. It confirms that you have the resources you need for the project before it actually begins.

A project plan also allows you, as the person in charge of leading execution, to forecast any potential challenges you could run into while the project is still in the planning stages. That way, you can ensure the project will be achievable—or course-correct if necessary. According to a study conducted by the  Project Management Institute , there is a strong correlation between project planning and project success—the better your plan, the better your outcome. So, conquering the planning phase also makes for better project efficiency and results.

[Product UI] Brand campaign project plan in Asana, spreadsheet-style list (Lists)

7 steps to write a project plan to keep you on track

To create a clear project management plan, you need a way to track all of your moving parts . No matter what type of project you’re planning, every work plan should have:

Goals and project objectives

Success metrics

Stakeholders and roles

Scope and budget

Milestones , deliverables , and project dependencies

Timeline and schedule

Communication plan.

Not sure what each of these mean or should look like? Let’s dive into the details:

Step 1: Define your goals and objectives

You’re working on this project plan for a reason—likely to get you, your team, or your company to an end goal. But how will you know if you’ve reached that goal if you have no way of measuring success?

Every successful project plan should have a clear, desired outcome. Identifying your goals provides a rationale for your project plan. It also keeps everyone on the same page and focused on the results they want to achieve. Moreover, research shows that employees who know how their work is contributing to company objectives are 2X as motivated . Yet only 26% of employees have that clarity. That’s because most goal-setting happens separate from the actual work. By defining your goals within your work plan, you can connect the work your team is doing directly to the project objectives in real-time.

What's the difference between project goals and project objectives?

In general, your project goals should be higher-level than your project objectives. Your project goals should be SMART goals that help you measure project success and show how your project aligns with business objectives . The purpose of drafting project objectives, on the other hand, is to focus on the actual, specific deliverables you're going to achieve at the end of your project. Your project plan provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, so you can create a workflow that hits project objectives.

Your project  plan  provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, by way of your project objectives. By incorporating your goals directly into your planning documentation, you can keep your project’s North Star on hand. When you’re defining your project scope, or outlining your project schedule, check back on your goals to make sure that work is in favor of your main objectives.

Step 2: Set success metrics

Once you’ve defined your goals, make sure they’re measurable by setting key success metrics. While your goal serves as the intended result, you need success metrics to let you know whether or not you’re performing on track to achieve that result. The best way to do that is to set  SMART goals . With SMART goals, you can make sure your success metrics are clear and measurable, so you can look back at the end of your project and easily tell if you hit them or not.

For example, a goal for an event might be to host an annual 3-day conference for SEO professionals on June 22nd. A success metric for that goal might be having at least 1,000 people attend your conference. It’s both clear and measurable.

Step 3: Clarify stakeholders and roles

Running a project usually means getting  collaborators  involved in the execution of it. In your project management plan, outline which team members will be a part of the project and what each person’s role will be. This will help you decide who is responsible for each task (something we’ll get to shortly) and let stakeholders know how you expect them to be involved.

During this process, make sure to define the various roles and responsibilities your stakeholders might have. For example, who is directly responsible for the project’s success? How is your project team structured (i.e. do you have a project manager, a project sponsor , etc.)? Are there any approvers that should be involved before anything is finalized? What cross-functional stakeholders should be included in the project plan? Are there any  risk management factors  you need to include?

Consider using a system, such as a  RACI chart , to help determine who is driving the project forward, who will approve decisions, who will contribute to the project, and who needs to remain informed as the project progresses.

Then, once you’ve outlined all of your roles and stakeholders, make sure to include that documentation in your project plan. Once you finalize your plan, your work plan will become your cross-functional source of truth.

Step 4: Set your budget

Running a project usually costs money. Whether it’s hiring freelancers for content writing or a catering company for an event, you’ll probably be spending some cash.

Since you’ve already defined your goals and stakeholders as part of your project plan, use that information to establish your budget. For example, if this is a cross-functional project involving multiple departments, will the departments be splitting the project cost? If you have a specific goal metric like event attendees or new users, does your proposed budget support that endeavor?

By establishing your project budget during the project planning phase (and before the spending begins), you can get approval, more easily track progress, and make smart, economical decisions during the implementation phase of your project. Knowing your budget beforehand helps you with resource management , ensuring that you stay within the initial financial scope of the project. Planning helps you determine what parts of your project will cost what—leaving no room for surprises later on.

Step 5: Align on milestones, deliverables, and project dependencies

An important part of planning your project is setting milestones, or specific objectives that represent an achievement. Milestones don’t require a start and end date, but hitting one marks a significant accomplishment during your project. They are used to measure progress. For example, let’s say you’re working to develop a  new product for your company . Setting a milestone on your project timeline for when the prototype is finalized will help you measure the progress you’ve made so far.

A project deliverable , on the other hand, is what is actually produced once you meet a milestone. In our product development example, we hit a milestone when we produced the deliverable, which was the prototype. You can also use project dependencies —tasks that you can’t start until others are finished. Dependencies ensure that work only starts once it’s ready. Continuing the example, you can create a project dependency to require approval from the project lead before prototype testing begins.  

If you’re using our free project plan template , you can easily organize your project around deliverables, dependencies, and milestones. That way, everyone on the team has clear visibility into the work within your project scope, and the milestones your team will be working towards.

Step 6: Outline your timeline and schedule

In order to achieve your project goals, you and your stakeholders need clarity on your overall project timeline and schedule. Aligning on the time frame you have can help you better prioritize during strategic planning sessions.

Not all projects will have clear-cut timelines. If you're working on a large project with a few unknown dates, consider creating a  project roadmap  instead of a full-blown project timeline. That way, you can clarify the order of operations of various tasks without necessarily establishing exact dates.

Once you’ve covered the high-level responsibilities, it’s time to focus some energy on the details. In your  work plan template , start by breaking your project into tasks, ensuring no part of the process is skipped. Bigger tasks can even be broken down into smaller subtasks, making them more manageable.

Then, take each task and subtask, and assign it a start date and end date. You’ll begin to visually see everything come together in a  cohesive project timeline . Be sure to add stakeholders, mapping out who is doing what by when.

[Product UI] Brand campaign project in Asana, Gantt chart-style view (Timeline)

Step 7: Share your communication plan

We’ve established that most projects include multiple stakeholders. That means communication styles will vary among them. You have an opportunity to set your expectations up front for this particular project in your project plan. Having a communication plan is essential for making sure everyone understands what’s happening, how the project is progressing, and what’s going on next. And in case a roadblock comes up, you’ll already have a clear communication system in place.

As you’re developing your communication plan, consider the following questions:

How many project-related meetings do you need to have? What are their goals?

How will you manage project status updates ? Where will you share them?

What tool will you use to manage the project and communicate progress and updates?

[inline illustration] Communication plan for brand campaign in Asana (example)

Like the other elements of your project plan, make sure your communication plan is easily accessible within your project plan. Stakeholders and cross-functional collaborators should be able to easily find these guidelines during the planning and execution phases of your project. Using project planning tools or task management software that integrates with apps like Slack and Gmail can ensure all your communication happens in one easily accessible place. 

Example project plan

Next, to help you understand what your project management plan should look like, here are two example plans for marketing and design projects that will guide you during your own project planning.

Project plan example: annual content calendar

Let’s say you’re the Content Lead for your company, and it’s your responsibility to create and deliver on a content marketing calendar for all the content that will be published next year. You know your first step is to build your work plan. Here’s what it might look like:

Goals and success metrics

You establish that your goal for creating and executing against your content calendar is to increase engagement by 10%. Your success metrics are the open rate and click through rate on emails, your company’s social media followers, and how your pieces of content rank on search engines.

Stakeholders and each person’s role

There will be five people involved in this project.

You, Content Lead: Develop and maintain the calendar

Brandon and Jamie, Writers: Provide outlines and copy for each piece of content

Nate, Editor: Edit and give feedback on content

Paula, Producer: Publish the content once it’s written and edited

Your budget for the project plan and a year’s worth of content is $50,000.

Milestones and deliverables

Your first milestone is to finish the content calendar, which shows all topics for the year. The deliverable is a sharable version of the calendar. Both the milestone and the deliverables should be clearly marked on your project schedule.

You’ve determined that your schedule for your content calendar project plan will go as follows:

October 15 - November 1: The research phase to find ideas for topics for content

November 2 - November 30: Establish the topics you’ll write about

December 1 - January 1: Build the calendar

January 1 - December 31: Content will be written by Brandon and Jamie, and edited by Nate, throughout the year

January 16 - December 31: Paula will begin publishing and continue to do so on a rolling basis throughout the year.

You’ll have a kick-off meeting and then monthly update meetings as part of your communication plan. Weekly status updates will be sent on Friday afternoons. All project-related communication will occur within a  project management tool .

How ClassPass manages project plans from start to finish

Kerry Hoffman, Senior Project Manager of Marketing Operations at  ClassPass , oversees all marketing projects undertaken by the creative, growth, and content teams. Here are her top three strategies for managing project plans:

Identify stakeholders up front: No matter the size of the project, it’s critical to know who the stakeholders are and their role in the project so you ensure you involve the right people at each stage. This will also make the review and approval process clear before the team gets to work.

Agree on how you want to communicate about your project: Establish where and when communication should take place for your project to ensure that key information is captured in the right place so everyone stays aligned.

Be adaptable and learn other people’s working styles: Projects don’t always go according to plan, but by implementing proper integration management you can keep projects running smoothly. Also, find out how project members like to work so you take that into account as you create your plan. It will help things run smoother once you begin executing.

Write your next project plan like a pro

Congratulations—you’re officially a work planning pro. With a few steps, a little bit of time, and a whole lot of organization, you’ve successfully written a project plan.

Keep yourself and your team on track, and address challenges early by using project planning software like Asana . Work through each of the steps of your project plan with confidence, and streamline your communications with the team.

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Free Project Management Plan Templates

By Kate Eby | August 8, 2019

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In this article, you’ll find all the project management plan templates you need to get started on a comprehensive project plan. We’ve included templates that cover all aspects of project planning, from scope and budget to communication and scheduling. 

If you are new to project management plan templates, start by reading the What to Include in a Project Management Plan section.

Included on this page, you'll find a project management plan , a project management plan outline in both Microsoft Word and Google Docs , an integrated project plan template , and many more.

Templates for Presenting and Tracking the Project

The following templates include sheets, widgets, and outlines that can help you present an overview of the project to stakeholders. These templates also help you monitor progress as you execute the project.

Project Management Plan Outline Template

Project Management Plan Template

A comprehensive project management plan includes many plans and documents necessary for the success of a project. Project plan sub-documents may consist of the project scope, work breakdown structure (WBS), milestone list, and more. This project management plan template also provides an outline, so you can include all plan details in one document or attach or link to separate planning documents.

Download Project Management Plan Outline Template

Word | Google Docs

Resource Requirement Calendar Chart Template

Download Resource Requirement Calendar Chart

Excel | G oogle Sheets

Project Management Plan Dashboard Template

Project Management Dashboard Template Updated

A dashboard provides a handy means for project managers, stakeholders, and team members to display summaries of important metrics. This integrated project plan template includes a task list that updates a corresponding Gantt chart as you begin and complete tasks. The template also offers a widget to summarize task status, project spending, and pending items.

Download Project Management Plan Dashboard Template - Excel

Integrated Project Plan (IPP) Template

project management business assignment

You may need a narrative description of parts or all of your project plan. However, a visual depiction can convey how aspects of the project relate to one another and the schedule. With this integrated project plan template, choose a Gantt chart or static timeline. Then, complete the task list, list responsible parties, and add due dates. The template also includes a cost baseline sheet and a communication plan sheet.

Download Integrated Content Project Plan Template - Excel 

Project Management Plan Template

Project Plan Template

This customizable template suggests the items you need to prepare to implement your project and provides space for each item’s due date. Additionally, find sections for the project approval phase, project planning, project execution, and project close.  

Download Project Plan Template

Excel | Smartsheet

Templates for Researching and Preparing a Project Plan

The following project management planning templates can help you as you determine and document the tasks and resources required to complete a project.

Project Scope Statement Template

The project scope defines the deliverables and the resources you need to complete those deliverables. By identifying these elements before the project begins, you reduce the chances of scope creep, wherein expectations and budgets expand without limit. When you write a project scope, refer to project objectives, goal statements, and the project charter . If you are a vendor preparing a project plan, you may refer instead to the statement of work you received with the request for proposal (RFP ). 

Project Scope Statement Template

The project scope template below details the following: the project deliverables; the project assumptions; what is out of scope for the project; the time, budget, quality, regulatory, and resource constraints; and the tasks you need to accomplish in order to create the deliverables. In this template, you can describe the tasks without a separate work breakdown structure document, or use the WBS template that follows.

Download Project Scope Statement Template - Word

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Diagram Template

project management business assignment

A work breakdown structure provides a visual tool for understanding how you can accomplish a project. Start with the goal or deliverable at the top and then break down the effort needed into smaller and smaller tasks. A WBS focuses on tasks and deliverables but complements the project schedule, which offers a high-level view of the work required over time. Some project management pundits suggest that leadership benefits most from schedules, while teams and individuals benefit from a WBS. This template offers a fill-in-the-blanks diagram and a task list template. Use both formats with the scope of work template.

Download Work Breakdown Structure Template - Excel 

Stakeholder Management Plan Template

project management business assignment

Stakeholder analysis identifies individuals and groups with a potential interest in the project, determines the extent of their interest and degree of possible influence, and attempts to understand the best means of communicating with those individuals and groups about the project. A stakeholder analysis forms a significant basis for the project communication plan. 

This stakeholder management template offers space to list stakeholders, describe their role in the organization and in your project, identify the types of project activities that might interest them, define their level of commitment, and supply the reasons for their interest in your project. One sheet of this template includes a stakeholder analysis matrix, so you can create a visual evaluation of the level of commitment and influence for each stakeholder.

Download Stakeholder Management Plan Template

Cost Estimate and Projected Budget Template

project management business assignment

Use this cost estimation and budget template to document the process for determining and, if necessary, adjusting your budget. The template provides a table to identify who can approve spending limit breaches and space to describe the budgeting procedure, the cost baseline procedure, the change procedure, and the proposed budget.

Download Cost Estimate and Projected Budget Template

Risk Assessment Templates

project management business assignment

Organizations have risks, and projects are also susceptible to problems, such as accidents, scope creep, or vendor problems with supply or quality. This risk assessment template focuses on risks to task and project deadlines, but you can tailor the linked template to address other risks, too. The template details the task description, deadline, risk level, and status in the task table, and the statistics for the project are displayed in the status and priority table.

Download Project Risk Management Plan Template

Project Resource Plan Template

project management business assignment

A resource plan lists the equipment, supplies, and staffing needed for a project. Resource plans help schedule shared resources, including hardware, software, and office or workspace. This template outlines project phases and then lists resources by project phase, role, department, pay rate, and more.

Download Project Resource Plan Template

Project Executive Summary Template

project management business assignment

You start your project plan document or presentation with an executive summary, which encapsulates the project at a high level. However, the executive summary should be the last piece of content or document you write as you create a plan. To write this summary, refer to the project charter for plan details, or, if you are a vendor or contractor fulfilling part of a larger project, refer to the project statement of work. This customizable template walks you through the elements of an executive summary, including major milestones and issues to be solved. Add your own summary components as required.

Download Project Executive Summary Template

Templates for Implementing and Managing a Project Plan

The example project management plans that follow will help you solve problems, communicate with your team and stakeholders, and ensure quality deliverables as you implement the project.

Project Governance Template

project management business assignment

Project governance describes how you will conduct the project and who has responsibility and accountability for the effective and efficient execution of the project. This project governance template outlines the project scope and lists who is responsible for what requirements and tasks. It also offers a RACI matrix and provides space to link to the resumes of key personnel. Additionally, the template details the process for managing and escalating issues, the decision-making process, and the quality assurance process. 

Download Project Governance Template

Excel | Word

Communication Plan Template

project management business assignment

To conduct a successful project, internal and external stakeholders must be clear on goals and changes. A communication plan template assists you in documenting stakeholders, contact information, areas of interest, required information, and message format and frequency. 

Download Communication Plan Template - Word

Chronological or Simple Timeline Template

project management business assignment

A timeline is an essential tool in project management. Timelines capture the required activities in a project in the form of high-level milestones or detailed tasks and sub-tasks and show how those activities relate to each other. This chronological timeline works well for simple projects. With this template, you can add tasks to the list, and those tasks will appear in the timeline.

Download Chronological or Simple Timeline Template

Gantt Timeline Template

project management business assignment

A dynamic Gantt chart can serve as a timeline for more complex projects. Add milestones to the timeline to focus all eyes on the prize and highlight dependencies among tasks.

Download Gantt Timeline Template

Change Management Process Template

project management business assignment

Change is inevitable in projects, but it’s much better to plan for change and provide a consistent process for reviewing, implementing, and tracking adjustments and updates. This change management process template offers a visual tool for understanding how to suggest changes, reviewing proposed changes, planning for their implementation, and assessing the results. 

Download Change Management Process Template

Test Plan Template

Project Test Plan Template

To guarantee a successful and usable deliverable, create a quality assurance or quality control plan. This test plan template is particularly adapted to Agile product development, but can be customized to fit your management approach and product. Simply list the test ID, the test number, the test description, the expected and actual result, whether the product passed or failed, and pertinent comments. 

Download Test Plan Template - Excel

What to Include in a Project Management Plan

A successful project starts with a detailed project management plan . Project management plan templates guide you through the planning process, so you can focus on the details rather than trying to remember what you must include. To make your job easier and help ensure successful planning, download the templates included in this article. 

A project management plan may consist of one document or a collection of component documents that provide extra detail for specific planning areas, such as the schedule, the work breakdown structure, or the stakeholder analysis. Whether combined or separate, most project management plan templates contain the following sections:


Briefly describe the project’s purpose, goals, and deliverables. Refer to the project charter when you write this section.

Project Approach or Executive Summary

Outline the management approach for the project. List key personnel and anyone with specific responsibilities and decision-making authority. Describe any assumptions and constraints. You may also include risks in this section.

Project Scope

To avoid scope creep, you must clearly define what outcomes you expect from the project and what is out of scope. The project charter provides a starting point for defining scope, but you should also include the following sections in your project scope statement or link to separate documents:

  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): The work breakdown structure offers a visual description of all the high and low-level tasks needed to create the deliverables. In the WBS diagram, list the major tasks at the top and then break down the items into smaller and smaller tasks until you determine the smallest tasks or work packages. The WBS works with the work breakdown structure dictionary, which is a detailed list of tasks, owners, due dates, and more.
  • Schedule Baseline: To understand whether your activities, milestones, and project are on track, create a schedule baseline. 
  • Milestones: Milestones mark important stages of completion in your project. Create a list of high-level milestones, and briefly introduce them and their context in the overall project schedule.

Change Management Plan

A change management plan offers a consistent model for documenting, submitting, approving, and tracking changes in a project. These important instructions are often created in a separate document.

Risk Management Plan

For the project plan, summarize the risk management approach, including the process for identifying risks and the mitigation strategy. At the end of the project, during the after-action analysis, the project manager will assess the identified risks against the management approach and recommend any improvements for future projects.

A risk register captures each risk and mitigation action. A register is essential for quality improvement and may be required for regulatory compliance. It logs a unique ID for a risk, a risk detail, who identified the risk, the date during which they identified it, the probability of the risk, the severity of its impact, and so on. In PRINCE2, a risk register is known as a risk log .

Project Scope Management Plan

The project scope management section describes who has the authority to constrain efforts. It details the tools and methods for establishing project scope, including supporting documents. Those supporting documents may include the WBS and project charter or statement of work. The scope management plan should also explain how you measure and track scope. In addition, the document should clearly articulate how the project manager communicates scope to the team.

Communication Plan

Your communication plan describes the project information you need to share with your team and stakeholders, the identity of those recipients, their contact information, and the means and frequency of communication. The communication plan is crucial to the efficient functioning of the project. Consider conducting a stakeholder analysis early in project planning, so you can use it to inform the communication plan.

Cost Management Plan

In a cost management plan, you describe how you will measure, manage, and report costs for the project duration. Identify who has responsibility for controlling costs, how they approve and track budget changes, and the means by which and frequency with which they report on the budget.

A cost baseline describes the approved, time-phased spending for a project and represents the combined total of the estimated project cost and contingency reserves.

Resource or Procurement Plan

The resource plan or procurement plan defines spending limits and identifies who has the authority to approve amounts that exceed those limits. It also details the types of resources you’ll be using, such as equipment, utilities, infrastructure, and costs, and indicates whether you will rent, lease, or purchase such items.  

Resource Calendar

A resource calendar provides a visual reference for understanding when and for how long you require important resources. Whoever has functional responsibility for the included resources must approve the resource calendar.

Human Resources Management Plan

The human resources plan outlines the skill sets required for the project, the pay rates for the project, and whether HR will staff the project with new hires or contractors.

Quality Management Plan

To ensure that your completed project meets quality expectations, create a quality management plan . This plan defines the standards against which you will judge the final outcome. The plan also identifies the processes that will gauge the work. In the quality plan, note who is responsible for quality, and describe any applicable quality assurance or quality control regulations, standards, processes, and tools. 

A quality baseline articulates the specific metrics by which you will assess quality throughout the project. To discover the appropriate metrics, you should review the current quality management process or standards, any recent or similar projects, and any pertinent industry or regulatory standards.

Other Helpful Project Management Templates

Other documents and plans can help you describe the unique aspects of your project plan. Here is a selection of links to supporting samples and templates:

  • Construction project management
  • HR project management
  • Software project management
  • KPI template 
  • Project change request form

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When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

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2. Project Management Overview

Adrienne Watt; Project Management Open Resources; and TAP-a-PM

Click play on the following audio player to listen along as you read this section.

The starting point in discussing how projects should be properly managed is to first understand what a project is and, just as importantly     , what it is not.

People have been undertaking projects since the earliest days of organized human activity. The hunting parties of our prehistoric ancestors were projects, for example; they were temporary undertakings directed at the goal of obtaining meat for the community. Large complex projects have also been with us for a long time. The pyramids and the Great Wall of China were in their day of roughly the same dimensions as the Apollo project to send men to the moon. We use the term “project” frequently in our daily conversations. A husband, for example may tell his wife, “My main project for this weekend is to straighten out the garage.” Going hunting, building pyramids, and fixing faucets all share certain features that make them projects.

Project Attributes

A project has distinctive attributes that distinguish it from ongoing work or business operations. Projects are temporary in nature. They are not an everyday business process and have definitive start dates and end dates. This characteristic is important because a large part of the project effort is dedicated to ensuring that the project is completed at the appointed time. To do this, schedules are created showing when tasks should begin and end. Projects can last minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years.

Projects exist to bring about a product or service that hasn’t existed before. In this sense, a project is unique. Unique means that this is new; this has never been done before. Maybe it’s been done in a very similar fashion before but never exactly in this way. For example, Ford Motor Company is in the business of designing and assembling cars. Each model that Ford designs and produces can be considered a project. The models differ from each other in their features and are marketed to people with various needs. An SUV serves a different purpose and clientele than a luxury car. The design and marketing of these two models are unique projects. However, the actual assembly of the cars is considered an operation (i.e., a repetitive process that is followed for most makes and models).

In contrast with projects, operations are ongoing and repetitive. They involve work that is continuous without an ending date and with the same processes repeated to produce the same results. The purpose of operations is to keep the organization functioning while the purpose of a project is to meet its goals and conclude. Therefore, operations are ongoing while projects are unique and temporary.

A project is completed when its goals and objectives are accomplished. It is these goals that drive the project, and all the planning and implementation efforts undertaken to achieve them. Sometimes projects end when it is determined that the goals and objectives cannot be accomplished or when the product or service of the project is no longer needed and the project is cancelled.

Definition of a Project

There are many written definitions of a project. All of them contain the key elements described above. For those looking for a formal definition of a project, the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.

Project Characteristics

When considering whether or not you have a project on your hands, there are some things to keep in mind. First, is it a project or an ongoing operation? Second, if it is a project, who are the stakeholders? And third, what characteristics distinguish this endeavor as a project?

Projects have several characteristics:

  • Projects are unique.
  • Projects are temporary in nature and have a definite beginning and ending date.
  • Projects are completed when the project goals are achieved or it’s determined the project is no longer viable.

A successful project is one that meets or exceeds the expectations of the stakeholders.

Consider the following scenario: The vice-president (VP) of marketing approaches you with a fabulous idea. (Obviously it must be “fabulous” because he thought of it.) He wants to set up kiosks in local grocery stores as mini-offices. These offices will offer customers the ability to sign up for car and home insurance services as well as make their bill payments. He believes that the exposure in grocery stores will increase awareness of the company’s offerings. He told you that senior management has already cleared the project, and he’ll dedicate as many resources to this as he can. He wants the new kiosks in place in 12 selected stores in a major city by the end of the year. Finally, he has assigned you to head up this project.

Your first question should be, “Is it a project?” This may seem elementary, but confusing projects with ongoing operations happens often. Projects are temporary in nature, have definite start and end dates, result in the creation of a unique product or service, and are completed when their goals and objectives have been met and signed off by the stakeholders.

Using these criteria, let’s examine the assignment from the VP of marketing to determine if it is a project:

  • Is it unique? Yes, because the kiosks don’t exist in the local grocery stores. This is a new way of offering the company’s services to its customer base. While the service the company is offering isn’t new, the way it is presenting its services is.
  • Does the product have a limited timeframe? Yes, the start date of this project is today, and the end date is the end of next year. It is a temporary endeavor.
  • Is there a way to determine when the project is completed? Yes, the kiosks will be installed and the services will be offered from them. Once all the kiosks are installed and operating, the project will come to a close.
  • Is there a way to determine stakeholder satisfaction? Yes, the expectations of the stakeholders will be documented in the form of requirements during the planning processes. These requirements will be compared to the finished product to determine if it meets the expectations of the stakeholder.

If the answer is yes to all these questions, then we have a project.

The Process of Project Management

You’ve determined that you have a project. What now? The notes you scribbled down on the back of the napkin at lunch are a start, but not exactly good project management practice. Too often, organizations follow Nike’s advice when it comes to managing projects when they “just do it.” An assignment is made, and the project team members jump directly into the development of the product or service requested. In the end, the delivered product doesn’t meet the expectations of the customer. Unfortunately, many projects follow this poorly constructed path, and that is a primary contributor to a large percentage of projects not meeting their original objectives, as defined by performance, schedule, and budget.

In the United States, more than $250 billion is spent each year on information technology (IT) application development in approximately 175,000 projects. The Standish Group (a Boston-based leader in project and value performance research) released the summary version of their 2009 CHAOS Report that tracks project failure rates across a broad range of companies and industries (Figure 2.1).

A bar chart showing 32% of projects succeeding, 44% challenged, and 24% failed

Jim Johnson, chairman of the Standish Group, has stated that “this year’s results show a marked decrease in project success rates, with 32% of all projects succeeding which are delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions, 44% were challenged-which are late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions and 24% failed which are cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used.”

When are companies going to stop wasting billions of dollars on failed projects? The vast majority of this waste is completely avoidable: simply get the right business needs (requirements) understood early in the process and ensure that project management techniques are applied and followed, and the project activities are monitored.

Applying good project management discipline is the way to help reduce the risks. Having good project management skills does not completely eliminate problems, risks, or surprises. The value of good project management is that you have standard processes in place to deal with all contingencies.

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques applied to project activities in order to meet the project requirements. Project management is a process that includes planning, putting the project plan into action, and measuring progress and performance.

Managing a project includes identifying your project’s requirements and writing down what everyone needs from the project. What are the objectives for your project? When everyone understands the goal, it’s much easier to keep them all on the right path. Make sure you set goals that everyone agrees on to avoid team conflicts later on. Understanding and addressing the needs of everyone affected by the project means the end result of your project is far more likely to satisfy your stakeholders. Last but not least, as project manager, you will also be balancing the many competing project constraints.

On any project, you will have a number of project constraints that are competing for your attention. They are cost, scope, quality, risk, resources, and time.

  • Cost is the budget approved for the project including all necessary expenses needed to deliver the project. Within organizations, project managers have to balance between not running out of money and not underspending because many projects receive funds or grants that have contract clauses with a “use it or lose it” approach to project funds. Poorly executed budget plans can result in a last-minute rush to spend the allocated funds. For virtually all projects, cost is ultimately a limiting constraint; few projects can go over budget without eventually requiring a corrective action.
  • Scope is what the project is trying to achieve. It entails all the work involved in delivering the project outcomes and the processes used to produce them. It is the reason and the purpose of the project.
  • Quality is a combination of the standards and criteria to which the project’s products must be delivered for them to perform effectively. The product must perform to provide the functionality expected, solve the identified problem, and deliver the benefit and value expected. It must also meet other performance requirements, or service levels, such as availability, reliability, and maintainability, and have acceptable finish and polish. Quality on a project is controlled through quality assurance (QA), which is the process of evaluating overall project performance on a regular basis to provide confidence that the project will satisfy the relevant quality standards.
  • Risk is defined by potential external events that will have a negative impact on your project if they occur. Risk refers to the combination of the probability the event will occur and the impact on the project if the event occurs. If the combination of the probability of the occurrence and the impact on the project is too high, you should identify the potential event as a risk and put a proactive plan in place to manage the risk.
  • Resources are required to carry out the project tasks. They can be people, equipment, facilities, funding, or anything else capable of definition (usually other than labour) required for the completion of a project activity.
  • Time is defined as the time to complete the project. Time is often the most frequent project oversight in developing projects. This is reflected in missed deadlines and incomplete deliverables. Proper control of the schedule requires the careful identification of tasks to be performed and accurate estimations of their durations, the sequence in which they are going to be done, and how people and other resources are to be allocated. Any schedule should take into account vacations and holidays.

You may have heard of the term “triple constraint,” which traditionally consisted of only time, cost, and scope. These are the primary competing project constraints that you have to be most aware of. The triple constraint is illustrated in the form of a triangle to visualize the project work and see the relationship between the scope/quality, schedule/time, and cost/resource (Figure 2.2). In this triangle, each side represents one of the constraints (or related constraints) wherein any changes to any one side cause a change in the other sides. The best projects have a perfectly balanced triangle. Maintaining this balance is difficult because projects are prone to change. For example, if scope increases, cost and time may increase disproportionately. Alternatively, if the amount of money you have for your project decreases, you may be able to do as much, but your time may increase.


Your project may have additional constraints that you must face, and as the project manager, you have to balance the needs of these constraints against the needs of the stakeholders and your project goals. For instance, if your sponsor wants to add functionality to the original scope, you will very likely need more money to finish the project, or if they cut the budget, you will have to reduce the quality of your scope, and if you don’t get the appropriate resources to work on your project tasks, you will have to extend your schedule because the resources you have take much longer to finish the work.

You get the idea; the constraints are all dependent on each other. Think of all of these constraints as the classic carnival game of Whac-a-mole (Figure 2.3). Each time you try to push one mole back in the hole, another one pops out. The best advice is to rely on your project team to keep these moles in place.

whac a mole machine

Here is an example of a project that cut quality because the project costs were fixed. The P-36 oil platform (Figure 2.4) was the largest footing production platform in the world capable of processing 180,000 barrels of oil per day and 5.2 million cubic metres of gas per day. Located in the Roncador Field, Campos Basin, Brazil, the P-36 was operated by Petrobras.

Petrobras P-36 Sinking

In March 2001, the P-36 was producing around 84,000 barrels of oil and 1.3 million cubic metres of gas per day when it became destabilized by two explosions and subsequently sank in 3,900 feet of water with 1,650 short tons of crude oil remaining on board, killing 11 people. The sinking is attributed to a complete failure in quality assurance, and pressure for increased production led to corners being cut on safety procedures. It is listed as one of the most expensive accidents with a price tag of $515,000,000.

The following quotes are from a Petrobras executive, citing the benefits of cutting quality assurance and inspection costs on the project.

“Petrobras has established new global benchmarks for the generation of exceptional share­holder wealth through an aggressive and innovative program of cost cutting on its P36 production facility.” “Conventional constraints have been successfully challenged and replaced with new paradigms appropriate to the globalized corporate market place.” “Elimination of these unnecessary straitjackets has empowered the project’s suppliers and contractors to propose highly economical solutions, with the win-win bonus of enhanced profitability margins for themselves.” “The P36 platform shows the shape of things to come in the unregulated global market economy of the 21st century.”

The dynamic trade-offs between the project constraint values have been humorously and accurately described in Figure 2.5.

A sign. Image description available.

Project Management Expertise

In order for you, as the project manager, to manage the competing project constraints and the project as a whole, there are some areas of expertise you should bring to the project team (Figure 2.11). They are knowledge of the application area and the standards and regulations in your industry, understanding of the project environment, general management knowledge and skills, and interpersonal skills. It should be noted that industry expertise is not in a certain field but the expertise to run the project. So while knowledge of the type of industry is important, you will have a project team supporting you in this endeavor. For example, if you are managing a project that is building an oil platform, you would not be expected to have a detailed understanding of the engineering since your team will have mechanical and civil engineers who will provide the appropriate expertise; however, it would definitely help if you understood this type of work.

Let’s take a look at each of these areas in more detail.

Application knowledge

By standards, we mean guidelines or preferred approaches that are not necessarily mandatory. In contrast, when referring to regulations we mean mandatory rules that must be followed, such as government-imposed requirements through laws. It should go without saying that as a professional, you’re required to follow all applicable laws and rules that apply to your industry, organization, or project. Every industry has standards and regulations. Knowing which ones affect your project before you begin work will not only help the project to unfold smoothly, but will also allow for effective risk analysis.

Areas of expertise: application knowledge, standards & regulations; understanding the project environment; management knowledge & skills; & interpersonal skills

Some projects require specific skills in certain application areas. Application areas are made up of categories of projects that have common elements. They can be defined by industry group (pharmaceutical, financial, etc.), department (accounting, marketing, legal, etc.), technology (software development, engineering, etc), or management specialties (procurement, research and development, etc.). These application areas are usually concerned with disciplines, regulations, and the specific needs of the project, the customer, or the industry. For example, most government agencies have specific procurement rules that apply to their projects that wouldn’t be applicable in the construction industry. The pharmaceutical industry is interested in regulations set forth by government regulators, whereas the automotive industry has little or no concern for either of these types of regulations. You need to stay up-to-date regarding your industry so that you can apply your knowledge effectively. Today’s fast-paced advances can leave you behind fairly quickly if you don’t stay abreast of current trends.

Having some level of experience in the application area you’re working in will give you an advantage when it comes to project management. While you can call in experts who have the application area knowledge, it doesn’t hurt for you to understand the specific aspects of the application areas of your project.

Understanding the Project Environment

There are many factors that need to be understood within your project environment (Figure 2.7). At one level, you need to think in terms of the cultural and social environments (i.e., people, demographics, and education). The international and political environment is where you need to understand about different countries’ cultural influences. Then we move to the physical environment; here we think about time zones. Think about different countries and how differently your project will be executed whether it is just in your country or if it involves an international project team that is distributed throughout the world in five different countries.

Consider the cultural, social, international, political, and physical environments of a project

Of all the factors, the physical ones are the easiest to understand, and it is the cultural and international factors that are often misunderstood or ignored. How we deal with clients, customers, or project members from other countries can be critical to the success of the project. For example, the culture of the United States values accomplishments and individualism. Americans tend to be informal and call each other by first names, even if having just met. Europeans tend to be more formal, using surnames instead of first names in a business setting, even if they know each other well. In addition, their communication style is more formal than in the United States, and while they tend to value individualism, they also value history, hierarchy, and loyalty. The Japanese, on the other hand, tend to communicate indirectly and consider themselves part of a group, not as individuals. The Japanese value hard work and success, as most of us do.

How a product is received can be very dependent on the international cultural differences. For example, in the 1990s, when many large American and European telecommunications companies were cultivating new markets in Asia, their customer’s cultural differences often produced unexpected situations. Western companies planned their telephone systems to work the same way in Asia as they did in Europe and the United States. But the protocol of conversation was different. Call-waiting, a popular feature in the West, is considered impolite in some parts of Asia. This cultural blunder could have been avoided had the team captured the project environment requirements and involved the customer.

It is often the simplest things that can cause trouble since, unsurprisingly, in different countries, people do things differently. One of the most notorious examples of this is also one of the most simple: date formats. What day and month is 2/8/2009? Of course it depends where you come from; in North America it is February 8th while in Europe (and much of the rest of the world) it is 2nd August. Clearly, when schedules and deadlines are being defined it is important that everyone is clear on the format used.

The diversity of practices and cultures and its impact on products in general and on software in particular goes well beyond the date issue. You may be managing a project to create a new website for a company that sells products worldwide. There are language and presentation style issues to take into consideration; converting the site into different languages isn’t enough. It is obvious that you need to ensure the translation is correct; however, the presentation layer will have its own set of requirements for different cultures. The left side of a website may be the first focus of attention for a Canadian; the right side would be the initial focus for anyone from the Middle East, as both Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left. Colors also have different meanings in different cultures. White, which is a sign of purity in North America (e.g., a bride’s wedding dress), and thus would be a favoured background colour in North America, signifies death in Japan (e.g., a burial shroud). Table 2.1 summarizes different meanings of common colours.

Project managers in multicultural projects must appreciate the culture dimensions and try to learn relevant customs, courtesies, and business protocols before taking responsibility for managing an international project. A project manager must take into consideration these various cultural influences and how they may affect the project’s completion, schedule, scope, and cost.

Management Knowledge and Skills

As the project manager, you have to rely on your project management knowledge and your general manage­ment skills. Here, we are thinking of items like your ability to plan the project, execute it properly, and of course control it and bring it to a successful conclusion, along with your ability to guide the project team to achieve project objectives and balance project constraints.

There is more to project management than just getting the work done. Inherent in the process of project management are the general management skills that allow the project manager to complete the project with some level of efficiency and control. In some respects, managing a project is similar to running a business: there are risk and rewards, finance and accounting activities, human resource issues, time management, stress management, and a purpose for the project to exist. General management skills are needed in every project.

Interpersonal Skills

Last but not least you also have to bring the ability into the project to manage personal relationships and deal with personnel issues as they arise. Here were talking about your interpersonal skills as shown in Figure 2.8.


Project managers spend 90% of their time communicating. Therefore they must be good communicators, promoting clear, unambiguous exchange of information. As a project manager, it is your job to keep a number of people well informed. It is essential that your project staff know what is expected of them: what they have to do, when they have to do it, and what budget and time constraints and quality specifications they are working toward. If project staff members do not know what their tasks are, or how to accomplish them, then the entire project will grind to a halt. If you do not know what the project staff is (or often is not) doing, then you will be unable to monitor project progress. Finally, if you are uncertain of what the customer expects of you, then the project will not even get off the ground. Project communication can thus be summed up as knowing “who needs what information and when” and making sure they have it.

Interpersonal skills include communication, influence, leadership, motivation, negotiation, and problem solving

All projects require sound communication plans, but not all projects will have the same types of commu­nication or the same methods for distributing the information. For example, will information be distributed via mail or email, is there a shared website, or are face-to-face meetings required? The communication management plan documents how the communication needs of the stakeholders will be met, including the types of information that will be communicated, who will communicate them, and who will receive them; the methods used to communicate; the timing and frequency of communication; the method for updating the plan as the project progresses, including the escalation process; and a glossary of common terms.

Project management is about getting things done. Every organization is different in its policies, modes of operations, and underlying culture. There are political alliances, differing motivations, conflicting interests, and power struggles. A project manager must understand all of the unspoken influences at work within an organization.

Leadership is the ability to motivate and inspire individuals to work toward expected results. Leaders inspire vision and rally people around common goals. A good project manager can motivate and inspire the project team to see the vision and value of the project. The project manager as a leader can inspire the project team to find a solution to overcome perceived obstacles to get the work done.

Motivation helps people work more efficiently and produce better results. Motivation is a constant process that the project manager must guide to help the team move toward completion with passion and a profound reason to complete the work. Motivating the team is accomplished by using a variety of team-building techniques and exercises. Team building is simply getting a diverse group of people to work together in the most efficient and effective manner possible. This may involve management events as well as individual actions designed to improve team performance.

Recognition and rewards are an important part of team motivations. They are formal ways of recognizing and promoting desirable behaviour and are most effective when carried out by the management team and the project manager. Consider individual preferences and cultural differences when using rewards and recognition. Some people don’t like to be recognized in front of a group; others thrive on it.


Project managers must negotiate for the good of the project. In any project, the project manager, the project sponsor, and the project team will have to negotiate with stakeholders, vendors, and customers to reach a level of agreement acceptable to all parties involved in the negotiation process.

Problem Solving

Problem solving is the ability to understand the heart of a problem, look for a viable solution, and then make a decision to implement that solution. The starting point for problem solving is problem definition. Problem definition is the ability to understand the cause and effect of the problem; this centres on root-cause analysis. If a project manager treats only the symptoms of a problem rather than its cause, the symptoms will perpetuate and continue through the project life. Even worse, treating a symptom may result in a greater problem. For example, increasing the ampere rating of a fuse in your car because the old one keeps blowing does not solve the problem of an electrical short that could result in a fire. Root-cause analysis looks beyond the immediate symptoms to the cause of the symptoms, which then affords opportunities for solutions. Once the root of a problem has been identified, a decision must be made to effectively address the problem.

Solutions can be presented from vendors, the project team, the project manager, or various stakeholders. A viable solution focuses on more than just the problem; it looks at the cause and effect of the solution itself. In addition, a timely decision is needed or the window of opportunity may pass and then a new decision will be needed to address the problem. As in most cases, the worst thing you can do is nothing.

All of these interpersonal skills will be used in all areas of project management. Start practicing now because it’s guaranteed that you’ll need these skills on your next project.

Image Descriptions

Figure 2.5 image description: The sign says, “We can do good, quick, and cheap work. You can have any two but not all three. 1. Good, quick work won’t be cheap. 2. Good, cheap work won’t be quick. 3. Quick, cheap work won’t be good.” [Return to Figure 2.5]

Text Attributions

This chapter was adapted and remixed by Adrienne Watt from the following sources:

  • Text under “Project Attributes,” “Project Characteristics,” “Process of Project Management,” and “Project Management Expertise,” were adapted from “What is a Project?,” “Project Characteristics,” “What is Project Management,” and “Project Management Areas of Expertise” in Project Management for Skills for All Careers by Project Management Open Resources and TAP-a-PM. Licensed under a CC BY 3.0 licence .
  • Table 2.1 was adapted by Merrie Barron and Andrew R. Barron from P. Russo and S. Boor, How Fluent is Your Interface? Designing for International Users , Proceedings of the INTERACT ’93 and CHI ’93, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. (1993). The table is from “ Project Management Areas of Expertise ” in Project Management. Licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence .

Media Attributions

  • Chaosreport2009 © Merrie Barron & Andrew R. Barron is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
  • Triple constraint triangle © John M. Kennedy T is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
  • Whac a mole © sakura is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
  • Petrobras sinking © Richard Collinson is licensed under a CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivatives) license
  • Good-quick-cheap © Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers. is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
  • Areas of expertise © Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
  • Project environment © Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license
  • Interpersonal skills © Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license

2. Project Management Overview Copyright © 2014 by Adrienne Watt; Project Management Open Resources; and TAP-a-PM is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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The Essentials: Managing Projects

Habits, tools, and tactics that will help you deliver results.

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We’re in a project economy, where so much of our work is developing something new — a product, a service, an event. That means that many of us manage projects, even if “project manager” isn’t in our official job title. And we’re typically doing this work alongside others, on a deadline, often with multiple stakeholders involved, while objectives and circumstances continuously change. It’s not easy, and it’s no wonder that people get certified in project management: it’s a discipline that’s surprisingly deep, from planning to close-out.

A former clinical social worker who recently pivoted to project management has already experienced several of the most common challenges, including uncertainty, interpersonal conflict, and lack of responsiveness from the team. She and Amy B talk with an experienced project manager who shares tips for motivating and influencing others, communicating effectively, and solving problems.

Guest expert:  

Tamara McLemore is a project manager who is certified by the Project Management Institute to train others in the discipline, and the founder of the Project Business Academy, through which she coaches people on what it takes to pass the Project Management Professional exam.

  • HBR Guide to Project Management , by Harvard Business Review
  • Managing Projects , by Harvard Business Review
  • “ The Four Phases of Project Management ,” by HBR Editors
  • “ Five Critical Roles in Project Management ,” by HBR Editors
  • “ The Project Economy Has Arrived ,” by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez
  • “ Does Your Project Have a Purpose? ” by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez
  • “ Is Project Management the Right Career for You? ” by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez and Yasmina Khelifi

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Email us: [email protected]

AMY BERNSTEIN: Up until recently, Sarah was a clinical social worker. She’d gotten her Master’s degree in the subject and then did it for over a decade.

SARAH: After a while, really during the pandemic, I realized I wanted to make a career pivot. So, I thought about what positions would I be qualified for, what would I enjoy? I consider myself a pretty organized individual and I like completing tasks and working with others to achieve a goal. And I decided that project management would be something that I had the skills for and would enjoy.

AMY BERNSTEIN: She took a job at a university where the assignment was to lead a team in setting and achieving specific goals.

SARAH: And the team that I work with hired me, so they knew my background, they knew that I didn’t have lots and lots of experience as a project manager, but they hired me anyway.

AMY BERNSTEIN: A year in, Sarah still feels out of her depth.

SARAH: I feel like I just don’t know what I’m doing very often because of that lack of training.

AMY BERNSTEIN: The project management waters are surprisingly deep, so it’s small wonder that even this highly educated, highly skilled woman is feeling under prepared and insecure. You’re listening to Women at Work from Harvard Business Review. I’m Amy Bernstein. So many of us manage projects, even if project manager isn’t part of our job title. That’s because so much of the work we do has become project based. People are putting in more and more time on teams tasked with developing a new product or service that has impact. Success, the experts say, typically comes from strategically navigating four phases. The first is planning when you determine the real problem to solve, identify stakeholders and define the project’s objectives. Next comes buildup when you assemble your team, plan assignments and create a schedule. Third is implementation when you monitor the process, report progress and manage problems. And, finally, close out, when you evaluate the project’s performance and debrief with the team. In learning about the project economy, one stat has stayed with me. Around two thirds of the world’s projects fail. And while Sarah’s project is by no means failing, she still wants to pick up some tips from someone in the know, which is where Tamara McLemore comes in. For about 20 years at different companies, she’s been setting priorities, motivating teams, and delivering results.

TAMARA MCLEMORE: I’ve been in every industry you can think of. Healthcare, airlines, telecom, even in a law firm.

AMY BERNSTEIN: She also teaches project management and she’s here to speak with me and Sarah about some of the most common challenges you may face when you manage your own projects and how to handle them. Sarah, I’d love to start with you. What has been the hardest part of the job?

SARAH: The hardest part of the job for me has been getting used to this whole new career. I’ll give you a specific example. Recently, during a lull in the work that I’m doing with my current project, I was asked to help out with another project that needed a project manager. And so, I was working with a new group of people that didn’t know me, and the supervisor asked me to create a project charter for this project that I was going to help with. And I remember thinking, like, Oh, my gosh, this guy has no idea that I don’t know what I’m doing, and he’s asking me to fill out this form, the project charter, that I have never done before. Thankfully, he had an example of a project charter for this actually specific project, and so I ended up using quite a bit of that example charter. But if I hadn’t had that example, I would’ve just floundered. I don’t know what bullets you put where and how do you number things and how do you write a charter? I had no idea. Long story short, I find myself not knowing kind of the basics that I feel like perhaps other project managers might know.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, let’s get into that and let’s start with the project charter. We’ve published a lot about this and in the HBR Guide to Project Management , we say that every project charter should spell out the nature and scope of the work and management’s expectations for results. And that seems perfectly reasonable. And then you get into the fine print. The authors of the article I’m mentioning recommend including the name of the project sponsor, the project’s benefits to the organization, the project’s objectives, expected timeframe, budget and resources available, project manager’s authority, signed off on by the sponsor. A lot of stuff. So, Tamara, is it worth it? Is this really important? Is this reasonable?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Absolutely. So, a project charter includes everything that you just included, but one thing to remember about a charter, it is short and dirty and to the point. It is not a dissertation. When I ask most people, when they come to me like, Oh, my God, I’ve got to write this charter. In their mind, they’re thinking it’s a dissertation, that it needs to be 20 pages, when in fact it’s a one pager, maybe two pages. Maybe. But it is just the benefits. It is the high level. It is bullet points. It is straight to the point.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Can it be changed? Is it carved in stone?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: It is carved in stone because it is objective. “In one year, we intend to execute X, Y, Z, and this is the dollar amount.” But how you intend to execute and everything in between is for interpretation.

AMY BERNSTEIN: That’s very, very helpful because I find all of this sort of set up a little bit daunting. And you need so much clarity, even though there are many unknowns. I’m wondering, Sarah, if you’ve ever had any problems getting the kind of clarity that Tamara is talking about from whoever is assigning the projects. The nature and the scope and the expected results. Has that ever been a problem?

SARAH: Absolutely. The one primary project that I’m working on right now is a university-wide initiative, and we are really building the plane as we’re flying it. I feel that way every single day. If we have a project charter for this project, it was created before I joined the team, but I’m thinking we don’t even have one. It’s a very unstructured initiative that we’re working on right now as we are designing it and carrying it out in real time. So, that is a huge challenge.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Tamara, let me ask you a question from our producer, Amanda Kersey. She’s, like a lot of us, an unofficial, kind of informal project manager, and she told me that she often underestimates the time it’ll take to produce a season, a season of our podcast, Women at Work , and then she has to hustle to meet the deadlines. And in doing the research for this episode, she came across what’s called a work breakdown structure. You’re nodding your head because you know what we’re talking about here. And that’s a tool that project managers use to get a realistic estimate of how long a complex activity will take. And it makes you break down the major tasks into sub-tasks and then estimate each sub-task’s length of time and cost. She’s thinking about using this tool, but first she wants to know, is this your recommended go-to? Should she be doing this to plan our season?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Yes, I would say, absolutely, because you have been doing this for a while now. And so, you know everything that it takes to build a successful podcast. You have the engineers, you have your guests, you have all the tasks, and now you can put some timelines around that. You can put some costs, you can put risk. So, you have all the lessons learned, is what we call it. So, you never want to start from scratch. That’s one thing in project management. We never want to start from scratch. And so, since you have that historical information, you are able to create that work breakdown structure.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Sarah, do you use this work breakdown structure?

SARAH: Maybe informally. It sounds a little familiar. My way of managing my work is sort of Google Docs, making myself lists, using a project management tool called Asana, which I’m relatively new to. I’ve used other online tools. I just sort of cobbled together something that works for me, but I’m always open to learning new ways of managing my time and my tasks.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Okay. And before we get on to getting a project going, anything you want to ask Tamara about the planning phase, Sarah?

SARAH: Yeah. So, Tamara, I’m thinking about the example of my project that I refer to as building the plane as we’re flying it. How could we plan better in those kinds of situations? What my team has been doing is having a retreat every few months to talk about what we’ve done, what work is in the next phase, how we want to achieve our goals, what our goals are, et cetera. And that’s sort of kind of been working for us, but do you have any suggestions about planning the projects that are not clearly set in stone, that are evolving as they are being carried out?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: So, the first thing I want to commend you on is that you guys are doing an offsite retreat because that’s exactly what you should be doing because you cannot plan by having a 30-minute, hourlong meeting. That does not work in project management. And so, when we do these major initiatives, we do go offsite for maybe a day or two with our whiteboard. So, I commend you on that. So, back to your question on how could you do that for projects that you’re not that clear on. You do this more often. And, no, you can’t have a retreat every month, but in Agile we actually do it every two weeks. We have a planning session on what are our next requirements that we want to implement. What is up next? At bat is what we call it. And we get everybody involved. So, that’s my question to you, Sarah. When you are having these sessions, do you include everybody? Not just the tech team, not just the business, but the end user, training, making certain that in your planning sessions you include everybody. You have to invite from the top down and sideways because everybody has input and it is so pertinent to your project and your requirements that you have everybody’s voice in those sessions.

SARAH: That’s a great point. We’re sort of growing, our team is changing, our work is changing a bit. So, I think future retreats will include more people, which I think is always good.


AMY BERNSTEIN: So, I want to touch on what you’re just talking about because it sounds like what you’re doing, Sarah, is aligning your team. And a lot of projects are cross-functional, cross-enterprise. You’re pulling in people with different skills, with different work experience, from different parts of the company, used to different cultures within the company. Tamara, how beyond these sort of setup meetings do you align everyone on goals and priorities and schedules and so forth?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Exactly what you said, Amy. Bringing everybody to the table with a different outlook really helps enhance what are we trying to achieve in this project. So, for instance, if you have sales, they’re focused on one thing. Marketing is focused on something else. But guess what? The end goal is to increase revenue. We still all have the end goal. We just have a different lens on how we get there. So, you have to have some type of camaraderie of the group before we get started. Everybody likes to just get down to the requirements, but we have to talk about what do we all have in common? We have to talk about our kids are going to school, to college, our fur babies. Once you have broken down those barriers, that we’re all here, we’re all the same no matter how long we’ve been in the organization, everybody just becomes one. No matter what part of the organization you’re in, we’re all here for a goal. And last but not least, do not underestimate good food at a retreat and at a working session, along with a lot of chocolate and a lot of snacks.

AMY BERNSTEIN: You’re reminding me of a colleague of mine who begins all of her very big meetings with a photo, a mystery photo, that someone in the meeting has sent her. Someplace they visited. And we take five minutes at the beginning just to guess where that photo is taken. And it’s really fun. I love trying to guess and I love watching the guesses come in in the chat. So, I think that she’s reading from the same guidebook. But what I’m also hearing is you cannot overstate the importance of the softer side of these meetings, right?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Absolutely, absolutely. And I’m telling you, it always makes for a successful project. It just really does. Because now I’m not the person that’s going in giving that person more work. We’re actually having a good time achieving the successful goals of that organization.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, managing a project requires you to make a million decisions and then to communicate constantly about those decisions. It’s exhausting. Tamara, how do you manage your energy?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: That’s a funny one. So, I make sure I have my liquids, my green juice, and my chocolate. And when I get up in the morning, and I’ll take a step back. Even before I go to bed the night before, I make sure that I have my priorities for the next day and what I’m going to start my day with. That way I can get a good night’s rest. There is nothing worse than waking up exhausted and tired because you’ve been thinking all day and all night, tossing and turning.

SARAH: I agree. I think that’s really important. And I really appreciated it when I went away for the holiday break. Before I left, I made myself a Post-it of what I would do today, my first day back from work after a break, in the order that I was going to do tasks. And I’ve just been crossing things off my Post-it this morning.

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Very good. And as far as communicating, okay, I have a question for you ladies. What percentage of project management do you think communication is?

AMY BERNSTEIN: Sarah? Cold call?

SARAH: I don’t know. 80 to 90%. High.

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Ding, ding, ding. 90%. It is extremely high. And so, that’s a great question, Amy, on how do I communicate? I communicate based on how that person likes to be communicated. What does that mean? So, when I get a new project, I ask the director, “How do you like to be communicated?” You know most people tell me. “Tamara, do not send me this long email. I need bullets. And I mean three bullets.” I’ve had a director tell me they want it color coordinated. Red if the project is off kilter, yellow if you need more money or time, green if your project is on schedule, on budget. And so, for everybody that I work with, the stakeholders, I ask them. Some people, it’s an email. Some people love IMs. I’m like, “Oh, my God. Can we get on email?” They refuse to. And if that’s how they want to be communicated, I give the people what they want. But more importantly, in the emails, in my communication, I’m very clear and concise on what I need and why I need it. And I’ll give you an example. “I need this report by the close of business tomorrow.” And I put the time zone because we’re dealing with people all over not the country, the world. So, you want to be very clear and then go a step further and let them know exactly why you need it. “I need this report because this report goes into a director’s report and it has to be synthesized and blah, blah, blah.” And so, when you’re that clear and you’ve built that rapport, they get it to you ASAP with no back and forth and no problems. So, the clearer you can be and the more concise and the least amount of words you can use in an email, the better.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, let me ask you another nuts and bolts question, Tamara. You’ve pulled together a team, they’re probably cross-functional, they may be cross enterprise. Some of them may not be used to working with the structures and the tools of project management. They may not know what a Gantt chart is or Amanda’s favorite tool, the work breakdown structure. So, you can’t really force all this stuff down their throats. How do you get people to use these tools in a way that allows them to embrace them rather than be annoyed by them?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Ooh, that’s a good question. And so, what I do is I have these one-on-ones with people and say, for instance, “Sarah, what tool in project management do you feel would be very beneficial, you’re not that good at, but you want to learn more about?” And you’re like, “Oh, I hadn’t thought about that.” Giving you some time to think about that and then sending you to a class, giving you time to broaden your horizons, to upskill yourself. No pressure because it’s something that you have identified that you want to get better at. And so, that’s how I take on each individual person on my team, the way that they can upskill themselves, but at the same time, make the project more successful.

SARAH: I can relate to that, Tamara. When I started this project management job, my supervisor introduced me to one online tool. She showed me all the bells and whistles. She showed me what she liked about it, how she uses it at work, how she uses it in her personal life. And that got me really excited about it. Never once did she say, “You have to use this and here’s when you have to use it and why and how.” Just like, “Here’s an option, here’s why I like it.” And I think that’s a really good approach to use with people.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Sarah, you’ve gotten your project kind of up and moving. Where do you find yourself struggling or needing a little guidance?

SARAH: I find that I struggle around politics and dealing with individuals who might not work in the manner that I work, on the timeframe that I work. For example, I’m working with someone more and more these days where when I make suggestions, she’s just not open to my suggestions, my ideas, my wishes and wants, and I just feel steamrolled by her. We’re just going to do whatever she wants to do.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Tamara, I’m looking at you. How do we help Sarah?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: This has happened to me. Every project, every organization I go to, this happens. And what I find is it is not even about me. Sometimes it’s about that position. They may have wanted my position, and I was appointed to this position and they feel like it’s not fair. And what qualifications did I have that they didn’t have? So, once I’m able to assess what is really going on here, then the working relationship, we become best friends, best working buds. But we have to break those barriers. And so, sometimes a good old fashioned coffee chat will do the job. Another thing, I have a lot of people as a project manager and the manager, people come to me and complain about people all the time. And when I tell them, “Did you go have a one-on-one with them? Did you take them offline? Did you take them for lunch? Did you take them for coffee before you brought this to me?” And they always look at me deer with the headlights, “No.” “Go talk to that person first.” And then it’s always solved. Nine times out of 10, it is resolved.

AMY BERNSTEIN: That’s great advice.

SARAH: So, Tamara, I have a question for you: how to reach people when an individual is not responding to email, Slack, maybe even phone. I can’t remember the last time I called someone at work on the phone, but maybe we’ve even tried to call them.

TAMARA MCLEMORE: So, the first thing I do is when somebody’s not responsive via email or Slack or our regular communication channels, I do pick up the phone. I don’t send more than two emails because it’s going to get lost. And now you’re putting more on their plate for them to clean their inbox. I am literally picking up the phone. I’m not giving them a heads up on IM, “I’m calling you.” Pick up the phone, old school communication and say, “Tamara, what is going on? Did the dog eat my email?” I’m making a joke about it, but I’m really asking, “What is going on?” And once again, is it about work? Is it about something that is going on in their personal life? Are they overwhelmed? And so, once you’re able to pick up the phone, a lot of times they say, “Oh, my God, your email was next in line. But I’m glad you called me because I can go ahead and get clarification because I wasn’t really sure on how to respond.” I’m telling you, I get more done by picking up the phone to the point where the feedback that I get from executives, “Tamara, we don’t know how you got this done. That person never responds.” But I always pick up the phone or back in the day when we were in the office, I would do a good old fashioned drive-by, meaning go to their desk, maybe with some Krispy Kreme, maybe with a Starbucks coffee. Whatever gets the job done.

SARAH: I love that.

AMY BERNSTEIN: It sounds as if one of your tactics, Tamara, is to kind of confound their expectations. Because people know when they are giving you the silent treatment, you’re probably starting to get a little bit pissed off and you come back with kindness.

TAMARA MCLEMORE: I never thought of it that way, but absolutely. And like I said, I execute because of these soft skills that people take for granted. People think project management is all about the Gantt charts, the risk, procurement, quality management, integration. It is about these soft slash power skills and getting grown people that have a whole life, families, kids, grandkids, fur babies, parents, aging parents that have moved in, to actually show up to work and execute their project. And how are we going to do that is these soft skills.

SARAH: Absolutely.

TAMARA MCLEMORE: So, Amy, I want to know how you get people to respond. You send one email, two emails. How do you get them to budge and respond to your emails?

AMY BERNSTEIN: I threaten them. No, I don’t threaten them. But I was listening to your answer and there’s such a powerful insight in there about coming back with kindness. What I generally do… I have to admit, it doesn’t happen that much, maybe with authors who aren’t responding. If it’s one of those deadline issues, I spell out the consequences. I’ll say, “If you don’t get back to me by Thursday, we’re going to have to bump this article from the next issue of the magazine, and I can’t guarantee when I will be able to get it into another issue.” And that’s real. Never make things up. With people who are hesitating to fulfill their commitments on a project team, I want to know why. Something’s going on. And I don’t want to pry, but I sort of open the conversation. You know, “You had promised that you would get us an answer today. I still haven’t heard from you. Can you give me an ETA, or is there something going on that’s preventing you? Anything I can help with?” It’s giving people a way to meet their commitments, which is what it all amounts to from my perspective. Right? So, Tamara, you’ve done all of this work to set up a project, you’ve kicked it off, it’s moving along. It has taken a tremendous amount of planning and management on your part, and suddenly something happens beyond your control. A budget gets cut, a pandemic hits, something beyond your control. How do you handle that? How do you respond to changes that you have no control over, that happen despite your best efforts?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Besides going to my car and having a good old-fashioned cry? So, after that’s over, after I get that good ugly cry out, I just realize, like you said, “This is beyond my control.” The budget got cut. And so, what we do in this situation is you have to be transparent to your team. People can sense that something is going on, and the last thing you want to do is to have your team start making up things in their mind. Is the project going to get cut? Are they going to get laid off? What is going to happen? And so, what you have to immediately do is not to just like project managers, we love to have a plan and go ahead and execute. You don’t have a plan right now. All you have is a little bit of information that you need to share with your team. So, that is the first thing. You share with your team, “This is where we’re at right now. I will get back to you in the next couple days on what the next steps are. I don’t know right now. Is this a scary situation? Absolutely. But you know I’m going to do all that I can and I’m going to be transparent as much as I can along the way.” I’m always an open book. Always open and honest communication.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Sarah, have you ever encountered any bumps that sort of set a project off track?

SARAH: Absolutely. About a month into my current job, the individual that was spearheading the project that I work on, he was fired. And so, we really had to regroup and figure out, Is this project going to continue? In what manner? What people? Is the scope going to change, et cetera. And these things happen. Big twists and turns or little, and we just have to roll with it, I suppose.

AMY BERNSTEIN: And you roll with it by being transparent. But the other thing that Tamara said that I think is so important is just keeping your wits about you. Go have that ugly cry in the car, but come back and be a calm and reassuring presence. Right? Before we close out this part of the conversation, Tamara, I want to know whether you have any other tips just for keeping a project on track toward completion?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: One thing that I make sure that I do within my projects is we try to never implement at the end of the year. That may sound like, “Well, why not, Tamara?” Because guess what? That’s Thanksgiving and Christmas and the new year. People are taking off. And that may seem like a no-brainer, but how many projects are people trying to complete at the end of the year when it’s unrealistic because you have so many people that are out of the office. And not just within your organization. Externally as well, meaning the business, end users. Everybody’s out of the office. Not just the whole country, the whole world.

SARAH: That’s a great point.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, you’ve gotten your project to the goal, you’ve produced the thing. It’s a report, it’s a building, whatever. But that’s not the end, is it, Tamara?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Absolutely not. You always have to celebrate. People will always say, “Tamara, what’s next? What are we going to do next?” We are going to celebrate. We’re going to talk about our lessons learned, but what we’re finding out, which is new to project management, if you wait until the project is over, let’s say we started this project January 2023 and we don’t end it until December, we don’t even know what we wore yesterday and what we ate yesterday. How are we going to remember what we did for the whole year? So, now for project management, every time we release or implement or just every 30 days, we’re going through those lessons learned. So, at the end of that project, we compile all the lessons learned, we bring all the people back to discover what could we have done different, what could we have done better? But more importantly, what is working and what should we do more of? That’s what a lot of times people miss. What is working well and what not should we just implement on this project, but throughout the organization to make things run better, more effectively and more efficiently?

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, Sarah, have you thought about how you’re going to close out the project you’re working on now?

SARAH: That’s a great question. I don’t know if it will ever close. So, the project that I’m working on is an initiative for our university, and I think it is going to become its own freestanding office at the university that will be staffed and it will just continue to evolve over time. It will never end, I don’t think.

AMY BERNSTEIN: So, with Sarah’s project that doesn’t actually end, what advice do you have, Tamara?

TAMARA MCLEMORE: To actually go ahead and close out a phase, close out a certain segment of the project. That way, you can do the rah rah, you can do the lessons learned, the whole ceremony of closing a project out. And then you start the next phase, meaning do you turn it over to operations? Do you do an upgrade? So, I would encourage you to go ahead and close it out at some point because the definition of project, it has a beginning and an end. Whether that end is two, three, four, five years, it does have an end. And even in my line of work, people will say, “Well Tamara, this is ongoing because this is in production.” At that point, it’s operations.

AMY BERNSTEIN: It also gives you an opportunity to recalibrate, right? Maybe you need a new charter, for example-

TAMARA MCLEMORE: Ooh, that’s a good one.

AMY BERNSTEIN: …for this next phase. Ooh, give me my degree.

TAMARA MCLEMORE: That’s a good one.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Sarah, we’ve now discussed beginnings and middles and ends. I’m wondering, given where you are with your project and a year into project management, what are you taking away from this conversation?

SARAH: I am taking away more confidence because, really, I thought to myself, “To be the best project manager means to be the most efficient. Get all the things done in the shortest amount of time. Quick, quick, quick. Efficient, efficient, efficient.” And, of course, that is a component to what we do, but I appreciate so much just as a human being, but also as a mental health professional, that working effectively with people is as essential as crossing things off of our list. And I didn’t know that we would be talking so much about that, but I’m just so heartened by the fact that I can also utilize my interpersonal skills, that all of those skills and that experience that I have is as applicable to my work as a project manager as my organizational and efficiency skills as well. And I just really, really appreciate that so much.

AMY BERNSTEIN: Women at Work’s editorial and production team is Amanda Kersey, Maureen Hochd, Tina Tobey Mack, Rob Eckhart, Erica Truxler, Ian Fox, and Hannah Bates. Robin Moore composed the theme music. This episode is part of our series, the Essentials. In It, we bring together management experts and women working in essential industries in order to cover the fundamentals and nuances of key career skills. Scroll through the show’s feed to find other Essentials episodes. You’ll see ones on giving feedback, managing stress, retaining talent, and being productive. Plus, more are on the way. Tamara is a member of Women of Project Management, a network that provides community, career coaching, professional development, and other support. Learn about the network by going to womenofpm.com. And if you want to go deeper on the topic of managing projects and create a plan to practice what you’ve learned, check out Harvard ManageMentor. It’s an online self-directed learning and skill building resource. Visit hbr.org/harvardmanagementor to see all the different skills the program can help you build, broaden, and refresh. I’m Amy Bernstein. Thanks for listening. Email us anytime at [email protected].

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