How much is poor planning costing your business? Of all the outgoings you have to keep track of, this metric might have slipped under the radar. After all, how can you quantify it?
Well, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), businesses waste around 12% of their resources due to poor project planning processes.
While that might not sound like a lot, 12% of your staff’s combined salaries could be thousands of dollars going back into your pocket.
In this article, we’ll explore how to use each phase of the project management lifecycle, from initiation to closure, to improve your project management plans. Develop a deeper understanding of how complex projects are managed so you can plan for success and maximize your resources.
What is project management?
Project management helps you plan, organize, and steer your business projects to success. It's about getting things done on time, within your budget, and to the highest quality while keeping your project team and clients all on the same page.
As part of project management, you’ll:
- Plan and organize the tasks that need to be completed to deliver projects.
- Work as a team to achieve set goals on a project timeline.
- Aim to work within a set scope and budget.
- Use your project resources effectively. Ensure your team’s time, tools, and other equipment or required elements to complete projects are accounted for and allocated correctly.
- Make sure you deliver quality work regardless of the pressure you and your team are under.
- Communicate well with your team and your clients.
If you're a small business owner looking to plan better, a project management plan is the compass that will guide you through the stormy seas of project delivery, and each of these components will contribute to successful projects.
What is project management planning?
Before you can manage your projects in the execution phase, there is some significant planning that needs to happen. Project management planning helps you to deliver your projects in the most efficient and productive way possible. It includes:
- Setting overall project goals that define what will be achieved by the end of the project
- Breaking down work into small - meaningful - tasks that will contribute to your goals
- Determining which resources will be required and allocating them at the right time for maximum utilization
- Setting timelines using visual tools like PERT charts and the critical path method (CPM) highlighted to help you give clients a delivery date they can trust
- Allocating budgets so that you can be sure you can produce what you have promised at the agreed price
- Assessing project risk so you can make contingency plans in advance to improve
What is the main purpose of the project planning process?
The main purpose of project management planning is to establish a clear, organized roadmap for how you will complete a project. You wouldn’t set off on a cross-country road trip without a plan of what you’ll need to bring, where you’ll sleep, and how long it will take you to reach your destination. And just like setting off on a road trip, you should start a project with a clear breakdown of how you will complete it successfully, within scope, and on time and budget.
A solid project management plan sets you up for success in all five of the project management phases.
The five phases of the project management lifecycle and how to plan for them
The Project Management Institute (PMI) created the five-phase project management model, detailed in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) 7th edition. It contains five phases, each playing a critical role in project success.
The initiation phase is the project's starting point. It marks the official commencement, where you lay the groundwork for success. While you might think the planning is held off until the planning phase, the initiation phase is just as important. During this phase, you must conduct a careful examination of your project objectives and determine whether the project is viable. The last thing you want to do is start deep planning on a project with no future.
This is a great time to run your project’s premortem and decide who the key stakeholders are and what role they will play. Defining these aspects guarantees everyone is on the same page from the get-go. Your project team is assembled during initiation, and their roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
At this stage of planning, you’ll be producing some key artifacts. These include:
- The project charter, which outlines the project's objectives and authority
- Your project budget and project scope document, which establishes financial boundaries
- A feasibility study of the proposed project to assess project viability
- A statement of work (SoW), which serves as the contract between your stakeholders as to what will be produced in the project, by whom, and by when
These artifacts are vital to make sure that your project has all the necessary information when it comes time to plan.
The planning phase is all about setting a clear course for your project. Here, you define your project goals and milestones, allocate the necessary personnel and resources, and establish a risk management plan. Identifying potential risks and creating contingency plans is essential to preventing unexpected hiccups. Setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure success will guide your project so you can confidently know what success looks like and identify when you achieve it.
This phase is a critical foundation for your project, as it determines how you’ll achieve your objectives. Key artifacts created in the planning phase include:
- The project schedule outlines when tasks will be completed.
- A communication plan to ensure effective information sharing.
- A project plan detailing all project-related activities.
- A testing plan to ensure product quality.
It is in this phase that you will set the timelines and quality standards that you will be held to when it comes time to execute your project.
This is where the action happens, and you can start executing your project plans. In this phase, you’ll implement the project deliverables, coordinating your team to ensure everyone works cohesively. This is the time to track progress and monitor completion of tasks.
Quality management is crucial during execution to ensure that the work delivered meets the established quality standards outlined in your SoW. You should also continually manage and monitor risks to prevent unforeseen issues from derailing your progress. Transparent documentation of progress and any issues encountered is essential to keep stakeholders informed and involved. This is where comparisons to your planned outcomes against your actual progress can be key. If you note any deviations from your project schedule, enact your communication plan and let all relevant parties know.
The controlling phase is about staying on top of your project and its components as it progresses. During this stage, you’ll track any changes that occur during the execution phase and make sure you can still meet the level of quality you promised within the same timeframe.
Change management is a constant activity in this phase. You’ll need to process change requests according to your communication plan and actively manage risks, watch quality standards, and level resources as necessary to ensure the project’s success continues.
The controlling and execution phases run concurrently to deliver on the work promised in the planning and initiation phases. Once the project is completed, you can move on to closing your project.
The closing phase is where you formally conclude your project. You’ll finalize all project deliverables and compare them to the original scope. Do they meet the required standards? Is everything that was promised now complete? At this point, you’ll present the work to your client and get their formal acknowledgment that the project objectives have been met and the project is now considered complete by all parties. This is important to avoid clients returning in a few months asking for things they “thought were included.” This is as much a protection measure for you as it is a quality assessment for the client.
Now that you’ve managed the delivery with your client, this is the perfect time to capture any lessons learned throughout the project to benefit future projects. You can release your resources and celebrate your team’s hard-earned success.
With this in mind, it’s time to factor in the three most important aspects of your project management plan.
What are the three core components of a solid project management plan?
When it comes to creating a complete Project Management Plan, there are a series of individual management plans that should be created. According to the PMBOK Guide 7th Edition (pp. 185-187), these are the key components of a complete project management plan:
Now, for your projects, this might seem like a lot to manage when you’re just getting started with project management plans. Take your time to become familiar with these plans. Try implementing them one at a time. These plans are the parts of a project management plan. Each of the parts describes how the particular discipline will be managed.
In the meantime, let’s look at three key areas where you can improve planning in your business right now to make your planning even easier.
A fundamental part of project planning — and the easiest part to get wrong during execution if not done well in the planning phase — is defining your overall scope. Your scope should include:
- The objectives of your project: State your project purpose, goals, and expected outcomes so you and your clients can all be on the same page
- List your deliverables: What will be produced during the project? List the products, services, or results you will deliver
- Inclusions and exclusions: What is included, what’s not included, and how will additional requests be managed?
- Project scope document: To keep everyone on track and accountable
Your scope sets the boundaries of what will and won’t be done. Don’t skip this step, as it’s the hardest thing to fix when it comes time to close a project your client doesn’t believe is complete. It’s also the key to staying on track.
Your schedule focuses on how time will be managed and defines a reliable delivery date. This is achieved by:
- Sequencing tasks: Use a PERT chart with the Critical Path mapped out to show the logical order of the tasks and their dependencies so clients can rely on your timeline
- Estimate the overall duration: How much time will be needed for each task? How long will the entire project take using your CPM calculations? This brings the accuracy you need
- Define key milestones: What are the key milestones to track progress and set fair expectations with clients and other stakeholders? When can clients expect certain outcomes? All at once, when the project is complete, or incrementally?
Your schedule holds you to a timeline. Make sure you estimate it correctly.
Your budget addresses the financial aspects of the project and makes sure that your limited resources are allocated well. It also contains:
- Estimates of cost: What is the overall cost of the project to you? This includes labor, materials, plugins or software required, and any other expenses related to the project specifically.
- Allocation of your resources: How will your team's availability be managed? How will tasks be allocated for equal and relevant distribution of workload?
- Controlling measures for costs during the project: Decide how you will track expenses and manage any changes as the project progresses so you can stay within budget
These three factors are the foundation of your project management plan and should be the focus of your project planning at every stage of the project. The project management plan states how you will manage all aspects of your project, based on its scope, schedule and budget.
Three tips to get the most out of project management planning in your business
With scope, schedule, and budget in mind, here are three pro tips to optimize your planning process right now:
1. Set SMART goals
Regardless of which stage you’re planning for, make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound (SMART). A key part of setting goals is making sure they can be reached.
If you’re overreaching, it won’t matter how much planning you do. You’ll be setting your team up for stress, overwork, and burnout. Not only that – you’ll miss your targets.
2. Use a work breakdown structure (WBS)
By using a work breakdown structure, you can easily break your projects down into manageable tasks and subtasks. By doing this before you assign the work, you can give your team clear goals and also give your clients an accurate timeline on how long the project is likely to take.
3. Use project management software
Streamline planning, tracking, and collaboration with an AI-driven project tool like Motion. Facilitate task assignment, scheduling, communication, and document management, improving overall efficiency.
Integrate your Google Drive, Google Calendar, and meeting tools like Zoom or Teams for a centralized project management machine that keeps your whole team connected and on task.
What’s next for your project management plan?
Have you been doing all of these things in your business? If not, it might seem like a huge amount of work to get on top of. But you don’t have to do it alone. Get your team involved! And lean on AI-driven project management to carry the manual load.
Visual project boards in Motion can help you track and watch your task progress across all five phases of the project management lifecycle.
Automated scheduling keeps your team on track without micromanagement and encourages better resource use.
If you’re ready to level up your project planning, the future is already here. Try Motion free today!