Building a Comprehensive Project Plan
When many people hear of the words “project plan” they immediately shift their thinking to a MS Project Gantt chart. Admittedly in my younger days I thought that same way too. But a project plan is so much more than a schedule that you prop up in front of a client. This post will touch on the key elements to preparing a comprehensive project plan for your client.
Scope Statement & Deliverables
While your project plan will never supersede your signed contract, it’s a good idea to re-iterate your scoped deliverables to the client in your project plan – if for nothing else, it gives one centralized spot to review your project-in-a-document. It’s also a good exercise to phrase the scope and deliverables as they relate to your project plan (without changing the actual scope of the project). It’s a nice smell-test for your project plan, as well as the wording of your agreed-to project scope.
WBS (Work Breakdown Structure)
A work breakdown structure is crucial to understanding the meat of the work that you have in front of you. Work with your team to take your scope statement/deliverables and break them down into manageable pieces of work that are commonly understood by the entire team. While you may need to sanitize a bit of the information in a WBS when presenting to a client, your client will absolutely appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes into preparing a detailed work breakdown that shows them exactly how they will get to the finish line.
Gantt Chart & Schedule Management
Yes, this is one of the centrepieces of the project plan – your schedule. But just as important as your schedule is the plan you have to ensure you are going to meet your schedule. How is your organization planning to meet that schedule? What approach are you taking to make sure that you can achieve those dates? Having a schedule management plan is just as important as the schedule itself because it tells your client that you have not only thought through the dates very carefully but also have put together thoughts on how you are going to achieve those dates.
Stakeholders & Org Chart
This is a commonly overlooked element to an overall project plan. One of the first things I do at the initiation of a project is to build out a stakeholder list and organizational chart (for both us and the client). Having your team members quickly understand who’s who is a great cheat-code for getting your project off the ground quickly. Your list does not need to be super detailed but key components that I include are name, title, project role and a short narrative on how to best interact with that individual. Keep in mind that if your comments are going to be at all sensitive that you omit them from the version of the plan that you are going to share with your client.
Budget Management & Invoicing Process
This is often the star of the show when it comes to your project plan as budget management is one of the most talked-about and focused-on components for a project plan. Stating your initial budget, any parameters around it such as your billing model (T&M, FP) is a great start. But you also need to focus on how you are going to manage your budget. Do you have buckets of money assigned to each phase? What is the plan if you are forecasting to go over budget anywhere? What is the process for accessing the contingency budget (assuming there is one)? These are just a few of the questions that need to be answered as part of your budget management strategy. Along with your budget management, you should also call out how invoicing will occur for your project. Will it be a monthly T&M invoice? If it’s a fixed price agreement, what are the billing milestones, triggers and acceptance criteria?
Communication Plan & RACI
What would be a project plan without demonstrating how your teams will communicate with one another? Building out a detailed communication plan is vital – not only to the customer’s acceptance of your project plan but to the success of your project overall. Good communications is the backbone of any successful project and there needs to be someone driving how those communications happen. Call out what your status reporting frequency and audience will be, what your meeting schedule will be, what the escalation path is for issues that the project manager(s) cannot resolve. These are just a few of the elements of a great communication plan. Often times to supplement your communication plan, a RACI chart is a great addition. Calling out each stakeholder and what types of things they are responsible, accountable, consulted on or informed on is a great way to baseline your communication strategy.
Building a project plan certainly isn’t an easy task, but quite a necessary one. Often times the ‘project plan’ is misunderstood to just be a simple project schedule but it’s so much more than that. By starting your project off with a comprehensive plan that addresses all of these areas is a fantastic way to build the cohesion with your project team and your client.