Project Management isn’t just about keeping a project on track and effectively dealing with hiccups and hurdles along the way.

As any Certified Project Manager knows, it also involves an enormous amount of planning before any immediate work on the project actually begins. Determining project scope, identifying stakeholders, aligning procedures with overarching company goals, and a host of other components must be outlined beforehand in order to ensure the eventual success of the project.

Beyond that, the complexities, struggles, and rewards of the project need to be organized and accounted for in order to communicate value to key decision makers as well.

This is where the Project Management Plan comes in. This formal document is integral to getting a project approved and allocating all the resources necessary for business to run smoothly throughout its lifecycle.

But how do you create an effective Project Management Plan that covers everything your higher-ups are looking for?

That’s what we’ll be taking a look at below as well as what a Project Management Plan really is and how it can benefit your role as a project manager (PM).

What Is a Project Management Plan?

Before we get into how exactly to create a solid Project Management Plan (PMP), let’s first take a look at the definition of a PMP.

One of the most common misconceptions among many Project Managers is that a PMP is just a term that can be used interchangeably with a Project Schedule. This, however, isn’t giving Project Management Plans the credit that they’re due.

A Project Management Plan is actually a formal document that helps outline all the components of a project – from stakeholders and scope all the way to risk management and contingency plans. Far more than just a schedule, these extensive and comprehensive reports give decision makers all the information they need to decide on whether this project is worth pursuing.

It is essentially a blueprint for the project that aims to describe what the project is, the impacts it will have on the company, the costs and rewards that may be earned upon completion, and what kinds of hurdles are expected along the way.

The Purpose of the Project Management Plan

What Is a Project Management Plan?

There are a number of skills for effective project management that will make your job as PM infinitely easier. And utilizing a Project Management Plan is one of the most beneficial.

Working without a Project Management Plan is a bit like trying to solve a puzzle with the design face down: it’s tough to figure out what you’re doing, getting the pieces to fit together is incredibly difficult, and it’s impossible to see the big picture behind it all.

A well-crafted PMP provides the necessary structure to carry out a project successfully. It helps to assign roles and specific tasks throughout the lifecycle of the project while also communicating important milestones to keep your team on track.

Beyond creating a smoother project for your employees, a proper Project Management Plan can be instrumental in keeping upper-level executives informed about the project as a whole. Informing decision makers about the timeline, resources involved, anticipated setbacks, and communication processes will help instill confidence in them about the project.

It can also help clarify any lingering questions they might have or, even more dangerous, any misconceptions that, if left unchecked, could lead to an enormous number of problems throughout the project lifecycle.

Components of the Project Management Plan

What Is a Project Management Plan?

In order to build a Project Management Plan that ensures understanding and project approval from decision makers, you’ll have to include a number of core components into your PMP. These components help to address any questions these individuals may have and also act as organizational tools for you and your team.

This list of Project Management Plan components (provided by the project management consultants at 20|20) will provide you with everything you’ll need to include to create an effective and comprehensive Project Management Plan.

1. The Executive Summary

The Executive Summary is a short section dedicated to communicating an overview of the components described in the Project Management Plan. It shouldn’t be too extensive (a few pages at most) and should maintain a high-level view of what’s entailed in the rest of the PMP.

2. Alignment with Corporate Strategy

As with any business endeavor, a project that’s going to be given the OK needs to reflect and further overarching company goals and strategies. This section, then, should include how the project specifically contributes to the completion of these goals as a whole. In essence, it communicates the core value of the project.

3. Scope of Project

This component, in particular, is quite important when it comes to building a PMP. Determining and defining the scope of the project here helps set the foundation for understanding among decision makers as well as a smoother project development down the line.

Take extra pains to ensure that any anticipated murky areas regarding the scope are addressed immediately – assumptions can be troublesome here. Setting them right early will be incredibly helpful later on.

4. Risk Assessment

Identifying potential risks as well as determining the overall feasibility of the project at large is a key portion of any Project Management Plan. This section should also delve into strategies for mitigating these risks as well as options should these risk factors impact the success of the project.

5. HR and Material Requirements

These two areas tackle the problem of who is assigned to where and what they’ll need to do their job effectively. This section should identify team members and their specific roles and responsibilities. It may also be necessary to point out training gaps as well.

Material Requirements will include any resources necessary for executing the project. It could be specific technologies, a separate workspace, or even a digital information resource.

6. Constraints

Limited resources, a significantly impacted timeframe, and reduced manpower are just a few of the most common constraints PMs will encounter.

7. Schedule

What many PMs wrongly believe is the sole component of a Project Management Plan, the schedule (along with clearly defined milestones) is undoubtedly one of the most important components.

Be sure to get into the details here, identifying deliverables, due dates, and other key information like budget usage or other project aspects that need to be completed before moving on.

What Is a Project Management Plan?

These scheduling deadlines and deliverables are made all the easier to navigate with the help of the many free Project Management software and tools available, many of which utilize improved Gantt charts along the way.

8. Estimates of Overall Costs

Cost estimates are an important part of the Project Management Plan. Total baseline costs for the project are important to include but expenses should also be broken down into labor costs, assets impacts, and direct expenses as well.

9. Risk Management

This section goes more in-depth into the risks of the project as well as how they affect a number of different project variables and their individual feasibility. The risk management plan below from Deborah Elliott’s presentation on Software Project Management is a great place to start here.

What Is a Project Management Plan?

10. Project Issues

In contrast to risks, issues are events or variables which happen outside the scope of the Project Manager. As such, dealing with issues requires escalating the issues to higher-level roles in order to resolve the matter. This section should detail what these issues are as well as how these issues will be managed throughout the project.

11. Change & Communication Management

Change and Communication Management should outline the processes of enacting formal change requests to project baselines (labor, budget, scope, etc.) as well as how project performance and communications in general will be handled amongst the team and other stakeholders.

Example/Template of a Project Management Plan

What Is a Project Management Plan?

There are a host of templates for Project Managers available today to help make the process of creating a solid Project Management Plan significantly easier.

When it comes to a complete Project Management Plan template, there are a number of templates to choose from. The CDC, for example, provides two templates in particular that should cover projects of most sizes. There is a LITE version for less intricate projects (small marketing plans, simple resource delivery, etc.) as well as a full version for projects on a grander scale like a workforce overhaul or relocation.

To give you just an idea of what this template includes (there are specific written directions for each section as well) below is the table of contents for the full version of the CDC Project Management Plan template.

What Is a Project Management Plan?

Project Management Plan: A Crucial Component of Any Project

As you can see, crafting a comprehensive and strategically sound Project Management Plan is not only critical to ensuring the success of a project, it’s also likely not quite as difficult as you may think. That being said, it is especially important that you include each of the components outlined in this article in your Project Management Plan in order to keep all of your bases covered.

With a well-crafted Project Management Plan, you can be sure your project stays on track, keeps your superiors informed, and delivers on its promises throughout.