Everyday Project Planning: A Note-Card Size Guide for Success

By Felicity Noël Keeley, PMP

This article is written for early career professionals in disciplines other than project management, as well as new, beginner, or intermediate practitioners of project management. Advanced practitioners in any discipline can benefit from reading with a beginner’s mindset. Read time: 5 minutes

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge 6th edition, “The project management plan defines how the project is executed, monitored and controlled, and closed.”

The project is the vehicle that brings you to your end destination. The plan is the road map.

Imagine starting a trip to a destination that you’ve been before, but not recently or frequently. You have a rough idea of where to go and how to get there. You may feel overly confident because you went somewhere close by the other day and got there without a hitch.

Now, imagine traffic signals have you taking an unexpected detour.

You’re suddenly unsure of how to go. The detour signs aren’t providing enough information, if any, of how to get back on track. You’re now delayed and in an unknown part of town.

That’s what it’s like to not have a project plan.

You pull over and safely look up the directions, checking to see what to do next. The GPS guides you back on track, providing an estimated time of arrival; beeping at you to remind you where to turn.

This is what having a project plan is like. However, you don’t suddenly start planning mid-way through the project after being hit with detours or missed turns.

A 2021 Project Management Institute survey found that only 55% of projects globally completed on time with only 62% of projects globally completing within budget, and 73% meeting their goals.

Road blocks and detours are bound to happen. Like mapping out your trip in advance, project plans are guaranteed to increase your project’s success.

Investing in advanced planning means documenting a clear, easy to follow road map. A key component of practicing project management principals is tailoring the tools and techniques, making them right size for your team and project’s needs.

Project plans can range from high-level bullets addressing the key factors in how the project will be carried out to a multi-page document with addendums. Just as no two projects are alike, no two plans are alike.

Building in an agile approach will help you and your team be flexible in responding to unknown events. If a road is blocked off en route to your final destination you need to find an alternate road. With advanced planning, you’ll have alternative road maps at your ready when something unexpected occurs, transforming chaos into order.

I challenge you to start creating project plans for every project no matter how small or how long it’s expected to take. By bringing project management principals into your every day work you are setting the standards and the expectations of your work and of those around you.

There are many questions to be asked and then answered in the project plan. I’ve developed a note-card size project planning checklist to help guide you in mapping your first of many project plans. I suggest printing out the list and keeping it near your computer to easily reference and guide you through the process.

Taking the time to commit to advanced planning and think through the project plan checklist will not just pay off by having a well-organized and successful project; it will also show your supervisors and teams that you are in control and that you are a project management practitioner, whether you hold the title or not.

Project Planning Checklist

  • What is in-scope and what is out of scope?
  • How do I know that I’ve completed the project? What does success look like?
  • Who needs to validate that the end result matches the initial objectives (the scope)?
  • How will changes to the project be handled? Who approves changes and what types of changes will be approved?
  • What are the activities required to complete the scope of work? What order does everything need to occur in? Are there any activities that can occur simultaneously?
  • What is the most important chain of events that cannot be derailed/What is the critical path?
  • How long should each activity take? Are there any hard dependencies?
  • Is a budget required? If yes, how are costs going to be estimated and validated?
  • Is procurement required? If yes, how is procurement managed? What needs to be procured? Space? People? Equipment? When are the resources required and for how long?
  • What does quality management look like? How to build quality management into the project? Is an independent audit required?
  • Who is impacted by the project? Who are the key stakeholders? Is everyone supportive? If not, is there someone or something that could help get them onboard?
  • Who needs to be communicated with and how? Are all communications internal? What do external communications look like? Who requires a status update and when?
  • What opportunities or threats may impact the project? What are ways to take advantage or mitigate these risks? When does something need to be escalated and who should it be escalated to?

Once I started utilizing project plans, everything changed. I’m confident you’ll find the same success. Comment and let me know how it worked for you!