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Unexpected surprises and unforeseen risks often complicate already complex projects. Writing a comprehensive project management plan doesn’t guarantee success, but it does increase your chances. Having a thorough project plan doesn’t need to be a daunting experience. It just takes focus, planning, and time. Here are five quick steps to get you started on the right path.

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One of your roles as a project manager is writing project management plans. Here’s how.

What is a project management plan and how do I make one?

A project management plan is a document for managing the direction and completion of projects with a defined start and end date. It involves managing schedules, quality, resources, tasks, and milestones. It ensures the project is a well-planned and coordinated effort. Without a solid plan for your project, odds are you will not achieve the goals that you have set.

Here are the steps to build your plan.

  1. Define project goals and scope

When defining the goals and scope in your project management plan, there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. The first is the primary and secondary project goals. In essence, what do you hope to accomplish with the project? This might take some work because it involves doing some research into strategic business requirements. It will likely mean talking with other team members, other departments, project sponsors, and executives. It also involves documenting and re-confirming requirements before finalizing project goals. This is a critical part of planning for your project because it forms the foundation of the project and guides every aspect of project work and resourcing.

2. Identify project stakeholders

Many projects have run into issues during execution due to incorrectly identified stakeholders and lack of buy-in. While gathering requirements and determining the project goals, you will have started identifying key stakeholders. Now that the tasks, milestones, and schedules have been identified, it’s essential to confirm that all the right stakeholders have been included and are the right stakeholders for your specific project. You’ll need to talk with team leaders to make sure each stakeholder can dedicate enough time for the project without being over-scheduled.

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3. Identify the tasks, milestones, and schedule

Once you’ve identified the goals and stakeholders, you can identify the tasks and milestones required. After determining this, you’ll be able to establish the time it will take to complete the project and set your project schedule. It’s important to build a realistic buffer to give yourself sufficient room to complete the project on time if unexpected delays occur.

4. Identify and plan for potential risks

Although you can’t know with certainty which risks will crop up, you should try to anticipate and plan for as many as possible. Using a risk matrix allows you and your team to put together a single-source view of any probable risks that can be evaluated. Risks are typically categorized by probability and severity to help determine which should be addressed first. It’s vital to revisit the risk matrix throughout the project lifecycle because the probability and severity can change, making it necessary to reevaluate your strategy.

5. Share the plan with stakeholders

Sharing your project management plan with key stakeholders gives everyone a chance to see it with a fresh set of eyes to ensure something important doesn’t fall through the cracks. It also helps to gain buy-in much easier than trying to finalize a project without input from people who are affected. This is a step that some project managers may be inclined to skip, but it’s not recommended. Getting feedback and the green light from stakeholders can go a long way toward smoothing potential conflict once the project is underway.

Although simplified, following these five quick steps can set your project on a path to greater success. By identifying and planning for project goals, scope, stakeholders, tasks, milestones, schedules, and risks, project execution has an increased chance of progressing much more smoothly.

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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays