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Free Excel Project Plan Templates: Which One is Right for You?

When it comes to managing projects, having a well-structured plan is crucial for success. And what better way to create a project plan than by using an Excel template? With the wide array of options available, you can find a free Excel project plan template that suits your specific needs. In this article, we will explore different types of free Excel project plan templates and help you determine which one is right for you.

Basic Project Plan Template

The basic project plan template is ideal for small-scale projects or beginners who are new to project management. This template provides a simple and easy-to-understand layout that includes sections for tasks, start dates, end dates, and progress tracking. It allows you to list all the necessary information in a clear and concise manner, making it perfect for those who prefer simplicity.

Gantt Chart Project Plan Template

For more complex projects that require detailed scheduling and visual representation of tasks, a Gantt chart project plan template is a great option. This template allows you to create timelines with dependencies between tasks, helping you understand the critical path and identify potential bottlenecks. With its intuitive design, the Gantt chart project plan template provides an excellent overview of your project’s progress.

Agile Project Plan Template

If you follow an agile methodology like Scrum or Kanban, an agile project plan template can streamline your workflow. This template focuses on iterations or sprints rather than traditional timelines. It includes sections for backlog management, sprint planning, task assignments, and progress tracking. The agile project plan template enables teams to collaborate effectively and adapt to changing requirements throughout the project lifecycle.

Resource Planning Template

Managing resources efficiently is essential for successful project execution. A resource planning template helps you allocate resources effectively by providing an overview of their availability and workload. It allows you to assign resources to specific tasks or projects while ensuring that they are not over or underutilized. This template is particularly useful for projects that involve multiple team members or external resources.

In conclusion, finding the right Excel project plan template can significantly enhance your project management efforts. Whether you prefer a basic layout, a visual representation with a Gantt chart, an agile-focused template, or a resource planning tool, there is a free Excel project plan template available to suit your needs. Consider the size and complexity of your project, as well as your preferred project management methodology when choosing the most appropriate template. With the right template in hand, you’ll be well-equipped to plan and execute your projects with ease.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


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Project Planning: How to Make a Project Plan

This guide is brought to you by projectmanager, the project planning software trusted by 35,000+ users worldwide. make a project plan in minutes.

Project plan on a Gantt chart

What Is a Project Plan?

How to create a project plan, project planning phase, what is project planning software, benefits of online project planning software, must-have project planning software features, project planning terms, project planning steps, how to create a project plan with projectmanager, what is the purpose of a project management plan, the elements of a project plan, how long does the project planning phase take, techniques for the project planning process, how to manage your project plan.

A project plan is a series of formal documents that define the execution and control stages of a project. The plan includes considerations for risk management, resource management and communications, while also addressing scope, cost and schedule baselines. Project planning software is used by project managers to ensure that their plans are thorough and robust.

ProjectManager allows you to make detailed project plans with online Gantt charts that schedule task dependencies, resource hours, labor costs, milestones and more. Plus, your team can execute the plan in any of our five project views, while you track progress along the way with dashboards. Start today for free.

ProjectManager's Gantt charts are the perfect project planning tool

The project plan, also called project management plan, answers the who, what, where, why, how and when of the project—it’s more than a Gantt chart with tasks and due dates. The purpose of a project plan is to guide the execution and control project phases.

As mentioned above, a project plan consists of the following documents:

  • Project Charter : Provides a general overview of the project. It describes the project’s reasons, goals, objectives, constraints, stakeholders, among other aspects.
  • Statement of Work : A statement of work (SOW) defines the project’s scope, schedule, deliverables, milestones, and tasks.
  • Work Breakdown Structure : Breaks down the project scope into the project phases, subprojects, deliverables, and work packages that lead to your final deliverable.
  • Project Plan : The project plan document is divided in sections to cover the following: scope management, quality management, risk assessment, resource management, stakeholder management, schedule management and the change management plan.

This guide aims to give you all the information and resources you need to create a project plan and get it approved by your customers and stakeholders. Let’s start with the basics of writing a project plan.

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Project Plan Template

Use this free Project Plan Template for Word to manage your projects better.

Your project plan is essential to the success of any project. Without one, your project may be susceptible to common project management issues such as missed deadlines, scope creep and cost overrun. While writing a project plan is somewhat labor intensive up front, the effort will pay dividends throughout the project life cycle.

The basic outline of any project plan can be summarized in these five steps:

  • Define your project’s stakeholders, scope, quality baseline, deliverables, milestones, success criteria and requirements. Create a project charter, work breakdown structure (WBS) and a statement of work (SOW) .
  • Identify risks and assign deliverables to your team members, who will perform the tasks required and monitor the risks associated with them.
  • Organize your project team (customers, stakeholders, teams, ad hoc members, and so on), and define their roles and responsibilities.
  • List the necessary project resources , such as personnel, equipment, salaries, and materials, then estimate their cost.
  • Develop change management procedures and forms.
  • Create a communication plan , schedule, budget and other guiding documents for the project.

Each of the steps to write a project plan explained above correspond to the 5 project phases, which we will outline in the next section.

What Are the 5 Phases of the Project Life Cycle?

Any project , whether big or small, has the potential to be very complex. It’s much easier to break down all the necessary inclusions for a project plan by viewing your project in terms of phases. The Project Management Institute , within the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), have identified the following 5 phases of a project:

  • Initiation: The start of a project, in which goals and objectives are defined through a business case and the practicality of the project is determined by a feasibility study.
  • Planning: During the project planning phase, the scope of the project is defined by a work breakdown structure (WBS) and the project methodology to manage the project is decided on. Costs, quality and resources are estimated, and a project schedule with milestones and task dependencies is identified. The main deliverable of this phase is your project plan.
  • Execution: The project deliverables are completed during this phase. Usually, this phase begins with a kick-off meeting and is followed by regular team meetings and status reports while the project is being worked on.
  • Monitoring & Controlling: This phase is performed in tandem with the project execution phase. Progress and performance metrics are measured to keep progress on the project aligned with the project plan.
  • Closure: The project is completed when the stakeholder receives the final deliverable. Resources are released, contracts are signed off on and, ideally, there will be an evaluation of the successes and failures.

Free Project Plan Template

Address all aspects of your project plan with this free project plan template for Word . This in-depth template will guide you through every phase of the project, as well as all the elements you need to outline for a proper document. Download your template today.

free project plan template

Now that we’ve learned how to make a project plan, and identified the stages of the project management life cycle, we need to emphasize on the importance of the project planning phase.

The project planning process is critical for any kind of project because this is where you create all the documents that will guide how you’ll execute your project plan and how you’ll control risks and any issues that might occur. These documents, which are part of the project management plan, cover all the details of your project without exception.

There are project plan templates out there that can help you organize your tasks and begin the project planning process—but we here at ProjectManager recommend the use of project planning software. The feature set is far more robust and integrated with every project phase compared to an Excel project plan template, and is a great way to ensure your actual progress stays aligned with your planned progress.

Once you write a project plan, it’s time for implementation . Watch the video below to see how project planning software helps organize a project’s tasks, resources and costs.

Project management training video (kkuo0lgcxf)

Project planning tools has become an invaluable tool for project managers in recent years, as it provides them the ability to maintain and automate the components we outlined above. Project planning software is a great tool to facilitate project management processes such as schedule development, team management, cost estimation, resource allocation and risk monitoring.

Beyond that, planning software also allows managers to monitor and track their plan as it moves through the execution phase of the project. These features include dashboards, for a high-level view of the project’s progress and performance, and in-depth reports that can be used to communicate with stakeholders.

Project planning software comes in all different sizes and shapes. There are some that focus on a single aspect, and others that offer a suite of planning features that can be used in each one of the project planning steps. What’s right for your project depends on your specific needs, but in general terms, project planning software is a much more powerful tool than project planning templates .

Related: 20 Must-Have Project Management Excel Templates

Online project planning software is highly flexible and adaptable to your team’s style of work. It has features that are designed to assist you throughout your project planning process.

Before the rise of planning software, project managers would typically have to keep up with a disjointed collection of documents, excel spreadsheets and so on. Savvy managers, however, make use of the project management tools available to them to automate what they can, and streamline what they can’t.

Some of the time-saving benefits of project planning software include the following.

  • Organize, prioritize and assign tasks
  • Plan and schedule milestones and task dependencies
  • Monitor progress, costs and resources
  • Collaborate with team
  • Share project plans with team and stakeholders
  • Generate reports on plans

Interactive Gantt icon

Gantt Charts for Superior Planning

A Gantt chart is the most essential tool for the project planning process. Organize tasks, add their duration and they automatically populate a project timeline . Set milestones to break the larger project into manageable phases, and link task dependencies to avoid bottlenecks later in the project.

A zoomed in screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart

Get More Than a To-Do List

When planning a project, you need more than a to-do list. Seek out a planning software with a task list feature that lets you set priority levels, filters and collaborate. It’s a big plus if you can also make personal task lists that are private to manage your own work.

A zoomed in screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s task list view

Use Kanban for Workflows

Workflows ensure proper execution of your plan, and no feature does this better than kanban boards. Customize boards to match your workflow and drag and drop cards as teams get their work done. See what work needs to be done and keep the focus on productivity with this feature.

A zoomed in screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s kanban view

Be Able to Track Progress

A dashboard can keep your project plan on track. Try and find a dashboard that’s synced with your planning tools, so everything updates automatically. It will make reporting easier too.

A zoomed in screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s dashboard view

Get Transparency Into Teams

For a plan to go smoothly, you have to know what your team is working on. Find a way to balance your team’s availability with the project schedule. Workload features that map out resource allocation and holidays can be a big help here.

A zoomed in screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s workload view

Be Able to Manage Multiple Projects

Rarely do you need to only focus on one project at a time. Give yourself the flexibility to manage multiple projects at once in the same tool. A roadmap feature that maps all of your projects on one timeline can be a lifesaver.

A zoomed in screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s Overview Projects tab

Before we dive into how to create a project plan, it helps to be familiar with some of the terms that you’ll run across. Here is a list of general terms you’ll encounter in this guide.

  • Deliverable: The results of a project, such as a product, service, report, etc.
  • Stakeholder: Anyone with a vested interest in the project—project manager, project sponsor, team members, customers, etc.
  • Tasks: Small jobs that lead to the final deliverable.
  • Milestone: The end of one project phase, and the beginning of the next.
  • Resources: Anything you need to complete the project, such as personnel, supplies, materials, tools, people and more.
  • Budget: Estimate of total cost related to completing a project.
  • Tracking & Monitoring: Collecting project data, and making sure it reflects the results you planned for.

The project planning process is critical for the success of your project, and as a project manager, you have to think about all the elements that make up your project management plan such as work, time, resources and risks.

Now, we’re going to take you through the main project planning steps :

  • Outline the business case
  • Meet with key stakeholders
  • Define project scope
  • Assemble a project team
  • Determine a project budget
  • Set project goals & objectives
  • Outline project deliverables
  • Create a project schedule
  • Assign tasks to your team members
  • Do a risk analysis
  • Create your project plan
  • Report your progress

By following these project planning steps, you’ll clarify what you need to achieve, work out the processes you need to get there and develop an action plan for how you are going to take this project plan outline forward.

1. Outline the Business Case

If you have a project, there’s a reason for it—that’s your business case . The business case outlines reasons why the project is being initiated, its benefits and the return on investment. If there’s a problem that is being solved, then that problem is outlined here. The business case will be presented to those who make decisions at your organization, explaining what has to be done, and how, along with a feasibility study to assess the practicality of the project. If approved, you have a project.

2. Meet with Key Stakeholders

Every project has stakeholders , those who have a vested interest in the project. From the ones who profit from it, to the project team members who are responsible for its success. Therefore, any project manager must identify who these key stakeholders are during the project planning process, from customers to regulators. Meeting with them is crucial to get a better picture of what the project management plan should include and what is expected from the final deliverable.

3. Define Project Scope

It refers to the work required to accomplish the project objectives and generate the required deliverables. The project scope should be defined and organized by a work breakdown structure (WBS). Therefore, the project scope includes what you must do in the project (deliverables, sub deliverables, work packages, action items ), but also what is nonessential. The latter is important for the project plan, because knowing what isn’t high priority helps to avoid scope creep ; that is, using valuable resources for something that isn’t key to your project’s success.

4. Assemble a Project Team

You’ll need a capable project team to help you create your project plan and execute it successfully. It’s advisable to gather a diverse group of experienced professionals to build a multi-disciplinary team that sees your project management plan from different perspectives.

5. Determine a Project Budget

Once you define your project scope, you’ll have a task list that must be completed to deliver your project successfully. To do so, you’ll need resources such as equipment, materials, human capital, and of course, money. Your project budget will pay for all this. The first step to create a project budget is to estimate the costs associated with each task. Once you have those estimated costs, you can establish a cost baseline , which is the base for your project budget.

6. Set Project Goals & Objectives

Goals and objectives are different things when it comes to planning a project. Goals are the results you want to achieve, and are usually broad. Objectives , on the other hand, are more specific; measurable actions that must be taken to reach your goal. When creating a project plan, the goals and objectives naturally spring from the business case, but in this stage, you go into further detail. In a sense, you’re fine-tuning the goals set forth in the business case and creating tasks that are clearly defined. These goals and objectives are collected in a project charter , which you’ll use throughout the project life cycle.

7. Outline Project Deliverables

A project can have numerous deliverables. A deliverable can be a good, service or result that is needed to complete a task, process, phase, subproject or project. For example, the final deliverable is the reason for the project, and once this deliverable is produced, the project is completed. As defined in the project scope, a project consists of subprojects, phases, work packages, activities and tasks, and each of these components can have a deliverable. The first thing to do is determine what the final deliverable is, and how you will know that the quality meets your stakeholder’s expectations. As for the other deliverables in the project, they must also be identified and someone on the team must be accountable for their successful completion.

8. Create a Project Schedule

The project schedule is what everything hangs on. From your tasks to your budget , it’s all defined by time. Schedules are made up by collecting all the tasks needed to reach your final deliverable, and setting them on a project timeline that ends at your deadline. This can make for an unruly job ahead, which is why schedules are broken into phases, indicated by milestones , which mark the end of one project phase and the beginning of the next.

9. Assign Tasks to Your Team Members

The plan is set, but it still exists in the abstract until you take the tasks on your schedule and begin assigning them out to your team members. Their roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined, so they know what to do. Then, when you assign them tasks from your plan, they should be clear, with directions and any related documentation they will need to execute the tasks.

10. Do a Risk Analysis

Every project has some level of risk . There are several types of risk such as scope risk, technical risks and schedule risk, among others. Even if your project plan is thorough, internal and external factors can impact your project’s time, cost and scope (triple constraint). Therefore, you need to regard your planning as flexible. There are many ways to prepare for risk, such as developing a change management plan, but for now, the most important thing to do is to track your progress throughout the execution phase by using project status reports and/or project planning software to monitor risk.

11. Create your Project Plan

As discussed above, a project management plan is a document that’s made of several elements. Before we get into a detailed explanation of each of them, it’s important to understand that you should include them all to have a solid project plan. The components that you’ll need might vary depending on your project, but in general terms, you’ll need these main documents to create your project management plan:

  • Project charter
  • Project schedule
  • Project budget
  • Project scope statement
  • Risk management plan
  • Change management plan
  • Cost management plan
  • Resource management plan
  • Stakeholder management plan

12. Report Your Progress

Your ultimate goal is to ensure a successful project for your stakeholders. They’re invested, and will not be satisfied twiddling their thumbs without looking at project status reports to track progress. By constructing a work breakdown structure (WBS) during the project planning phase you can break down the project for them so that they understand how your project plan will be executed. Keeping stakeholders informed is important to manage their expectations and ensure that they’re satisfied. Having regular planning meetings where you present progress reports are a great way to show them that everything is moving forward as planned and to field any questions or concerns they might have. Your stakeholder management plan will specify how you’ll engage stakeholders in the project.

Project planning software is a tool that helps to plan, organize and manage the schedule and resources needed to complete a project. ProjectManager is an award-winning project management software that organizes projects from planning to completion. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and follow along to build a thorough project plan that covers every detail.

1. List Your Tasks for the Plan

Tasks are the building blocks of any project and the start of any plan is identifying all the tasks that lead to your final deliverable.

Open the tool to add your tasks on the Gantt chart or one of the other multiple project views. You can import a task list from any spreadsheet or use one of our templates to get started.

ProjectManager's task list

2. Add Duration and Costs to Tasks

Every task has an estimated duration, which is the time it will take to complete it. They will also require a certain amount of funding, which needs to be collected to formulate your plan.

Add the start and end dates for each task in the Gantt and they populate a project timeline, so you can see the whole project laid out in one place. There’s also a column for task costs.

ProjectManager's task list showing a manufacturing project plan

3. Link Dependent Tasks

Tasks are not always separate from one another. Often one cannot start or stop until another has started or stopped. That’s called a task dependency and needs to be noted in your plan.

Link dependent tasks by dragging one to the other. A dotted line indicates that they’re linked, so you stay aware of the fact and can avoid bottlenecks later in the project.

4. Set Milestones & Baseline

A milestone indicates the end of one phase and the beginning of another, which helps with tracking and morale. The baseline sets your plan so you can compare it to actual progress.

There is a filter on the Gantt that automatically sets the baseline, so you can use it to track your actual progress against the plan. The baseline can also be locked with a click.

5. Onboard Team & Assign

Getting the team and the tool together is how a project plan becomes actualized. The easier and seamless this transition, the faster you’ll get to work on the project.

Invite your team from the software and it generates an email with a link. Once they follow that link, they’re in and have access to the tools they need to manage their tasks.

ProjectManager's Gantt showing a construction project plan task assignments

6. Monitor Progress & Report to Stakeholders

Keeping track of your progress and then updating stakeholders is both how you stay on track and manage your stakeholders’ expectations.

See progress as it happens on our real-time dashboard, which calculates data and displays it over six project metrics. Reports can be filtered and shared for a deep dive into those numbers.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

7. Adjust Plan As Needed

No plan remains the same throughout a project. Things happen and changes are demanded. Therefore, being able to edit your plan easily is key to the project planning process.

Edit your plan on the Gantt by a simple drag and drop. Move the old date to the new date and not only is that task fixed, but any impacted tasks are also updated automatically.

ProjectManager is an award-winning software that helps managers plan and helps teams get organized. Gantt charts control all aspects of your project plan from scheduling to assigning tasks and even monitoring progress. Multiple project views provide transparency into workflow and give everyone the tools they need to be at their best.

Ready to make your plan? Try ProjectManager today with this free 30-day trial.

The project manager is responsible for producing the project plan, and while you can’t make up all the content yourself, you’ll be the one banging the keys to type it all out. Use templates where you can to save time. Download our free project plan template and write your plan in double-quick time!

The purpose of a project management plan is to serve as a guide for the execution and control phases. The project plan provides all the information necessary for the execution phase such as the project’s goals, objectives, scope of work, milestones, risks and resources. Then, this information helps project managers monitor and control the progress of the project.

We plan at the beginning to save time later. A good project plan means that you don’t have to worry about whether the project participants are going to be available on the right dates—because you’ve planned for them to be. You don’t have to worry about how to pay those invoices—you’ve planned your financial process. You don’t have to worry about whether everyone agrees on what a quality outcome looks like—you’ve already planned what quality measures you are going to use.

A good project plan sets out the processes that everyone is expected to follow, so it avoids a lot of headaches later. For example, if you specify that estimates are going to be worked out by subject matter experts based on their judgement, and that’s approved, later no one can complain that they wanted you to use a different estimating technique. They’ve known the deal since the start.

Project plans are also really helpful for monitoring progress. You can go back to them and check what you said you were going to do and how, comparing it to what you are actually doing. This gives you a good reality check and enables you to change course if you need to, bringing the project back on track.

Tools like dashboards can help you make sure that your project is proceeding according to plan. ProjectManager has a real-time dashboard that updates automatically whenever tasks are updated.

The project planning process already discussed only scratches the surface of what is a deep well of practices created to control your project. They start with dialogue — speaking to stakeholders, teams, et al.

The deliverable for your planning phase is a document called the project plan. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Fifth Edition says that the project plan is made up of lots of subsidiary plans. These include:

  • A project scope statement to define all the tasks and deliverables that are needed to complete the project
  • A risk management plan for dealing with project risk including the processes for logging and tracking risks
  • A change management plan to manage any changes that will be made to the project plan
  • A cost management plan for managing costs and the budgeting elements of the project including any procurements or supplier engagements you might have
  • A resource management plan for managing the material resources such as equipment and the human resources on the team both in terms of availability and skills
  • A stakeholder management plan setting out who is going to receive messages about the project, when and in what format
  • A quality plan that specifies the quality targets for the project

That’s a lot of documentation.

In reality, it’s rare that you’ll produce these as individual documents. What you need is a project plan that talks about the important elements of each of these. There’s no point creating a big document that sets out exactly how your business works anyway. If you already have a structured risk management process , then don’t waste time writing it all down again in your project plan.

Your project management plan needs to include enough information to make sure that you know exactly what processes and procedures need to be followed and who needs to be involved. Get your project plan approved by your stakeholders, your project sponsor and your team so there are no surprises later. As explained above, project planning charts and techniques such as Gantt charts, CPM, WBS or PERT can help you create your project plan.

This is hard to answer. It’s going to take longer to plan the moon landing than a new dating app.

The best way to estimate how long your project planning phase will take is to look at similar projects that have happened before, and see how long it took them to plan. Talk to the project manager as well, if you can, because they’ll have a view on whether that length of time was enough or not!

It’s easy to see how long other projects took if you have a project management tool that archives your old project schedules and makes the data available to everyone who needs it. You can then search for similar projects and study their schedules in detail.

A project plan is all about working out what to do and how to do it, so you need to get a lot of people involved. There are several good tools and project planning techniques for getting information from other people including:

  • One-to-one meetings or interviews
  • Surveys or customer focus groups to gather and validate requirements.

You should also arm yourself with a task management tool , like a list or a kanban board. They are incredibly useful for noting down important things that should be in your project plan. Kanban board software can help structure your plan by writing down the key headings and then moving them around as required until you have a flow that looks right.

ProjectManager's Kanban board showing the tasks of a marketing project plan

Finally, you’ll need an online project management system to store your project management plan in. Make sure that everyone in the team can access the latest version of the project plan.

Your project plan is not a document written in stone. You should be referring back to it and making changes to it as often as you need to. Parts of it, like your project schedule, will change almost daily. Other parts, like your procurement plans and cost management processes, won’t change at all during the life of your project.

The important thing to remember is that if your project management plan isn’t working for you, think about what you can do to change it. It’s there to guide your project management, not restrict you from doing the right thing. If you need to review how you manage work and project resources, then go back and review it. Make the changes you need, get the plan approved again and share it with the team.

How To Make a Project Plan When You Don’t Have All the Answers

Yes, this happens–most of the time! It’s rare to have all the information at the beginning of a project. Most managers want you to dive in and get started, but you might not have the luxury of knowing all the details.

That’s OK; we have techniques to help deal with uncertainty.

First is the project assumption. You use these to put caveats on your plan and to document the things that you assume to be true at this point in time. For example:

  • We assume that the resources will be available.
  • We assume that the required funding is available.
  • We assume that the colors requested will be in line with the company brand and that Marketing sign off is not required.

You get the picture. Then, if the design team comes back and says that they want the product to be a totally new palette of colors and that Marketing has to approve that, you are justified in saying that you’ll have to change the timescales on the schedule to make that possible.

You planned based on an assumption (that everyone agreed to, because you got the document approved) and that assumption turned out not to be true.

Next Steps for Project Planning

The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t rush the project planning process. Done properly, project planning takes time. And it’s worth doing it properly because if you don’t, we guarantee that you will hit problems later on as people won’t understand what they are supposed to do and why.

Great planning sets you up for success. It gives you the confidence of knowing that you’ve got all your processes, tools and systems in place to deliver the perfect result.

Now that you’ve learned all about project planning, it’s time to take action. Sign up for a free 30-day trial of ProjectManager and start planning your project today!

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What Is Planning in Project Management?

  • 1.  Project Management Basics
  • 2.  Project Management Methodologies
  • 3.  Project Management Life Cycle
  • 4.  Project Management Software
  • 5.  Team Collaboration Tips
  • 6.  Agile Methodology Basics
  • 7.  Agile Project Management Tools & Techniques
  • 8.  Project Management Frameworks
  • 9.  Resources
  • 10.  Glossary
  • Advanced Terminology
  • Methodologies
  • PM Software Features
  • Basic Terminology
  • Professional Development
  • Agile Project Management

You may have a great idea for a project, but without planning, your project will remain just that — an idea. Planning is the critical step to take a project from an intangible theory to a tangible result.

What does project planning entail?

To bring a project to fruition, the project manager will need to assemble a project plan . The project plan describes the cost, scope, and schedule for the project. It lays out exactly what activities and tasks will be required, as well as the resources needed, from personnel to equipment to financing, and where they can be acquired. Good project planning also factors in risk and how to manage it, including contingency plans, and details a communication strategy to keep all stakeholders up to date and on board.

Project planning and management

Planning the project typically involves the following steps :

  • Initiation: This step typically occurs before the project is greenlit. It usually involves putting together a business case document that explains the need for the project, followed by a feasibility study to determine the viability of the project in terms of its cost and projected benefits.
  • Stakeholder involvement : Identify your project sponsors and key stakeholders. To ensure the success of the project, meet with them to discuss their needs and expectations. Map out the project scope, budget, and timeline with them, and make sure to get their complete buy-in.
  • Prioritizing goals : A project — and a team — can only do so much. Prioritize your goals to make fulfilling them clearer and easier.
  • Identifying deliverables : What are the specific deliverables that you and your team are expected to produce? You’ll need to know exactly what is expected of you, as well as when (i.e., the deadlines for each output). You’ll also want to define what success looks like for each deliverable and develop metrics to track and rank each one.
  • Scheduling : Using the information in the previous step, you’ll need to map out the project's timeline.
  • Developing a project plan : As previously described, a project plan lays out the steps needed to bring the project to fruition. It includes all the activities and tasks required in the appropriate order and workflow. The project plan will draw from all the previous steps.
  • Bake in contingency plans : No project is without hiccups. Make sure you plan for any bumps in the road by assessing the risks associated with your project and putting plans in place to address them.

Once the project has been mapped out, it will need to be presented to the stakeholders, edited if necessary, and then managed. Project plan management includes troubleshooting when issues arise, keeping the project on schedule, and moderating the budget.

Further reading:

  • Convergent Thinking vs. Divergent Thinking: Why Planning Isn’t Always the Right Thing to Do
  • Project Management Basics: 6 Steps to a Foolproof Project Plan
  • 5 Most-Common Mistakes in Managing Multiple Projects: Project Planning
  • How 5 PM Experts Create a Fail-Safe Project Management Plan

Basic Project Management

  • Project Charter
  • Project Management Stakeholders
  • What is a Project?
  • Work Breakdown Structure
  • Project Objectives
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  • Scope Creep

Advanced Project Management

  • What is PERT?
  • Network Diagram
  • Risk Management
  • Cost Estimation
  • Feasibility Study
  • Monte Carlo Analysis
  • Project Integration
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Understanding Project Management

Waterfall project management, agile project management, lean project management, the bottom line, project management: what it is, 3 types, and examples.

Investopedia contributors come from a range of backgrounds, and over 24 years there have been thousands of expert writers and editors who have contributed.

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Project management involves the planning and organization of a company's resources to move a specific task, event, or duty toward completion. It can involve a one-time project or an ongoing activity, and resources managed include personnel, finances, technology, and intellectual property .

Project management often is associated with fields in engineering and construction and, more lately, healthcare and information technology (IT), which typically have a complex set of components that have to be completed and assembled in a set fashion to create a functioning product .

No matter the industry, project managers tend to have roughly the same job: to help define the goals and objectives of the project and determine when the various project components are to be completed and by whom. They also create quality control checks to ensure completed components meet a certain standard.

Key Takeaways

  • On a very basic level, project management includes the planning, initiation, execution, monitoring, and closing of a project.
  • Many different types of project management methodologies and techniques exist, including traditional, waterfall, agile, and lean.
  • Project management is used across industries and is an important part of the success of construction, engineering, and IT companies.

Generally speaking, the project management process includes the following stages: planning, initiation, execution, monitoring, and closing.

From start to finish, every project needs a plan that outlines how things will get off the ground, how they will be built, and how they will finish.

For example, in architecture , the plan starts with an idea, progresses to drawings, and moves on to blueprint drafting, with numerous little pieces coming together between each step. The architect is just one person providing one piece of the puzzle. The project manager puts it all together.

Every project usually has a budget and a time frame. Project management uses a type of triage process to keep everything moving smoothly, on time, and on budget. That means when the planned time frame is coming to an end, the project manager may keep all the team members working on the project to finish on schedule.

Many types of project management have been developed to meet the specific needs of certain industries or types of projects. Three of those types are waterfall, agile, and lean.

This is similar to traditional project management but includes the caveat that each task needs to be completed before the next one starts. Steps are linear and progress flows in one direction—like a waterfall. Because of this, attention to task sequences and timelines is very important in this type of project management. Often, the size of the team working on the project will grow as smaller tasks are completed and larger tasks begin.

The computer software industry was one of the first to use this methodology. With the basis originating in the 12 core principles of the Agile Manifesto, agile project management is an iterative process focused on the continuous monitoring and improvement of deliverables . At its core, high-quality deliverables are a result of providing customer value, team interactions, and adapting to current business circumstances.

Agile project management does not follow a sequential stage-by-stage approach. Instead, phases of the project are completed in parallel to each other by various team members in an organization. This approach can find and rectify errors without having to restart the entire procedure.

This methodology is all about avoiding waste, both of time and of resources. The main idea is to create more value for customers with fewer resources. When managing a project with this approach, the goal is similar to that of the lean enterprise production principle. The only resources that will be used on the project are those that directly contribute to its successful completion.

There are many more methodologies and types of project management than listed here, but these are some of the most common. The type used depends on the preference of the project manager or the company whose project is being managed.

Example of Project Management

Let's say a project manager is tasked with leading a team to develop software products. They begin by identifying the scope of the project. They then assign tasks to the project team, which can include developers, engineers, technical writers, and quality assurance specialists. The project manager creates a schedule and sets deadlines.

Often, a project manager will use visual representations of workflow, such as Gantt charts or PERT charts , to determine which tasks are to be completed by which departments. They set a budget that includes sufficient funds to keep the project within budget even in the face of unexpected contingencies. The project manager also makes sure the team has the resources it needs to build, test, and deploy a software product.

When a large IT company acquires smaller companies, a key part of the  project manager's job is to integrate project team members from various backgrounds and instill a sense of group purpose about meeting the end goal. Project managers may have some technical know-how but also have the important task of taking high-level corporate visions and delivering tangible results on time and within budget.

What Are the Key Steps in Project Management?

Project management can be broken down into five steps: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing. These obviously are broad steps, and a project manager's job is to apply them specifically to the project at hand in a way that is most efficient. How those steps are executed can vary depending on the type of project management being used.

What Are Examples of Project Types?

A common example of a project would be product development. Multiple departments are involved in creating the product, marketing it, selling it, and more. The team that designs a project is different from the teams that manufacture, market, or sell the product. As part of a project, each of these teams would be working with a project manager who helps move the product development from one stage to the next.

What Makes a Good Project Plan?

Communication is key to a good project plan. Each team's responsibilities should be detailed with a goal, a time frame, and resources available, for example. Visual explanations such as Gantt charts also are helpful. These are bar graphs that can show each stage of a project and, for example, the time when that stage will take place. This is just one example as the best way to outline a plan for those involved depends on the scope and details of the plan.

Project management is an important part of bringing different teams or different departments together to achieve a singular goal. If creating a product, for example, someone needs to design it, someone needs to build it, someone needs to test it, someone needs to market it, etc. The project manager helps define the ultimate goal of the project and set forth a timeline for how and when that project will be achieved. That way, for example, product testers and product marketers can know what to expect and when to expect it—as well as what they are expected to achieve when the project reaches their respective stages.

Agile Manifesto. " Manifesto for Agile Software Development ."

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What does a project manager do?

What does being a project manager look like on a day-to-day basis? Learn more about the role of a PM and take a look at some of their daily duties and responsibilities.

If  project management is so important  (and spoiler alert: it is), it stands to reason that project managers are, too.

We’re big believers in the power of a great project manager. But we also know that project managers come in many guises.

They can be traditional project managers: the kind of people who are PMP-trained and PRINCE2-qualified and who have “project manager” in their official title.

Or they can be of the “ non-project manager ” variety: the people who have found themselves adopting the usual project manager duties and responsibilities as part of their role over time, and are responsible for overseeing and delivering projects in the course of their job.

But whichever type of project manager your company relies on, they’re integral to getting meaningful work done. That’s because traditional or not, project managers are the people who make sure that your projects are completed on time, on budget, and within scope.

So how do they make that happen? And  what does a project manager actually do?


What is a project manager?

A Project Manager is responsible for the planning, procurement, execution and completion of a project. The project manager is in charge of the entire project and handles everything involved, such as the project scope , managing the project team, as well as the resources assigned to the project.

Ultimately, the Project Manager is responsible for the success or failure of a project. And in truth, it can be hard to define the role of a project manager. The real question isn’t “What does a project manager do?” — it’s more like “what doesn’t a PM do?”

Project managers are involved in so many parts of the project from beginning to end. Their responsibilities include concrete, tangible things like planning and budgeting, as well as less quantifiable (but no less important) things like providing leadership and moral support.

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Likewise, as experience and skills become as important to successful project management as qualifications, it can be difficult to define who is and isn’t a project manager.

Have a project management qualification and some business cards that say “project manager”? You’re probably a project manager.

Manage lots of projects on a regular basis, and know-how to skillfully juggle resources to make sure they’re completed as efficiently as possible? You’re probably also a project manager.

A project manager is someone who is responsible for managing a piece of work from concept to delivery.

It’s not limited to qualifications or backgrounds, but instead applies to anyone and everyone who finds themselves managing projects, ensuring they’re delivered on time and within budget.  

In short: if you do all the things that a project manager does, you’re a project manager. Makes sense, right?

That might seem broad, but as we’ve already mentioned, the project manager job description encompasses a wide range of responsibilities and duties. (More on those shortly.)

What’s more, we believe that the more people recognize that they’re actually in the business of managing projects (even if they’re not “supposed” to be), the more they can adopt project management tactics, techniques and tools, so they can start to manage their projects better.

(Want to learn how you can put big picture project management into practice for your next project, regardless of your job title or team size? Check out our workbook.)


Project manager duties and responsibilities

Project management plays a central role in lots of different industries. But while the methodologies and output might vary, the project manager role itself stays pretty consistent.

That’s because whether you’re a construction project manager or a project manager in software development , you ultimately have the same responsibilities: to plan, oversee, and deliver a project.

Regardless of the deliverable of that project — whether it’s a new building or a new feature release — you still want that project to be completed successfully and in the most efficient way, from beginning to end.

We’ve broken down those project manager accountabilities at each stage of the project management process to get a fuller understanding of what project managers do — and why it matters.

Planning the project (in accordance with company goals)

From the outset, the project manager is responsible for defining the scope of the project and aligning with stakeholders to set expectations.

This is the part where the project manager  ensures that the project is linked to a bigger strategic goal , defines what “success” will look like, and gets buy-in from all stakeholders.

In addition to all of these strategic elements, it’s also where the “nuts and bolts” planning comes into play. The project manager will outline the plan for the project based on the agreed-upon scope and deliverables, including project budget, resource requirements, and timeline.

All of this planning at the beginning of the project is crucial to ensure it runs smoothly — and that everyone on the project knows what “running smoothly” is supposed to look like.

Resourcing the project (and budgeting those resources effectively)

Once the project manager has the plan in place, they need to make provisions for getting it done. For that, you need time, money, and people power. Also known as: resources.

According to  PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Report (2018) , “resource dependency” was listed as a primary cause of project failure in 26% of failed projects, with “limited or taxed resources” (21%) and “inadequate resource forecasting” (18%) following close behind.

So there’s a lot riding on resource management . And it’s especially tricky because resources are always going to be limited — as a PM, you’re never going to have quite as much at your disposal as you would like.

With that in mind, the project manager’s responsibility is to allocate the limited resources they do have in the cleverest, most efficient way possible.

Using a  project management platform  is especially useful for this, because it enables project managers to have full visibility over everyone’s workloads,  track all of their available resources  (and see what’s still available to use), and quickly identify where they’re at risk of going over capacity to prevent burnout before it happens.

Managing the project (even when things go wrong)

No matter how expertly planned and beautifully managed your project is, life, uh, finds a way.

That is to say: things are probably going to deviate from your lovely project plan at one stage or another.

But great project managers know to expect the unexpected. They’ve done their due diligence in the form of risk assessment, so they know what to look out for; they’re tracking their timelines and resources so they can spot potential bottlenecks before they become issues; and they’re level-headed enough to flexibly respond to changes in the moment when and as they need to.

They’re the ones who keep the ship sailing in the right direction, even if you have to take an alternative route or patch up a sail to get there.

Motivating the project team (and getting the best out of each person)

When you think of project manager responsibilities, you probably think of the classic three. The ones we’ve been coming back to again and again: timelines, budgets, and resources.

Those are, of course, super important. But a  great project manager isn’t just organized and adaptable: they’re also emotionally intelligent .

Emotional intelligence is what allows the best PMs to understand what motivates each team member, enables them to navigate conflict, and helps them to keep everyone on the project team feeling happy and valued.

And since  happier employees are 13% more productive , it’s one of the most important aspects of the project management job description.

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Delivering the project (🤞on time and on budget)

One of the most obvious project manager accountabilities? Actually delivering the project.

It sounds straightforward, but as we’ve seen above, the successful delivery of the project is dependent on lots of other moving parts working together, beautifully.

So it’s the responsibility of the project manager to make sure that all of the above — the planning, the resourcing, the managing, the motivating — actually results in the expected deliverable, at the right time, and within the right budget.

Reporting on the project (and analyzing how to improve for next time)

Good project managers know that the project’s not over just because you’ve Done The Thing.

In order to maximize your chances of success, you need to factor in time for a  proper project post-mortem  meeting.

By setting aside a dedicated time for the team to review and report on the project while it’s still fresh in everyone’s minds, you can ensure that all learnings can be  documented  and used to optimize your processes for next time, so you can continuously improve and scale your project management best practices .

And as any project manager knows, the right project management tool is an invaluable asset for these post-mortem meetings. Since your project management software has been the one central place for all project-related info throughout the project’s lifecycle, the project manager can quickly report on the existing data to get the insights they need.

Armed with that knowledge, the PM can see how the project measured up against other previous projects, recognize where the team excelled, and identify where there’s still room for improvement going forward — all of which helps them to make data-driven decisions that help propel the business forward.


What does a project manager do on a daily basis?

So we know the basic project manager job description (“they manage projects”) and some of the project manager accountabilities. But what does it all actually look like IRL?

It’s a fast-paced job, and no two days are the same. Depending on which phase each project is at, a project manager’s daily duties and responsibilities could include any of the following:

Meet with leadership to decide the scope of an upcoming project

Pitch to the finance team to increase the budget

Outline a project charter

Create a risk assessment report

Check-in with the project team for a daily standup and progress report

Update the calendar to reflect timeline shifts

Manage and re-allocate tasks across the team to make sure no one’s overcapacity

Check-in with a team member who’s struggling with their workload

Moderate a post-mortem project meeting and gather feedback

So now that you’re no longer wondering “what does a project manager do?” and you have a clearer sense of what a PM does on a daily basis, you might be thinking “hey, that’s something I would be into!” So if you want to do what a PM does,  here’s what you need to know .

Books & Guides

Project management for non-project managers.

Project management for non-project managers

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