5 Phases of Project Management Life Cycle You Need to Know

The Project Management Body of Knowledge organizes project phases according to their life cycle, starting with Project Initiation and ending in Project Closure. The Project Management Institute (PMI) created the 5-phase model outlined in the PMBOK Guide .

Each phase of the project management life cycle consists of a specific project objective or objectives and defines results, deliverables, processes, and milestones. Management by project life cycle phase gives the project team a common vocabulary to communicate project progress, resulting in better organizational control over the projects they handle. is free because select vendors may pay us for referrals. Our writers and editors are editorially independent, so we consider all vendors, even those who don’t pay us.

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What Are the 5 Phases of Project Management?

A project phase is a collection of related project management activities. The relationship of the phases in the project life cycle is often sequential, and each project phase culminates with the completion of one or more project deliverables .

The five phases of project management are:

  • Project Initiation
  • Project Planning
  • Project Execution
  • Project Monitoring & Control
  • Project Closure

Each stage of the project life cycle has a distinct focus that’s different from other stages.

That said, the project management skill sets , tasks, processes, stakeholders, and involved organizations for each of the project phases would differ. Still, repeating processes across all Process Groups is an excellent way to add a degree of control within each phase.

5 Phases of Project Management.

Read more: 14 Important Questions Project Managers Should Ask the Team

Project initiation phase.

A team’s performance during the Project Initiation Phase can result in either authorization, delay, or discontinuation of a new project.

The main goal of the Initiation Phase is to ensure that the project meets business needs and that stakeholders and project teams are aligned on the project success criteria throughout the project life cycle.

To achieve the project goal, it’s best to involve internal and external stakeholders from the Initiation Phase. This way, you can effectively align expectations and increase the likelihood of completing all the deliverables throughout the project management life cycle.

During the Initiation Phase, the entire project team defines the project idea, and the project sponsor evaluates it and authorizes the project to proceed. The project manager starts the documentation process, which includes the justification, deliverables, risks, estimated cost, and resource requirements.

The Project Charter is a key deliverable of the Project Initiation Phase and contains all this information. It is the first formal definition of the project. It authorizes the project to exist, establishes the authority of the project manager, and documents high-level requirements, project milestones, and success criteria.

Another important document in the Initiation Phase is the Stakeholder Register. This document includes information about all the stakeholders of the project. It identifies the people, groups, and organizations that have an interest in the task, project, and its results.

Approval of the Project Charter signals the advance of the project to the next phase, the Project Planning Phase.

Project Planning Phase

Once the expectations and success criteria are clear, the next project management life cycle phase focuses on planning each task the team needs to perform to cover the scope, achieve the deliverables, and meet the overall goal.

In the Project Planning Phase, the project team members dive into specific requirements, tasks, timelines, and actions. The project manager works with the entire team to create the design, enumerate the task list, and estimate the budget.

The project team builds the resource plan, the communications plan, and the initial project schedule. The project manager also establishes the roles and responsibilities of the team and stakeholders. The project scope is finalized depending on approved available resources and client priorities.

During the Planning Phase, the project team finalizes the Work Breakdown Structure , Project Plan , Requirements List, Communications Management Plan , and other relevant documents to iron out the workflow and coordination with involved parties.

The Project Plan is a key deliverable and contains a detailed work breakdown structure (WBS) or task list with start and end dates, and estimated effort and duration. It identifies milestones, resources, and the schedule. It also includes task dependencies that will allow the project team to use the critical path method if it chooses.

Other important deliverables are the Communications Management Plan, which helps facilitate effective communication with stakeholders, and the Resource Allocation Plan which identifies the schedule of project team resources as to their availability during the whole project life cycle.

Something PMs should keep in mind: As you discover more information, you may have to adjust your previous Project Plan and related procedures. More complex projects will require more back-and-forth approvals for every task created.

Project planning is an iterative process so the project manager should review, revise, and revisit all the plans at least once a month until the completion of the project. It is crucial for the project team to involve relevant stakeholders in this stage of the project life cycle as well.

Project Execution Phase

The Project Execution Phase is where the project team executes and follows through on tasks based on the Project Plan. At this stage, the team spends most of its time coordinating with people, helping to ensure quality work, keeping track of resources, and updating stakeholders.

Sometimes called the Implementation Phase, this is the phase when the project manager tries to manage every task and aspect of project delivery to keep the project on track for the remaining duration of the project life cycle.

The project team focuses on achieving all the objectives set in the earlier phases. At this phase, the project leader likely uses project management software to assign every task to team members. Tools that centralize task information, along with resource availability and team communication can simplify and optimize the needed project management processes.

Quality Assurance documentation, meeting minutes, and Work Orders are some of the documents created during the Execution Phase of the project management life cycle.

It’s also likely that you’ll discover new information that will require a revisit and update of the initial project management plans. Be vigilant with change requests, and make sure that the necessary adjustments are managed.

Project Monitoring & Control Phase

The best way to ensure progress and improvement is by tracking and reviewing project performance.

Simultaneously during execution, the project team carefully tracks the progress of the project based on the Project Plan established earlier. Tracking the performance of the project through various metrics is crucial to ensure the project stays on schedule, within budget, and within scope.

The project team keeps track of change management documents, spending records, QA checklists, and team time tracking. They are able to measure where efforts and resources go throughout the project life cycle, crosschecking it with the Project Plan.

Both the Execution Phase and Monitoring & Control Phase are critical times that can determine project success. Aside from monitoring the progress of tasks, the project manager also tries to identify issues or risks, creates a mitigation plan with the team, and reports the project status regularly to stakeholders.

Being diligent in recording and measuring project progress puts the project team in a strategic position. They can identify bottlenecks and initiate essential discussions or project management process improvements.

Having a proactive approach will allow the project team to respond rapidly to any change in the plan. Consistent and appropriate status reporting will update interested stakeholders and provide them the opportunity to intervene in or redirect the project as needed.

If additional planning, time, or resources are needed, you’ll need to communicate them to relevant project stakeholders before it’s too late. You’ll also have the data and results to back up your requests, so you have a better chance of justifying your requests and maintaining their trust despite circumstances.

Project Closure Phase

In the last project management life cycle phase, all the activities related to its completion are concluded. These may involve the submission of a final deliverable, fulfilling contractual obligations, terminating relevant agreements, and releasing project resources.

The causes of a project closure can be completion, cancellation, termination, or transfer to a new organization. The documentation required to complete Project Closure will differ depending on the situation.

In this phase, the project manager communicates the final project disposition and status to all stakeholders. This phase also ensures to inform participants and stakeholders of any follow-on activities or continuing product life cycle so they can communicate and coordinate with the people in charge.

Regardless of the outcome of the project life cycle, however, it would be good for the team to conduct a project retrospective. During this post-mortem activity, the project team can process new lessons and ensure the improvement of current project management processes for a future project.

During the project closeout, documents to turn over can include various project documentation, final meeting minutes, and other closure reports. These documents can identify and capture lessons learned and best practices for future reference and reuse.

It is a good idea to organize and store project materials in a shared team folder. These materials can provide reference during performance evaluation. The opportunity to continuously test, improve, or reinvent ways to manage the whole project life cycle can help grow the organization and its business.

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VIDEO: Recap of 5 Project Management Phases

Why Are Project Phases Important?

All projects go through each of the five phases regardless of their size.

The decision to officially divide a project into phases is an excellent way to manage the team’s focus, allocate resources, and align the entire project life cycle with clients and stakeholders.

By thinking in terms of phases, the project team ensures that deliverables produced at the end of each phase meet the project’s goals. Managing a project by phase also makes sure that the team is properly prepared for the next phase.

Project life cycle phases provide additional benefits. The approach provides a structured approach for project delivery. Defined activities, outputs, and responsibilities create a clear and common roadmap for the project team to follow.

Defined phases and defined roles show a visible framework easily understood by all team members and stakeholders. Assignment of responsibilities by phase clarifies what the team should only be doing in each phase and helps streamline communication.

Working on projects phase by phase helps track and link progress directly to each phase. Completion of each phase is easily recognizable by all involved.

Another benefit of project management by phase is the progressive evolution of the project. This helps identify areas that need greater attention for a particular phase. It also marks clearly the points and opportunities for structured reviews to support project governance.

While PMBOK recommends assigning project phases according to a project’s life cycle, project teams can follow their own system depending on their industry, organizational policies, and other relevant factors. For example, teams and organizations focused on monitoring the usage of resources can use the critical chain project management methodology.

Read next: Top 10 Reasons Why Projects Fail


Visit website Work OS is an award-winning no-code work management platform that helps teams manage projects and workflows more efficiently. Used by 152,000+ customers worldwide, this fully customizable software lets you plan, manage, and track every project in one place. offers time-saving and easy-to-use features such as automations, time tracking, document sharing, and real-time collaboration. Multiple board views such as Gantt and Kanban help you structure and navigate tasks and projects the way you prefer, and dashboards give a high-level overview of your progress. In addition, integrations with apps such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, and Excel, allow you to easily continue working with your favorite tools from within the platform. also offers dedicated solutions, such as monday dev and monday sales CRM, designed to answer the needs of specific industries.

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2 Smartsheet

Smartsheet is a leading work execution platform that has real-time work management features, collaboration and automation tools. Users are presented with a familiar and easy-to-use spreadsheet-like interface. However, it has enterprise-grade capabilities that even Fortune 500 companies like Cisco, Bayer, HP, and PayPal are confident to adopt in their business. Strong project management features enable teams to utilize different views of real-time data, and switch easily from Gantt, card, grid and calendar views. Smartsheet has automatic update requests, and can be used for waterfall and agile projects, product launch, sprint planning, and more. The resource management feature provides users the visibility who is busy, and who is not, in real-time. They can also attach files, share sheets, get notified, view the activity log, export, email, and print.

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Wrike is the most powerful work management platform on the market, enabling teams to plan projects and collaborate in real time. Our award-winning software is trusted by 20,000+ companies across the globe, including Sony, Estée Lauder, and Siemens.

Wrike’s customizable features include Gantt charts, request forms, dashboards, cross-tagging, time tracking, and proofing. Integrate with 400+ apps from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce. Automate repetitive tasks and achieve 50% faster planning. Work from anywhere with 100% access to your files via our mobile and desktop apps.

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BigTime is a leading Professional Services Automation (PSA) software that helps you scale your business by giving you the ability to track and act on your operational metrics. Even with remote work, easily manage time, expenses, and billing for multiple projects all at once, and quickly identify areas of opportunity with advanced features like resource allocation and custom reporting. With BigTime Wallet and client portal, you can get paid faster using custom invoicing and payment processing.

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5 Zoho Projects

Zoho Projects

Zoho Projects is an online project management application that helps its users to plan projects, collaborate with employees and clients, keep track of time, manage documents, and generate charts and reports. Users work on a central platform where they can keep track of progress, discuss ideas, communicate easily and stay updated. It is cloud-based and highly accessible, where user data is kept safe with stringent security systems. The software is also scalable depending on the number of projects, with the option to add more features. Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project management tool that helps you plan your work, track it efficiently, and collaborate with your team wherever they are.

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The Four Phases of Project Management

  • HBR Editors

project planning phase

Planning, build-up, implementation, and closeout.

Whether you’re in charge of developing a website, designing a car, moving a department to a new facility, updating an information system, or just about any other project (large or small), you’ll go through the same four phases of project management: planning, build-up, implementation, and closeout. Even though the phases have distinct qualities, they overlap.

For example, you’ll typically begin planning with a ballpark budget figure and an estimated completion date. Once you’re in the build-up and implementation phases, you’ll define and begin to execute the details of the project plan. That will give you new information, so you’ll revise your budget and end date—in other words, do more planning —according to your clearer understanding of the big picture.

Here’s an overview of each phase and the activities involved.

[   Planning   ] How to Map Out a Project

When people think of project planning, their minds tend to jump immediately to scheduling—but you won’t even get to that part until the build-up phase. Planning is really about defining fundamentals: what problem needs solving, who will be involved, and what will be done.

Determine the real problem to solve.

Before you begin, take time to pinpoint what issue the project is actually supposed to fix. It’s not always obvious. Say the CIO at your company has asked you, an IT manager, to develop a new database and data entry system. You may be eager to jump right into the project to tackle problems you have struggled with firsthand. But will that solve the company’s problem? To increase the project’s chances of success, you must look beyond the symptoms you have observed—“We can’t get the data out fast enough” and “I have to sift through four different reports just to compile an update on my clients’ recent activity”—to find the underlying issues the organization is trying to address. Before designing the database, you should ask what type of data is required, what will be done with it, how soon a fix is needed, and so on. If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of wasting time and money by creating a solution that is too simplistic, too complicated, or too late—or one that doesn’t do what users need it to do.

Identify the stakeholders.

The real problem will become even clearer once you figure out who all your stakeholders are—that is, which functions or people might be affected by the project’s activities or outcomes, who will contribute resources (people, space, time, tools, and money), and who will use and benefit from the project’s output. They will work with you to spell out exactly what success on the project means. Have them sign off on what they expect at the end of the project and what they are willing to contribute to it. And if the stakeholders change midstream, be prepared not only to respond to the new players but also to include all the others in any decision to redirect the project.

Define project objectives.

One of your most challenging planning tasks is to meld stakeholders’ various expectations into a coherent and manageable set of goals. The project’s success will be measured by how well you meet those goals. The more explicitly you state them at the outset, the less disagreement you will face later about whether you have met expectations.

In the planning phase, however, much is still in flux, so you’ll revise your objectives later on, as you gather information about what you need to achieve.

Determine scope, resources, and major tasks.

Many projects fail either because they bite off more than they can chew and thus grossly underestimate time and money or because a significant part of the work has been overlooked. One tool that can help you avoid these problems is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which aids in the process of determining scope and tasks and developing estimates.

The underlying concept is to subdivide complex activities into their most manageable units. To create a WBS:

  • Ask, “What will have to be done to accomplish X?”
  • Continue to ask this question until your answer is broken down into tasks that cannot be subdivided further.
  • Estimate how long it will take to complete these tasks and how much they will cost in terms of dollars and person-hours.

As a result of your thoughtful planning, you’ll be able to rough out an estimate of how many people—with what skills—you’ll need for the project. You’ll also have a good idea of how long the project will take.

Prepare for trade-offs.

Time, cost, and quality are the three related variables that typically dictate what you can achieve.

Quality = Time + Cost

Change any of these variables, and you change your outcome. Of course, such alterations often occur in the middle of a project. If your time frame for developing a new database management system is suddenly cut in half, for instance, you will need to either employ twice the number of people or be satisfied with a system that isn’t as robust as originally planned. Don’t let bells and whistles get in the way of mission-critical activities. The key is to establish a level of quality that meets your stakeholders’ needs.

Knowing from the start which variable is most important to each stakeholder will help you make the right changes along the way. It’s your responsibility to keep every one informed of any tweaks and tell them what the consequences will be in terms of time, cost, and quality.

[   Build-Up   ] How to Get the Project Going

In the build-up phase, you bring your team together. Time estimates become schedules. Cost estimates become budgets. You gather your resources. You get commitments, and you make them.

Assemble your team.

Your first task in this phase is to assess the skills needed for the project so that you can get the right people on board. This assessment flows directly from the Work Breakdown Structure you did during the planning phase, in which you developed your best estimate of the necessary tasks and activities. You may need to bring in people— either temporary workers or employees from other parts of the organization—who have certain skills. Don’t forget to budget time and money for training to cover any gaps you can’t fill with people who are already up to speed.

Plan assignments.

If you’ve built your own team, you’ve probably already decided who will do what. Or, if you’ve inherited a team but worked with the members before, you can still make the assignments yourself. But if a new, unfamiliar group is assigned to you, list the people on the team, list the skills required, and talk to each team member about his or her own skill set before you match people to tasks. This approach starts the process of team communication and cohesion.

Create the schedule.

It would be nice if you could tally up the to-dos and say, “With the resources we have, we will need this much time”—and then get exactly what you’ve asked for. But the reality is, most projects come with fixed beginning and end dates, regardless of available resources.

Read more about

The 4 Types of Project Manager

To create a realistic schedule within those constraints, work backward from any drop-dead deadlines you know about—that is, dates that cannot be changed—to see when your deliverables must be ready. For instance, if an annual report is due for a shareholders’ meeting and you know it takes the printer two weeks, then all the final art and copy for the report must be ready to go to the printer two weeks before the meeting.

Hold a kickoff meeting.

As soon as you’ve chosen your players and set the schedule, bring everyone together for a kickoff meeting. Go over the project’s plan and objectives with the group in as much detail as possible, and review the proposed time frame. Be sure to clarify roles and responsibilities. Encourage people to point out spots where problems may occur and where improvements could be made. Take all suggestions seriously—especially in areas where the team members have more experience than you do—and adjust your estimates and activities accordingly.

Develop a budget.

The first question to ask when developing a budget is, “What will it take to actually do the work?” To determine your costs, break down the project into the following categories: personnel, travel, training, supplies, space, research, capital expenditures, and overhead.

After you’ve entered the figures from these standard categories into the budget, ask a trusted adviser what you forgot. Did you overlook insurance? Licensing fees? Costs for legal or accounting support?

A budget, no matter how carefully planned, is just your best guess. Expect actual numbers to deviate from original estimates, and stay as flexible as possible within your limitations of time, quality demands, and total money available.

[   Implementation   ] How to Execute the Project

It’s time to put the plan into action . The implementation phase is often the most gratifying, because work actually gets done, but it can also be the most frustrating. The details can be tedious and, at times, overwhelming.

Monitor and control process and budget.

Whether you have a formal project control system in place or you do your own regular check-ups, try to maintain a big-picture perspective so that you don’t become engulfed by details and petty problems. Project-monitoring software systems can help you measure your progress.

No single approach works for all projects. A system that’s right for a large project can easily swamp a small one with paperwork, whereas a system that works for small projects won’t have enough muscle for a big one.

Does Your Project Have a Purpose?

Respond quickly to changes in data or information as they come in, and look for early signs of problems so that you can initiate corrective action. Otherwise, all you are doing is monitoring, not exercising control. Make it clear to your team that your responses to problems that arise won’t do any good if you don’t receive timely information. (But don’t jump in to fix things too quickly—allow your team members to work out small problems on their own.)

Watch the real numbers as they roll in to ensure that they are matching the budgeted amounts. Be ready to explain why extra costs are unavoidable. Common ones that sneak up on projects include increased overtime to keep things on schedule, consultant fees to resolve unforeseen problems, and fluctuations in currency exchange rates.

Report progress.

Stakeholders will generally want regular updates and status reports. Consult with them to see how much information they’d like and in what format. Don’t hide or downplay problems as they come up, or you can easily transform them into crises. If you keep your stakeholders informed, they may turn out to be good resources when issues do arise.

Hold weekly team meetings.

When you’re immersed in project details, it’s easy to be diverted from critical activities to side paths that waste time. You and your team can stay focused by meeting once a week and periodically asking yourselves what’s essential to the project’s success.

Set clear agendas for your meetings. Try structuring them around production numbers, revenue goals, or whatever other metrics you’ve chosen to gauge performance. Many of your agenda items will naturally stem from targets the project has missed, met, or exceeded: For instance, you may need to discuss as a group whether to incorporate more travel into the project because you’ve noticed a decline in productivity at a satellite office. Or you might ask the product designers on your team to continue gathering among themselves on a biweekly basis because they’ve doubled their creative output since they’ve begun doing so. Keep the momentum going by following up each week on any to-dos and connecting them with the metrics for overall performance . Also, celebrate small successes along the way—that will rekindle the team’s enthusiasm as you make progress toward your larger objectives.

Manage problems.

Some problems have such far-reaching consequences that they can threaten the success of the entire project. The most common are time slippage, scope creep, quality issues, and people problems.

Pay attention to small signs of emerging problems, such as a team member’s increased tension and irritability, loss of enthusiasm, or inability to make decisions. When you see signs like these, get to the heart of the problem quickly and deal with it. Don’t let it grow from a small irritant into a disaster.

[   Closeout   ] How to Handle End Matters

Though some projects feel endless, they all, eventually, come to a close. How do you, as project manager, know when to make that happen? And how do you go about it?

Evaluate project performance.

Before closing out your project, your team needs to meet its goals (or determine, along with key stakeholders, that those goals no longer apply). Compare your progress with the scope everyone agreed on at the beginning. That will tell you how well the project has performed—and if there’s still work to do. When you discuss your findings with your stakeholders, make sure you reach consensus with them on how “finished” the project is. Keep your scope front and center so that everyone uses the same yardstick to measure success.

Close the project.

The steps you take to wrap things up will depend on whether your team assumes ownership of its own deliverables, hands them off to others in the organization, or must terminate the project altogether.

If all has gone as planned with your project, then it’s time for celebration. Even if, as is more likely, there are some rough spots along the way—the project takes longer than expected, the result is less than hoped for, or the costs overtake your estimates—it’s still important to recognize the team’s efforts and accomplishments.

Debrief with the team.

No matter what the outcome, make sure you have scheduled a post-evaluation—time to debrief and document the process so that the full benefits of lessons learned can be shared. The post-evaluation is an opportunity for discovery, not for criticism and blame. Team members who fear they’ll be punished for past problems may try to hide them rather than help find better ways of handling them in the future.

Adapted from HBR Guide to Project Management ; content originally published in Pocket Mentor: Managing Projects (Harvard Business Review Press, 2006).

  • HE This story is by the staff at Harvard Business Review.

project planning phase

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Project Planning Phase

how to plan a project

The project planning phase of the project management life cycle defines the scope and objective of a project. Proper project planning is one of the most important steps in ensuring everything is delivered on-time and on-budget.

It can help smooth out the planning phase, helping bring together complex workstreams. Whether your project is still an idea or you’re managing an ongoing project, use this guide to the planning phase in project management to get familiar with key concepts.

Table of Contents

What is project planning?

Purpose of project planning., what is a project plan, what is included in a project plan, pre-planning: meeting with stakeholders., how to create a project plan., what happens after a project plan is approved, project planning techniques., how to maintain an ongoing project., successful project planning., frequently asked questions..

The project planning phase of project management is where a project manager builds the project roadmap, including the project plan, project scope, project schedule, project constraints, work breakdown structure, and risk analysis.

It doesn’t matter if the project is a new website or a new building, the project planning phase serves as a roadmap and acts as a control tool throughout the project. Project planning provides guidance by answering questions like:

  • What product(s) or service(s) will we deliver?
  • How much will the project cost?
  • How can we meet the needs of our stakeholders?
  • How will progress be measured?

Before we jump into the step-by-step of how to plan a project, let’s consider why the planning phase is such a critical piece of the project life cycle .

Project planning communicates deliverables , timing and schedules, along with team roles and responsibilities. During the planning phase of a project, the project manager is forced to think through potential risks and hang-ups that could occur during the project.

These early considerations can prevent future issues from affecting the overall success of the project, or at times, cause a project to fail. Too little planning causes chaos and frustration and too much planning causes a lot of administrative tasks, not allowing enough time for creative work.

Ultimately, the planning phase of project management determines how smoothly your projects move through the life cycle. That’s why it’s so important to spend ample time at the beginning of a project and get your planning right.

A project plan is a set of documents that can change over the course of a project. The plan provides an overall direction for the project, so drafting this is a key aspect of the project planning phase. If unexpected issues arise, such as delivery delays, the plan can be adjusted by the project manager.

Project plans are coordinated by the project manager, with input from stakeholders and team members. Plan components cover the “what” and “how” of a project.

Plans include details related to:

  • Timelines and stages
  • Deliverables

They also cover practical aspects such as:

  • Manufacturing
  • Risk management
  • Procurement

While resource-related considerations are also included, like:

  • Communications
  • Dependencies

Learn how to write a project plan in more detail .

In project management, planning is a multifaceted process. A full project plan might include the following documents:

Project charter.

This is a short, formal summary of your project’s aims, methods and stakeholders. You’ll likely refer back to this document later in the project lifecycle and may find it a useful frame of reference when measuring success.

Project schedule.

Schedules list what needs to be done and when, including details of any tools, bookings or people you might need to utilize at each stage. This is sometimes paired with a work breakdown structure (WBS). Depending on the nature of your project, you might list activities, costs and allocated hours beneath each deliverable.

Cost management plan.

This is essentially a detailed budget. Using the project planning phase to identify procurements, suppliers and resources can help you to map your project’s price tag. A project manager might use this document to think about human resource costs and consider figures that might grow if elements of your project plan change.

Statement of work (SoW).

A statement of work can help you keep an eye on scope, by listing a breakdown of the project’s aims and tasks. It’s often more detailed and less formal than a project charter and you might include practical details, such as the location of meetings, quality standards and software requirements here.

Risk management plan.

This allows you to identify the project’s main hazards for your organization and their potential impact. Analyzing the likelihood of each risk, high, medium or low, can give you sight of where to focus your efforts right from the project planning phase.

Stakeholder management plan.

In project management, each department comes to the table with distinct priorities, so drafting a stakeholder management plan can help. This document can ensure you identify all stakeholders, assign roles and prioritize interests accordingly.

Quality plan.

This aspect of the planning phase sets quality standards and acceptance criteria for deliverables.

Good project planning software can streamline the document drafting process in project management. It might allow you to combine these elements of analyze them side-by-side, for instance.

Prior to developing a project plan, the project manager should explain the purpose of the plan to key stakeholders. These are the organizations and individuals who are affected by the project and they need to understand what goes into planning their project – a key component of good stakeholder management .

Examples of stakeholders include:

  • Project sponsors
  • Business experts
  • Project team

Gaining buy-in from all stakeholders can be one of the most challenging components of project planning, yet it’s central to the project’s success. Projects fail when management isn’t supportive, or there is limited stakeholder engagement.

The project manager should host a project kick-off meeting for stakeholders. The meeting may be used to discuss the vision statement from the project sponsor, roles and responsibilities, team dynamics, decision-making, and other ground rules.

Ebook: The Complete Guide to Planning Creative Projects Ebook: 3 Strategies to Plan Successful Marketing Projects

It’s simple to create a project plan for your next stream of work. Simply follow these seven steps.

1. Create a scope statement.

A scope statement documents what the project will produce and what it will not. Once a project manager understands the stakeholder requirements, they need to define the scope. This is a crucial step because the scope will serve as the foundation of the project plan.

By outlining project scope boundaries during the planning phase, a project manager can minimize the chance of unauthorized tasks popping up. A clear and accurate scope statement helps gain buy-in from stakeholders, while also minimizing risk.

Formalizing these decisions in a project charter document may help to cement the business case for the project. When project managers take the time to meet with key stakeholders from the very beginning, they can feed cross-department insights into the scope statement.

2. Create a statement of work.

A statement of work contains project details including project timelines , requirements, and components. It’s an essential document that projects both the client and agency as it is a legally binding document that details the amount a client will pay for certain deliverables.

A SoW can also help prevent scope creep and shifting project requirements, which can individually, and combined, derail the progress of a project.

3. Conduct research.

From stakeholder interviews to project risks, conducting research is an essential step. Project research is based on the scope of the project and stakeholder requirements.

During the research phase, the project manager is encouraged to attend stakeholder interviews, or at least suggest questions to be included in the interviews.

At this stage of the planning process, it’s important to understand:

  • Project ownership
  • Decision making
  • Times when the stakeholders are away
  • Preferred communication methods

The project manager should also dig into team dynamics in order to assign responsibilities appropriately. At this stage, the team should discuss expertise, interests, and collaboration. The goal here is to define ownership of individual tasks.

4. Identify risks.

Including a risk analysis as part of your project’s planning phase helps you to keep an eye on potential problems. You can also use risk analysis to plan how to mitigate risks to a project should they arise.

Focus areas might include scope risk, the possibility that a project could drift beyond its original aims due to internal or client demands. Technical risks can arise if mission-critical software or hardware breaks down, and this can impact your schedule, budget and goals.

The right software can make the process of ongoing risk management easier. If delay is a key risk to your project, the ability to view progress quickly can be invaluable.

5. Create a project plan.

The next step in the planning phase is to draft the individual components of the project plan. The first draft should provide a rough sketch of the general process, outlining:

  • Project deliverables
  • Stakeholder feedback

Once the project manager has a general idea of how the project could go, they should share the draft with their team. Sharing the plan and asking for feedback from key team members ensures the plan is collaborative.

The project manager should adapt and change the path of the project to ensure the process works for everyone involved. As you draft project plan documents, think about:

  • Project deliverables. Even in the planning phase of a project, it’s wise to pinpoint exactly what needs to be produced.
  • Project stakeholders. This is the who’s who of your project, from start to finish.
  • Tasks and milestones. Consider the multiple milestones and project streams you’ll need to manage simultaneously.
  • Resources. Will you need investment, materials or extra staff?
  • Budget. When this is defined, it can be easier to make a business case and track return on investment (ROI).
  • Analytics. In project management, planning also means thinking about how you’ll report on progress and measure success.

6. Create a project schedule.

After the plan is drafted, the project manager needs to break the tasks into sections and map tasks to deliverables. This detailed step involves assigning tasks to organizations and individual responsibilities to people. This assignment of duties creates an important sense of accountability.

A project schedule includes specific start and end dates, along with notes that describe tasks. The schedule also notes dependencies. For instance, Task B cannot be completed until materials, as outlined in Task A, are delivered.

Spelling out dependencies illustrates how individual responsibilities will impact potential changes.

7. Review and approve the plan.

Before the project plan is finalized, the project manager needs to receive approval from stakeholders. To do this, they should build and maintain rapport with stakeholders to gain their trust.

If the project manager can prove that the project risks have been assessed and managed, and the project plan has been built to satisfy the overall vision of the sponsor, they can increase their chances of receiving approval.

When your plan is in the books, you’re ready to start executing those strategies and proposals that have been put together. Here’s what you need to do once your project plan has been given the green light.

Assign team roles and ongoing responsibilities.

Over the course of a project, a project manager should continually analyze project quality, monitor risk, and communicate effectively. The plan may have been mapped out, but your project’s wheels start turning only when tasks are assigned.

Define responsibilities clearly, either by individual, group or department, depending on project scale. Ensure systems are in place for each task and line of communication to flow smoothly from the last.

Monitor project quality.

The project manager is responsible for monitoring project quality to ensure the end result meets expectations. Project quality is proactive and it involves error prevention and risk management.

A quality plan aids in this ongoing responsibility by outlining standards, acceptance criteria, and project metrics . It is used to guide reviews and inspections during the project.

Communicate effectively.

Effective communication is central to the success of a project. Project communications can be guided with a communications plan . This document clarifies:

  • Who receives which reports
  • How issues will be handled
  • Where project information is stored
  • Who has access to it

On-Demand: The Manager's Guide to Avoiding 7 Project Portfolio Pitfalls Ebook: 3 Winning Strategies for IT Project Success

After the project management planning phase, you want your groundwork to set things out in a way that works for everyone. Some useful techniques could make this more likely, including:

Ask open-ended questions and feed input into the content of your plan as well as its structure. Some project plans take a list form and other, large-scale projects need multiple branches to segment each — this may be displayed as a tree diagram. The answers you receive may help to guide the fundamentals of how you lay out your project plan.

In fact, charts, sheets and software can help you to visualize plans more broadly — think color coding and intuitive tabs. If it’s easy to digest, various team players will likely find it easier to plug in.

Practical techniques for project planning include PERT, which stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. This helps with timing estimates by using statistics to manage probabilities, so it’s easier to predict how hypothetical scenarios could impact your timelines.

Naturally, the planning phase is just the beginning. Once your project is underway, managing the way things change can become a side project in its own right.

Set up pathways to deal with change and feed information into each branch of your current plan. If a cog in the chain alters, the best project plans are able to absorb this information quickly and direct it through all channels.

Your project might go through each of these life cycle stages :

  • Planning phase
  • Executing phase
  • Monitoring and controlling phase
  • Closing phase

Prioritization can help set the tone for success through each part of the journey.

The project planning phase is a roadmap for project managers. From pre-planning and meeting with stakeholders, to research, drafting, scheduling, and receiving final approval. All of these steps and subtasks help contribute to a successful project that aligns with the sponsor’s vision and overall objectives.

What is the definition of project planning?

Project planning outlines the purpose and scope of a project. It also addresses how you will approach and deliver it within a specific timeframe. We define project planning as a distinct phase within the project lifecycle .

In this phase, you’ll set out a roadmap for success, incorporating everything from the scope and projections of the project to its risks and constraints.

How can project planning help minimize risks?

Project planning can minimize risks in several ways. It can help you:

  • Analyze risks to consider their likelihood and impact.
  • Consider alternative courses of action, should a pitfall occur.
  • Prevent risks from occurring in the first place.
  • Manage stakeholder expectations for snags and delays in the project.

Risk analysis is therefore an integral part of the project planning process. Without it, you will be poorly prepared for the execution phase.

Why is project planning so important?

Project planning takes a lot of time and effort, but it is essential to delivering the finished product.

A solid plan can guide your team, stakeholders, managers and other parties through your project from start to finish. It allows you to set clear goals and objectives, allowing you to work out how best to achieve them.

Without adequate planning, projects can stray way off track and this can affect your bottom line. For example, in 2017, the Project Management Institute estimated that organizations lost an average $97 million on every $1 billion invested due to poor project management.

Demystifying the 5 Phases of Project Management

By Kate Eby | May 29, 2018 (updated January 31, 2023)

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At the root of any successful project is a project manager (PM) worth his or her weight in gold. While some people think a project manager’s sole job is to remind everyone about deadlines and set up status meeting, that’s simply not the case.

There is a science to what they do -- they have a deep understanding of and can perfectly execute the five phases of project management. In this article, we’ll cover what each of these phases entail and share tips for boosting success during each stage.

Developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) , the five phases of project management include conception and initiation, project planning, project execution , performance/monitoring, and project close . PMI, which began in 1969, is the world’s largest nonprofit membership association for the project management profession. It has set the standards for project, program, and portfolio management and offers training and certifications. The gold standard of certification from the association is the Project Management Professional (PMP) ® certification. There are seven other certifications available for different types of project management.

In an effort to standardize project management information and practices, a team of over 80 PMI members created the text, A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK ® Guide)  Currently in its fifth edition, the PMBOK ® Guide is continually being updated by the PMI and shares the fundamental best practices that are used worldwide to achieve the best results. The PMBOK ® Guide includes a process standard that can be applied to many projects; however, it does recognize that each project is different. It is up to PMPs to apply the techniques and phases covered in the PMBOK ® Guide to the unique requirements of their project.

PMBOK® Guide Concept of the Project Life Cycle

According to the PMBOK® Guide, the elements of a project lifecycle should define the work the project will accomplish, the deliverables it will produce, the team members involved, and how you will control and approve each project phase.

Determining these elements will take a project from start to finish. These project controls provide a systematic and  timely process that benefits a project’s stakeholders. This helps PMs define what needs to be accomplished before moving onto the next phase of a project.

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5 Phases of Project Management

Project management can be divided into five phases. First, stakeholders initiate the project, and then define and plan it. Next, the team executes the project and monitors its performance. Finally, once the project is completed, it must be closed out.

Five Phases of Project Management

Phase 1: Project Initiation

The goal of project initiation is to broadly define the project. This process usually begins with a business case or project charter. If research or feasibility testing is necessary, you should complete it during this phase.

Important stakeholders will do their due diligence to help decide if the project is a “go.” If it is given the green light, you will need to create a project charter or a project initiation document (PID) that provides an overview of the purpose and requirements of the project. It should provide a description of the business needs, stakeholders, and the business case. Note: There are plenty of PID templates that adhere to PMBOK® Guide guidelines available online that you can download to help you get started.

Tip: When creating a PID, don’t get too bogged down in technical requirements. Those will be clarified and clearly defined in Phase 2.

Phase 2: Project Planning

The planning phase is key to successful project management and focuses on developing a roadmap for the team to follow. During the planning phase, project managers should organize their teams, set up collaborative resources, and set goals.

Two of the more popular methods for setting goals are S.M.A.R.T. and CLEAR:

smart goals project planning

S.M.A.R.T. Goals – This method helps ensure that the goals have been thoroughly vetted. It also provides a way to clearly understand the implications of the goal-setting process.

S pecific – To set specific goals, answer the following questions: who, what, where, when, which, and why. M easurable – Create criteria that you can use to measure the success of a goal. A ttainable – Identify the most important goals and what it will take to achieve them. R ealistic – You should be willing and able to work toward a particular goal. T imely – Create a timeframe to achieve the goal.

For more information about S.M.A.R.T. goals and to download free S.M.A.R.T. goal templates, read " The Essential Guide to Writing S.M.A.R.T. Goals ."

C.L.E.A.R. Goals – A newer method for setting goals that takes into consideration the environment of today’s fast-paced businesses.

C ollaborative – The goal should encourage employees to work together. L imited – They should be limited in scope and time to keep it manageable. E motional – Goals should tap into the passion of employees and be something they can form an emotional connection to. This can optimize the quality of work. A ppreciable – Break larger goals into smaller tasks that can be quickly achieved. R efinable – As new situations arise, be flexible and refine goals as needed.   During this phase, the scope of the project is defined and a project management plan is developed. It involves identifying the cost, quality, available resources, and a realistic timetable. The project plan also includes establishing baselines or performance measures. These are generated using the scope, schedule and cost of a project. A baseline is essential to determine if a project is on track.   At this time, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, so everyone involved knows what they are accountable for. Here are some of the documents a PM will create during this phase to ensure the project will stay on track:

  • Scope Statement – A document that clearly defines the project , including the business need, benefits of the project, objectives , deliverables, and key milestones. A scope statement may change during the project, but it shouldn’t be done without the approval of the project manager and the sponsor.
  • Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS) –This is a visual representation that breaks down the scope of the project into manageable sections for the team.
  • Milestones – Identify high-level goals that need to be met throughout the project and include them in the Gantt chart.
  • Gantt Chart – A visual timeline that you can use to plan out tasks and visualize your project timeline.
  • Communication Plan – This is of particular importance if your project involves outside stakeholders. Develop the proper messaging around the project and create a schedule of when to communicate with team members based on deliverables and milestones.
  • Risk Management Plan – Identify all foreseeable risks. Common risks include unrealistic time and cost estimates, customer review cycle, budget cuts, changing requirements, and lack of committed resources.

To learn more about project management terms and documents, read our glossary of project management terminology.

Tip : When creating a WBS, work packages shouldn’t be longer than 10 days. Be sure to solicit the input and perspective from team members about their specific tasks.

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Phase 3: Project Execution

During the project execution phase, the team develops and completes deliverables. This phase begins with a kick-off meeting, is marked by the onset of status reports and updates, and transitions into performance and monitoring as the project progresses.

Tasks completed during the Execution Phase include:

  • Project introduction and kick-off
  • Develop team
  • Assign resources
  • Execute project management plans
  • Procurement management if needed
  • PM directs and manages project execution
  • Set up tracking systems
  • Task assignments are executed
  • Status meetings
  • Update project schedule
  • Modify project plans as needed

 While the project monitoring phase has a different set of requirements, these two phases often occur simultaneously.   Tip: Consider using cloud-based project management software so team members can update task status in real time.

Phase 4: Project Performance and Monitoring

Project performance and monitoring ensures that project results align with the management plan. Project managers use key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine if the project is on track. We’ve outlined the most common KPIs for performance tracking below:

key performance indicator

  • Project Objectives : Measuring if a project is on schedule and budget is an indication if the project will meet stakeholder objectives.
  • Quality Deliverables : This determines if specific task deliverables are being met.
  • Effort and Cost Tracking: PMs will account for the effort and cost of resources to see if the budget is on track. This type of tracking informs if a project will meet its completion date based on current performance.
  • Project Performance: This monitors changes in the project. It takes into consideration the amount and types of issues that arise and how quickly they are addressed. These can occur from unforeseen hurdles and scope changes.

During this time, PMs may need to adjust schedules and resources to ensure the project is on track

Tip : Review the business case at the end of each phase and make adjustments to the project plan as needed.

Phase 5: Project Close

Once a project is complete, the team must formally close it. Project managers generally hold a post mortem meeting to evaluate successes and failures. Project close helps a team identify things that went well and areas for improvement.

Once the project is complete, PMs still have a few tasks to complete before it is officially closed . They will need to create a project punchlist of things that didn’t get accomplished during the project and work with team members to complete them. Perform a final project budget and prepare a final project report. Finally, they will need to collect all project deliverables and  documents and store them in a single place.   Tip: Using a cloud-based software solution is an easy way to collect and save all project documents in one location throughout the life of the project.

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When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time.  Try Smartsheet for free, today.

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Project management for non-project managers

The steps, skills, and troubleshooting techniques you'll need to deliver the goods without losing your mind.

On this page:

What is project management, project management skills, project management steps, project management templates, project management software.

Project management is the art of making a plan, then executing on it. But if only things were really that simple... You'll need to rally a project team and track their progress. You'll need to manage expectations. You'll need to anticipate avoidable problems, and troubleshoot the ones you didn't see coming.

If that sounds overwhelming, you've come to the right place. Here you'll learn tips and techniques for each phase, as well as downloadable templates that'll make life a little easier. Consider it a bit of free project management training. Ready? Let's get started.


It's hard to over-communicate. Team members need clarifications, stakeholders need status updates and sponsors need the results.

Time management

Aside from managing the project's schedule, you'll need to keep meetings on track (and manage your own time, too). 

Problem solving

You probably solve lots of problems in your regular role – keep that "creative thinking" cap on!

Organizational awareness

Get familiar with other projects that might need the same people and resources at the same time you're going to need them. 

Be prepared to negotiate scheduling snafus, conflicting priorities, and personality clashes with grace.

green check mark

Pro tip: The most important skill is the ability to set aside your usual job, and embrace your role as the project's manager.

If you're an "accidental project manager", there's a good chance the project was already underway when it landed on your plate. Jump to whatever step you're on using the links below to figure out what your next move is. And don't forget to check out earlier steps to see if there's any clean-up to take care of.

Envision it

Step 1: envision it.

Don't rush through this phase. Iterate on your understanding of the problem space, and potential solutions, until you're confident you're on the right track.

Build the business case

Define the problem you're trying to solve, and the value in solving it. Talk to your target customers, whether internal or external, so you fully understand the problem space. When building a business case for your project, focus on what you want the customer to be able to do. Leave the specifics of how for when you brainstorm solutions with your team.

Recommended activities: 

  • Problem framing – Explore a problem space and its affect on customers. 
  • Customer interview – The ultimate empathy-builder. 

Form the project team

Gather people with the skills you'll need to solve the problem. Aim for a multi-disciplinary team with a variety of backgrounds and problem-solving styles. Research shows diverse teams deliver better results . Delaying the project's start by a couple weeks for the sake of getting the right team may prove worthwhile.

  • Working agreements – Establish the project team's social contract.
  • Health Monitor – The team's self-assessment of strength and risk areas.

Define "success"

Agree on measurable outcomes to shoot for, and metrics to track your progress toward them. Make sure the project contributes to larger objectives the business is pursuing. If it doesn't, this might be the wrong project (or it might be the right project, but at the wrong time).

Recommended activity:  

  • Goals, signals, measures – Set goals as a team and agree on how you'll measure progress. 

Brainstorm solutions

Fire up your problem solving skills. Now is the time to think about specific solutions, how you'd implement them, and how the customer will interact with the final product. Involve your team, and be ambitious at this stage. It's easier to pare down a bold idea than to turn a safe idea into something innovative.

  • Disrupt – Generate a long list of great ideas in a short time.
  • Mindmapping – Explore different facets of a problem, and organize your ideas for solutions.

Prototype and test

Depending on the nature of your project, a prototype could be anything from flowcharts on the back of a cocktail napkin to quick-n'-dirty (but working) code. Put it in front of your target customers and stakeholders for early feedback. This is the ideal time to fail and adapt!

  • End-to-end demo – Visualize your concept so it's easy to get feedback.
  • Experience canvas – Make sure your concept is user-focused, feasible, and valuable to both the customer and the business.

Signs your project is at risk during the envision step

The project's value is unclear.

How to get back on track

Choose a specific customer persona (whether internal or external customer), and turn on your empathy. Imagine why they would want this, then map that to the company's larger goals. Iterate until you've got customer value with strong ties to business value.

Recommended activities:

  • 5 "whys" – Give your team a deep understanding of the problem and its impact on your customer.
  • Customer interview – Understand your customers' needs and the contexts in which they're using your product or service.
  • Experience canvas – Make sure your project is customer-focused and makes sense for the business.

Goals or priorities conflict

Agree on one (yes, one) objective to serve as your North Star for the project. Then sort through the conflicting priorities with that in mind. When you encounter trade-offs, prioritize the option that'll get you closer to that North Star objective.

  • Goals, signals, measures – Make sure the project stays focused, and you know what a successful outcome looks like.
  • Trade-off sliders – Create sliding scales to show how important each metric is and agree on what you should prioritize. 

Conflicting priorities is a sign your project is at risk.

Nobody knows who is in charge

Reach a shared understanding across the project team, stakeholders, and sponsors as to who is ultimately accountable. As project manager, you're responsible for delivering the project on time and on budget – but you might not be on the hook for the project's overall success.

  • Roles and responsibilities – Define each person's role on the project, and what's needed of them so the team can be successful.
  • Project kick-off – Build a shared understanding of the project's main objective, scope, value, timing, and decision ownership.
  • DACI decision-making framework – Understand who's accountable for specific decisions, and what role the rest of the team will play.

The project team can't agree on a direction

First, make sure your team truly understands the problem you're solving and it's impact on the customer. And don't be afraid to ask management to clarify what's a priority for the business vs. what's not. When seeking guidance, make sure to present them with options you're considering, instead of an open-ended "what should we do?".

  • Problem framing – Explore the problem space and its impact on customers.
  • Demo trust – Create a space for open discussion and feedback from company leaders so everyone feels confident about the value and direction.

Disagreeing on direction is a sign your project is at risk.

Pro tip: Run a Health Monitor workshop with your team – the earlier in the project, the better. It's a chance to self-assess on eight attributes common amongst healthy, high-performing teams. 

Step 2: Plan it

The planning process should be relatively short. While we recommend an iterative approach to planning, there are a few high-order tasks before moving into project execution mode.

Nail down the project's scope

Based on feedback from early testing, and keeping your success metrics in mind, prioritize what to include in the project. Be clear about the trade-offs you're making. For example, optimizing for ease of use might mean pushing out the schedule or increasing the budget.

  • Trade-off sliders  – Create sliding scales to show how important each metric is and agree on what you should prioritize.
  • Journey mapping –   Understand the existing journey so you can design a better experience.

Understand and manage dependencies

Does your project depend on work, resources, or assets from outside the core project team? Map those out, noting who will own each piece of work and when they're available to do it. Even if you can't resolve bottlenecks at this stage, you need to identify them and factor them into the project planning process.

  • Roles and responsibilities – Define each person's role on the project, and what's needed of them.

Build a roadmap and backlog

With scope agreed upon and dependencies understood, break the project plan down into discrete pieces of work, and estimate the time and effort required for each. From there, you can project when you'll hit major milestones and set a target completion date. Then collect all pieces of work into a backlog you can use to plan in short, iterative cycles.

  • Roadmap planning – This exercise comes from the software world, but can be adapted to suit any project. 

Anticipate and mitigate risks

Save yourself from headaches down the road. Think through ways the project might fail, and dive into prevention mode. Also identify chances for mind-blowing success that you haven't yet considered – missed opportunities are a form of risk, too.

  • Pre-mortem    – Imagine what could go wrong, and make plans to prevent them. 

Make a communications plan

Establish a cadence for team meetings and updates to stakeholders, and share it around. (Bonus points if you can keep the meetings to a minimum!) Then schedule any recurring meetings, and put reminders on your calendar to update the project's plan and dashboard (or internal homepage) regularly.

Stand-ups  – A daily opportunity for your team to share the status of work in progress and discuss blockers.

Project poster  – An easy way to share your goals, status, and schedule.  If updated regularly, the poster serves as your status report (but far less painful). 

Signs your project is at risk during the planning step

You're stuck in planning mode.

Shake off that "analysis paralysis", and get going! If you're using an agile approach (and you really should), remind the project team you'll have chances to demonstrate progress and course-correct as you go.

  • Pre-mortem – Visualize risks and opportunities for the project, then figure out how to navigate yourself away from (or toward) them.

Analysis paralysis is a sign your project is at risk.


Call upon those communication skills and share small, frequent updates that are easy to digest – huge "walls of text" probably won't get read. Make sure you're sharing the right information in the right level of detail with the right people.

  • Elevator pitch – Create a simple explanation of your project and the value it delivers to your customers.
  • Project poster – Shape and share your ideas, articulate what success looks like, and build a shared understanding with stakeholders.

Your project team is missing critical skills

Re-shape your concept so you can move forward with the resources you have. (Problem solving skills FTW!) Throwing hands in the air and saying "We're blocked" will only diminish the trust stakeholders and sponsors have in your team.

  • Trade-off sliders – The basic trade-off sliders exercise clarifies which aspects of a project are negotiable (and which aren't), but you can give it a twist. If you can't do "X", what other aspects of the project can flex to help you navigate the skill gap?

Missing key skills or people is a sign your project is at risk.

Spar on the high-level plan with your project team. It helps you gut-check what's realistic, as well as visualize dependencies and risks. – Sarah Goff-Dupont, accidental project manager

Step 3: Execute it

Finally, right?! Time to get $#!τ  done . Work in 1- to 2-week iterations, with a demo for stakeholders and a team retrospective at the end of each cycle. 

Work iteratively

Agile methodologies  may come from the software development world, but they're useful for any project: IT, marketing, HR... whatever. Start each cycle with "just enough" planning, then knock out the work. Be sure to hold a short retrospective at the end of each iteration. It's your chance to share what went well (and what didn't) so the next iteration can be even better.

  • Sprint planning – Plan the next 1-2 weeks' work based on what's highest priority. 
  • Retrospectives – Provide a safe space for the team to reflect on and share what works well (and what doesn't!) so you can improve.

Track your progress

This includes which pieces of work are complete, how much of the budget remains, and whether you're on track to meet your target delivery date. Use something digital like Google Docs, Trello , or Jira  so everyone can see your status easily. If you start burning through budget or time faster than projected, raise that with your sponsor and team right away so you can course-correct before things get out of hand.

  • Set up a Trello board – Organize and prioritize your project in a fun, flexible way.
  • Set up a Jira dashboard – The information your team and stakeholders need, in a custom layout. 

Test and incorporate feedback

At the end of each iteration cycle, update your end-to-end demo to reflect the work completed, and show it to stakeholders (and customers, ideally). Capture their feedback so you can take it into account when planning the next iteration. You may want to re-work X before moving on to Y.  

  • End-to-end demo –  Visualize your concept so it's easy to get feedback.
  • Sparring – Let others challenge your own ideas and inspire new ones.

Signs your project is at risk during the execution step

You're stepping on each other's toes.

Remove and prevent bottlenecks in your process. Clarify each person's role or area of responsibility on the project so you're not blocking each other or (eep!) doubling up on tasks.

  • Stand-ups – Start the day with updates on who's-working-on-what, what got done yesterday, and which tasks each person intends to tackle next.
  • Roles and responsibilities – Understand everyone's role on the team, and learn what teammates need from each other in order to succeed.

Stepping on each other's toes is a sign your project is at risk.


Shine a light on everything your team is accomplishing. When you're eyeballs-deep in project work, it's easy to miss the forrest for the trees. (And if you're truly not making progress, your next move is to figure out why.)

  • End-to-end demo – Celebrate the incremental wins by iterating on a demo. As it evolves from diagrams to prototype to an MVP, your team's progress will feel more tangible.
  • Stand-ups – Create a feeling of momentum by highlighting what got done yesterday (and/or expose the hard truth that nothing is getting to the "done" pile).

Not feeling like you're making progress is a sign your project is at risk.


It depends. If your schedule and/or budget are flexible, you might opt to expand the project's scope. Otherwise, you'll need to deflect additional ideas or make trade-offs to accommodate them. Just don't skimp on the quality of work you deliver. Remember: for most projects, you can keep making improvements after you deliver the initial "minimum viable product" (MVP).

  • Trade-off sliders – Decide which aspects of the project you'll prioritize, and think though the trade-offs you'll make in their defense when new ideas are introduced.
  • DACI decision-making framework – Agree on who makes the call and who contributes recommendations – either for individual decisions about scope, or for the project as a whole.

Communication has broken down

Build trust amongst team members and with stakeholders so they feel comfortable talking again. If people are purposefully withholding information because they're playing politics, you may need to involve a neutral party (such as HR) to facilitate.

  • Stand-ups – Practice communicating and build trust: share quick updates on tasks and raise blocking issues.
  • Sparring – If team members aren't pushing each other creatively, use this technique from the design world to get honest, structured peer feedback.
  • Health Monitor – Provide a safe space for the team to discuss how you're working together (strengths, weaknesses, warts n' all).
  • Working agreement – Codify the team's values: the practices, results, and conduct you expect from one another. 

Broken communication is a sign your project is at risk.


Recalibrate your projected timeline based on the information you have about the actual effort needed to reach your milestones. Be open about this so stakeholders have a chance to adjust their expectations and any down-stream plans.

  • Retrospective – Set aside time in each retrospective to compare that iteration's estimates with the actual effort needed so you can continually recalibrate.
  • 5 "whys" – Start with one estimate-gone-wrong to analyze and ask why it was so off – then keep asking "why" until you've uncovered the root cause.

Off-target estimates is a sign your project is at risk.

Pro tip:  Remember those measureable goals you set? Make sure to build in any analytics or infrastructure needed to measure progress towards them. 

Step 4: Deliver it

You've completed all the work. You're all done now, right? Not quite. Closing out a project involves more than cancelling the recurring meetings (although that part  is  fun...). 

Deliver your "minimum viable product" (MVP)

This is it! The big moment! Your work is finally ready for public (or internal) consumption. If your customers are internal, or clients with whom you communicate directly, make sure they accept the project as complete. Depending on how smooth or rocky the journey was, you may want to get their acceptance in writing. Then, have a little celebration with your team!

  • Celebrate! – Did someone say "team lunch"?...

Close out the budget

Pay any outstanding vendor invoices, and if you were hired by an outside client, get your payment from them. Use the budget data you've been tracking throughout the project to create a report for your project's sponsor. Include analysis of where you'd spend more (or save) money on similar projects in the future.

Do a project retrospective

What went well? What went horribly, horribly wrong? What did we learn? Put these questions up for discussion with your project team. Be sure to capture the lessons learned and share them with your peers so they can benefit. And don't forget to chat about how you might improve on what you just delivered.

  • Retrospective   – Reflect on and discuss what works well (and what doesn't!) so you can improve. Mistakes are ok if you learn from them. 

Get your brag on

Are you stoked about what you just delivered? Let's hope so! Write up a short company announcement describing the project and thanking your team. If the project is external-facing, you might want to share the news with customers by way of an email or blog post.

Signs your project is at risk during the delivery step

The project isn't accepted as "done"..

Time for those diplomacy skills. First, talk to your sponsor (or client, or team, or whomever is unhappy) and figure out where the discrepancy lays. Your goal for this conversation is to agree on a definition of "done" – something you should put in writing so it's easy for everyone to refer back to later. From there, draw up a list of tasks that'll close the gap between here and "done", and set your team on it.

  • Demo trust – Use this as a forum for discussing "done" and next steps with your management team.

Disagreement over the definition of "done" is a sign your project is at risk.

Whatever you delivered will live on, so have a post-launch plan in place. Who will support or maintain it? What metrics or reporting will you need to measure it's success? – Aumarie Benpayo, Atlassian program manager

Step 5: Improve it

Most "accidental project managers" are keen to get back to their regularly scheduled day job once the MVP is delivered. Even so, take a moment to consider these questions: 

  • Have you achieved your definition of "success" for the project?
  • Are there ideas that were de-scoped from the MVP?

If the answer to either question is "yes" or "no", keep reading.

Technically , improving on what you just delivered is an on-going process – not a "step", per se. But whatever. It's still important.

First, let's talk scope.  If important and/or cool stuff was de-scoped from the MVP, now is your chance to get it done. You might try to keep the whole project team together and dedicate all or most of your time to this. Or if that's not possible, you can opt to get a portion of everyone's time allocated to the project and chip away at your to-do list gradually. Either way, you're cycling back to the   "plan it" step.  

Now, what about your success criteria?  You probably won't know whether you've met it until after you've delivered your MVP and let your work live out there in the wild for a time. You're already measuring progress towards the project's goal (right?), so your immediate job is to just monitor that.

For extra credit, think about what might help you reach it faster, and devise a lightweight test around it. Depending on the project, you might need to gather quantitative data (e.g., usage rate, cost savings), qualitative data (e.g., surveys, usability testing), or a little of both.

If it becomes clear that you're not on track to reach your goal, it's time to roll up your sleeves and iterate on what you delivered. Equipped with raw data from tests and metrics, your job now is to turn that information into actionable insights. You might discover that an idea you tested is worth implementing "for real". Or, analyzing test data might simply feed into ideas for additional tests.

Once you know what improvements to make, each one becomes its own mini-project. Or, you can opt to wrap a handful of improvements into a single umbrella project – this approach is useful if making each update will involve roughly the same group of people since it may be easier to schedule their time in one larger block. Either way, you're essentially cycling back to the  "envision it" step. 

Signs your project is at risk of not meeting it's goals

Your mvp isn't being used, and you don't know why.

Time for some qualitative research. Talk to your target customers to find out what's preventing them from putting your project to use. If it's appropriate for your project, set up a user test (either live, or using an online service) so you have a chance to observe their behavior as they interact with what you've delivered.

  • Customer interview – Go straight to the source and ask what the hang-up is.
  • Empathy mapping – Pair your quantitative data with your knowledge of the customer to understand how they think and feel about your project.


Go bold. This might mean a major pivot, or overhauling your project entirely. Don't get discouraged, though. Making one major change on your way to success puts your batting average at a respectable .500 (and hey: Babe Ruth's was only .342).

  • 5 "whys"   – Use this analysis technique to uncover the root of the problem so you know what future changes need to address.
  • Disrupt – De-calcify your neuro pathways and generate fresh ideas.

For your convenience, we've gathered all the templates suggested throughout this page into one handy spot. 

So, turns out we build software that makes project management easier. 

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Blog Data Visualization

The 4 Project Life Cycle Phases (With Templates For Each Stage)

By Midori Nediger , Nov 29, 2019

project life cycle

To an outsider, it might seem like the project management process is easy…just talking to clients, scheduling meetings, assigning tasks, and reminding team members of deadlines.

But anyone who has managed a project will tell you it’s much more than that, which is why the project life cycle is so useful.

What is a Project Life Cycle?

The project life cycle is a 4-step framework designed to help project managers guide their projects successfully from start to finish. The purpose of the project life cycle is to create an easy to follow framework to guide projects.

What are the 4 stages of the project life cycle?

  • The project initiation stage: understand the goals, priorities, deadlines, and risks of the project
  • The project planning stage: outline the tasks and timeline required to execute on the project
  • The project execution stage: turn your plan into action and monitor project performance
  • The project closure stage: analyze results, summarize key learnings, and plan next steps

project life cycle


Understanding and planning for the 4 stages of the project life cycle can help you manage, organize, and plan so your project will go off without a hitch.

A project management life cycle will help:

  • Ease communication between project teams and stakeholders with the help of agile project management tools
  • Ensure goals are achievable with the available resources
  • Help mitigate risk and keep projects on track

But what does each stage of the cycle look like?

1. Project initiation stage: understand the goals, priorities, deadlines, and risks of the project

 The initiation stage of the project management life cycle is when you meet with clients and stakeholders to understand their goals, motivations, and hopes for the project.

During this stage the aim is to hash out the high-level goals that must be met for you to consider the project a success. There’s lots of research, discovery, and discussion, but very little detailed planning in this phase.

The key project management steps for the initiation stage include:

  • Identifying project objectives and deliverables
  • Outlining project risks , dependencies, constraints, and priorities
  • Establishing project scope based on deadlines and available resources
  • Submitting a project proposal for approval (our proposal maker can help you with that)

We’ve got a more detailed guide to writing a project management plan if you want more information. This covers project management basics along with all the elements that need to be included. You can also get PMP Certification to get specific training on how to do this.

I’ll go through the basics here.

project life cycle


Let’s take a look at what’s involved for each of these tasks.

Kick off the project management process by identifying project objectives and deliverables

Start by talking with your stakeholders or clients to get to know their needs. Try to tease out what’s important to them, what projects they’ve tried in the past, and what they hope to see in the future.

From there, you can move on to building out the concrete objectives and deliverables that your team will be responsible for, given the scope of the project and the available resources.

Be sure to document the takeaways from these initial meetings…you’ll want to have a record of the agreed-upon deliverables when it comes to the project closure stage.

project life cycle


Pro-tip: Set S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals. For example: “In 3 months, increase blog conversion rates by 5%”.

Outline project risks, dependencies, constraints, and priorities

Once you’ve mapped out the high-level project goals, it’s time to explore all of the variables that might impact the progress of the project, including:

  • Risks: Factors that can negatively impact the cost, goals, timeline, or results of a project
  • Dependencies: Relationships between activities or tasks
  • Constraints: Limiting factors like technology, resources, time, and cost

By identifying all of these variables early on you can nip a lot of potential problems in the bud, before they throw off your whole project timeline . 

A risk breakdown structure , like the one below, can aid in identifying and assessing all of the risks in your project. A risk breakdown structure is a hierarchical representation of risks, starting with the high-level risks and then breaking it down into more granular risks.  It can be an essential tool for project risk management . 

project life cycle


Establish project scope based on deadlines and available resources

With a handle on all of the variables at play, you can start breaking the project down into more actionable steps. Set boundaries on project scope based on your deadlines and the resources at your disposal, and think about what skill set your future team will need .

Mind maps and flowcharts can be helpful for organizing all of the moving parts to map out what’s reasonable based on project constraints.

project life cycle


Summarize the takeaways of the project initiation stage in a project proposal

All of the details that you establish during the initiation stage should be outlined in a project proposal, the only major deliverable for this initiation stage.

A project proposal is a report that details all of the goals, scope, requirements, budget, participants, and deadlines of a project.

project life cycle


Not to be confused with a project plan , which includes a much more in-depth description of how the project will be executed, a project proposal should be no longer than a few pages.

Depending on the complexity of a project, an action plan one-pager, like the one below, might suffice.

project life cycle


Check out our  job proposal templates ,  business proposal templates  and consulting proposal templates for more options.

Either way, when you’re a few months into the project, trying to prioritize the work of your team and make decisions that impact the direction of the project, you’ll thank yourself for creating clear documentation of these high-level project goals.

Create a professional looking project life cycle visualization

Make sure your project life cycle visualization sits within your company branding for a truly professional looking design. Venngage Business users can use the My Brand Kit  and see their company colors, logos, and fonts automatically applied to Venngage templates.

Business users can also invite feedback directly to their design with the Venngage comment feature. Learn more about My Brand Kit, Comment Mode, and more features of the Venngage Business account:

Find out more

2. Project planning stage: outline the tasks and timeline required to execute on the project

Once your project proposal has been approved, it’s time to move on to the project planning stage of the project life cycle.

The project planning stage is when you create a comprehensive project plan , which involves:

  • Translating your proposal into a series of actionable tasks and scheduling them in a project roadmap
  • Documenting processes or workflows that your team will use (you could try using a process infographic for this)
  • Creating measurable short-term goals from high-level project goals
  • Addressing potential issues that could derail your roadmap

This project plan will be the source of truth for your team when any questions, conflicts, or issues arise throughout the project.

Let’s dig into the most important major deliverable of the project planning stage: the project roadmap.

Create a project roadmap with project tasks and milestones

Creating a project roadmap is one of the more important project management life cycle steps, crucial for organizing your team and keeping work on track. A project roadmap outlines all of the start and end dates of every major project task (plus any big milestones you’re working towards). 

Pro Tip: Use our roadmap maker to create professional, engaging roadmaps.

Gantt charts (like the one below) are a great tool for project roadmapping, because they can show the duration and timing of a number of dependent tasks. They’re perfect for planning and scheduling, and eventually monitoring progress throughout the execution stage of the project life cycle.

project life cycle


The best thing about using a Gantt chart for your project roadmap?

You can show a number of concurrent timelines on a single chart, which makes it easy to account for task dependencies.

For example, this Gantt chart template shows project tasks for multiple teams over the course of a few months:

project life cycle

The visual format of a Gantt chart makes visualizing and adjusting for dependencies much easier than a spreadsheet. And because it’s visual, it’s easy for you team to see, understand, and give feedback on their upcoming tasks.

project life cycle

Once your roadmap is in place, the last step of the planning stage is to assemble your team and hold a project kickoff, launching you into the next stage of the project life cycle: the execution stage.  

Check out this blog post for more Gantt chart templates .

3. project execution stage: turn your plan into action and monitor project performance.

The project execution stage is the true start of the project, when you carry out all of the tasks and activities you mapped out in the planning stage.

This is where the majority of the project work takes place, and it requires constant monitoring. Expect to adjust your goals and roadmap as you get deeper into the project.

As a project manager, your main responsibilities of the project execution stage are to:

  • Monitor and control the execution process, reviewing the quality of the team’s output
  • Adjust and update tasks, goals, and deadlines to meet changing conditions
  • Communicate between your team and the project stakeholders

Create status reports to communicate execution progress throughout the project management process

Although most of your time during the execution stage of the project management process will be spent monitoring and adjusting to keep the project on track, you’ll also need to keep stakeholders up to date with any changes to the project status.

Using a project status report template , like the one below, will help make sure you don’t leave out any pertinent details when you’re communicating with stakeholders.

For example, this status report includes an overview of project performance so far, plus up-to-date project milestones:

project life cycle


While this status report template is shorter, focused around an executive summary, but includes space for notes from every team representative:

project life cycle

KPIs and budget updates should also be included, if you have any.

4. Project closure stage: analyze results, summarize key learnings, and plan next steps

Once you’ve achieved your project goals and the results have been signed off on by your stakeholders, it’s time for the project closure stage.

In the project closure stage of the project management process, you:

  • Hand off deliverables
  • Release team members and project resources
  • Analyze project performance in a project retrospective

A project retrospective is as much about reviewing the success of the project as it is about extracting learnings that can apply to future projects. Projects will never go without obstacles, and there will always be things to learn that will ease the progress of other projects.

There are many ways to run a project retrospective meeting , but you should try to identify your biggest wins and losses and come up with solutions. If you’re an external consultant, you might even ask your client for feedback .

Keep track of your notes somewhere that will be accessible by your whole team, like a shared spreadsheet (or send out an email after the meeting):

project life cycle

Another duty of a project manager in the project closure phase can be to analyze the performance of the team, based on the quality of their work and how well they were able to meet deadlines.

These performance reviews can be delivered to team members (or higher-ups) in the form of an easy to read visual summary, like the one below:

project life cycle

But remember…your project isn’t complete until all of your documents have been handed over and approved by your client or stakeholder.

Use Venngage to communicate your progress throughout the project life cycle

Any project manager worth their salt knows that clear communication is the backbone of any successful project. Venngage helps you make your communication visual , so that you can wow clients and keep your team aligned.


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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.

Related: Free Project Plan Template

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.

Related: 20 Must-Have Project Management Excel Templates

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 .

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’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’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’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’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’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’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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Project Planning Resources

  • Best Project Planner Tools: Apps, Software & Templates
  • Best Project Planning Software of 2023 (Free & Paid)
  • 25 of the Best Planning Quotes
  • 3 Best Planner Apps for Mac in 2023
  • 3 Best Project Management Charts for Project Planning
  • Project Management Trends
  • How to Create a Project Roadmap (Example Included)
  • What Is Aggregate Planning? Strategies & Tips
  • What Is Rolling Wave Planning?
  • How to Create a Project Execution Plan (PEP) – Free Template Included
  • Sample Project Plan For Your Next Project
  • Operational Planning: How to Make an Operations Plan
  • Project Planning Software
  • Gantt Chart Software
  • Project Scheduling Software
  • Work Breakdown Structure Software
  • Project Timeline Software
  • Resource Planning Software
  • Project Proposal Template
  • Project Charter Template
  • Project Timeline Template
  • Implementation Plan Template
  • Work Plan Template
  • Action Plan Template

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Project Planning Phase

  • Software & Systems
  • Hardware & Labs
  • Training & Classroom Support
  • Research & Innovation
  • Mission, Vision & Values
  • IT Outcomes
  • Student Jobs
  • Definition Of A Project
  • Executive Summary
  • Methodology
  • Project Closing Phase
  • Project Execution Control Phase
  • Project Initiation Phase
  • Project Lifecycle Overview
  • Delivers a project plan
  • Defines the detailed project schedule, budget, and resource assignments
  • Provides the baseline to execute and manage the project
  • Approves the project to begin work
  • Concludes with the project kickoff meeting


The Planning Phase is critical to a project’s success. A well thought-out project plan will provide the project team with a clear direction and understanding of their contributions to the success of the project.  A detailed project plan is simply a list of the tasks and activities that must be accomplished in order to reach a milestone or produce a deliverable.  Where the Project Charter is created at the macro level, the detailed project plans are at the micro level and function as the work plan for each team member.

In the Planning Phase, the Project Manager works with the project team to create the technical design, task list, resource plan, communications plan, budget, and initial schedule for the project, and establishes the roles and responsibilities of the project team and its stakeholders.  Project planning is an iterative process which may occur consistently throughout the project.  The level of planning detail required for work more than 2 – 3 months in the future may not need the same precision as work required in the next two months.  However, these plans should be reviewed and revised every month until completion of the project.  The frequency for doing iterative planning will also depend on the size, complexity and risk level of the project.

Planning Processes Activities

  • Gather functional requirements, to define scope of work as needed
  • Perform a risk assessment, analysis and include mitigation options as appropriate (optional)
  • Determine resources and staffing needs
  • Assess the communication needs and, if required, prepare a communication plan
  • Analyze testing needs and plan accordingly
  • Assess training needs and develop a strategy or plan as appropriate
  • Prepare a detailed scope document that includes how to verify completion of deliverables (optional)
  • Create a project plan that establishes the work breakdown structure and a schedule
  • Obtain consensus of the project team and project stakeholders on project plan
  • Enter the Project Plan into ServiceNow
  • Conduct the Project Kickoff Meeting

Deliverables of the Project Planning Phase:

Project Plan

The Project Plan is a task list created within ServiceNow.  The Project Plan contains:

  • Start/end dates
  • Estimated effort
  • Estimated duration
  • Resources – who will do the work
  • Schedule – the dates the work will be done
  • Dependencies – which tasks depend on the start or completion of another task

Communications Plan (optional)

A communication plan facilitates effective and efficient communications with the various audiences having a major stake in the project. It describes how project communications will occur.  The Communications Plan should be created using the template in Appendix B.     

A communication plan includes the following elements:

  • Communication objectives
  • Target audiences
  • Key content for the communications
  • Communication method and frequency

Resource Allocation Plan (optional)

A resource allocation plan is scheduling of the project team while taking into consideration both the resource availability and the project time.  Resource allocation is important because it gives project managers and project team members a clear picture on the amount of work that has to be done. It also helps to have an insight into the team’s progress, including allocating the right amount of time to everyone on the team. But above all, resource allocation in project management helps to control all the workload. Resource plans should include a projected estimate of the amount of time each resource is planned to contribute to the project on a monthly basis.  Resource plans are reviewed on a monthly basis.  We anticipate that these estimates have less precision the further out they are in the project timeline.

Service Transition Plan (optional)

A service transition plan helps manage the change of state of a service in its lifecycle. Managing new, changed and retired services that may be created or altered as part of a project protects the product environment. Curating service knowledge helps all stakeholders make informed, reliable decisions and support challenges with service delivery.  Both managing service risk and curating service knowledge are integral to service transition.

Project Kick-Off Meeting

The Project Kickoff Meeting formally recognizes the start of the project. The Project Manager uses this meeting to communicate a shared view of the project to ensure understanding of the approved Project Charter and plan.  The Project Kickoff Meeting provides an opportunity for the following:

  • Introduce Project Sponsor, Project Owner and Project Manager
  • Introduce Team Members and Stakeholders
  • Review Project Scope, Definition and Objectives
  • Review High-level Timeline & Milestones, Roles, and Budget
  • Review Deliverables
  • Review Challenges
  • Explain Next Steps

The Project Kickoff Meeting ensures that all stakeholders are familiar with and share a common understanding of the approved Project Charter and that they are aware of the next steps to complete the project work plan. The more complete the resulting plans, the more likely project implementation will progress efficiently and effectively.  The following persons/roles must be involved in the Project Kick-Off Meeting:

  • Project Manager
  • Project Team/Stakeholders
  • Project Sponsor/Project Owner

Phase Gate:Project Plan Review & Approval

A project plan is finalized when it is formally accepted and approved by the Director of the Project Management Office. Formal approval acknowledges that all the deliverables produced during the Planning Phase are complete, reviewed, and accepted.  The Project Manager should review the project plan with the PMO Director to indicate final approval of the plan.  This approval marks the plan as the go-forward agreement and can be viewed as a project management milestone.

  • Obtain approval to move forward with executing the project plan
  • Conduct the Project Kick-off Meeting
  • After the Kickoff meeting, the Project phase should be changed to Executing

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8. Overview of Project Planning

Adrienne Watt; Merrie Barron; and Andrew Barron

Click play on the following audio player to listen along as you read this section.

After the project has been defined and the project team has been appointed, you are ready to enter the second phase in the project management life cycle: the detailed project planning phase.

Project planning is at the heart of the project life cycle, and tells everyone involved where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. The planning phase is when the project plans are documented, the project deliverables and requirements are defined, and the project schedule is created. It involves creating a set of plans to help guide your team through the implementation and closure phases of the project. The plans created during this phase will help you manage time, cost, quality, changes, risk, and related issues. They will also help you control staff and external suppliers to ensure that you deliver the project on time, within budget, and within schedule.

The project planning phase is often the most challenging phase for a project manager, as you need to make an educated guess about the staff, resources, and equipment needed to complete your project. You may also need to plan your communications and procurement activities, as well as contract any third-party suppliers.

The purpose of the project planning phase is to:

  • Establish business requirements
  • Establish cost, schedule, list of deliverables, and delivery dates
  • Establish resources plans
  • Obtain management approval and proceed to the next phase

The basic processes of project planning are:

  • Scope planning – specifying the in-scope requirements for the project to facilitate creating the work breakdown structure
  • Preparation of the work breakdown structure – spelling out the breakdown of the project into tasks and sub-tasks
  • Project schedule development – listing the entire schedule of the activities and detailing their sequence of implementation
  • Resource planning – indicating who will do what work, at which time, and if any special skills are needed to accomplish the project tasks
  • Budget planning – specifying the budgeted cost to be incurred at the completion of the project
  • Procurement planning – focusing on vendors outside your company and subcontracting
  • Risk management – planning for possible risks and considering optional contingency plans and mitigation strategies
  • Quality planning – assessing quality criteria to be used for the project
  • Communication planning – designing the communication strategy with all project stakeholders

The planning phase refines the project’s objectives, which were gathered during the initiation phase. It includes planning the steps necessary to meet those objectives by further identifying the specific activities and resources required to com­plete the project. Now that these objectives have been recognized, they must be clearly articulated, detailing an in-depth scrutiny of each recognized objective. With such scrutiny, our understanding of the objective may change. Often the very act of trying to describe something precisely gives us a better understanding of what we are looking at. This articulation serves as the basis for the development of requirements. What this means is that after an objective has been clearly articulated, we can describe it in concrete (measurable) terms and identify what we have to do to achieve it. Obviously, if we do a poor job of articulating the objective, our requirements will be misdirected and the resulting project will not represent the true need.

Users will often begin describing their objectives in qualitative language. The project manager must work with the user to provide quantifiable definitions to those qualitative terms. These quantifiable criteria include schedule, cost, and quality measures. In the case of project objectives, these elements are used as measurements to determine project satisfaction and successful completion. Subjective evaluations are replaced by actual numeric attributes.

A web user may ask for a fast system. The quantitative requirement should be all screens must load in under three seconds. Describing the time limit during which the screen must load is specific and tangible. For that reason, you’ll know that the requirement has been successfully completed when the objective has been met.

Let’s say that your company is going to produce a holiday batch of eggnog. Your objective statement might be stated this way: Christmas Cheer, Inc. will produce two million cases of holiday eggnog, to be shipped to our distributors by October 30, at a total cost of $1.5 million or less. The objective criteria in this statement are clearly stated and successful fulfillment can easily be measured. Stakeholders will know that the objectives are met when the two million cases are produced and shipped by the due date within the budget stated.

When articulating the project objectives you should follow the SMART rule:

  • Specific – get into the details. Objectives should be specific and written in clear, concise, and under­standable terms.
  • Measurable – use quantitative language. You need to know when you have successfully completed the task.
  • Acceptable – agreed with the stakeholders.
  • Realistic – in terms of achievement. Objectives that are impossible to accomplish are not realistic and not attainable. Objectives must be centred in reality.
  • Time based – deadlines not durations. Objectives should have a time frame with an end date assigned to them.

If you follow these principles, you’ll be certain that your objectives meet the quantifiable criteria needed to measure success.

Text Attributions

This chapter adapted by Adrienne Watts from the following source:

  • Text under “Overview of Project Planning”  adapted from “ Project Planning ” in Project Management by Merrie Barron and Andrew Barron. Licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence

8. Overview of Project Planning by Adrienne Watt; Merrie Barron; and Andrew Barron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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5 Project Management Steps: Process Group Project Management

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project planning phase

There are many ways to run a project. But to run a project successfully, you have to consider all aspects of the project—from scope and budget to the tasks and conversations that take place after the project is launched and executed.

Traditionally, there are 5 stages of project management. These 5 stages create what is known as a project life cycle. In this article, we’ll define the project management process and cover each phase of project management.

The 5 phases of project management

project management phases

The project management process is a series of phases that represent the evolution of a product—from concept to delivery, maturity, and finally retirement.

The project management process is made up of 5 essential steps:

  • Project initiation & conception
  • Project planning
  • Project execution
  • Project monitoring & control
  • Project closure

In some ways, these project management steps show what goes on behind the scenes before a project might come to a project manager’s attention. Think of this as a roadmap to help you take a project from an idea to completion.

If this process feels too rigid for you, that’s okay! Pick up the fundamentals, understand how the steps are formalized, and make decisions on how the steps can apply to you, your team, or your organization.

Now, let’s dig in.

Step 1: Project initiation & conception

This is arguably the most critical phase of the project management process. The objective is to identify the why behind the project and the project goals—usually the business case—and to do preliminary research on project feasibility. What happens here will set the tone and goals for what’s to come.

A project usually arises from a business need or goal aimed at solving a problem or exploring new ways to do business. For instance, if a company is looking to cut down the number of customer service calls they receive, they’ll research and explore what’s driving the number of calls. That research will then inform what can be done to reduce the number of calls.

The best way to understand the challenges and goals is through a project brief that outlines the purpose and needs of the project in conjunction with the business case. This kind of background is invaluable to a team when kicking off a project. It’s also a great way to get all involved parties and stakeholders aligned on what’s to come.

While you can proceed without every detail documented, it’s a good idea to be in agreement on goals and intended outcomes.

Step 2: Project planning

The project planning phase is where you’ll lay out every detail of the plan from beginning to end. The plan you create here will lead your team through the execution, performance, and closure phases of the project management process.

As part of your project plan, you’ll want to consider these factors:

Project scope

Project estimation.

  • General workflow and process
  • Team roles and responsibilities
  • Key project milestones (like deliverable reviews and meetings)
  • Approval processes
  • How you’ll work with the stakeholder team to ensure you get it all done on time and under budget (the fun part!)

It’s recommended that you start by defining your project scope. There are several ways to define scope. Just make sure you have a sense for how much time you want to spend on the overall project. Projects tend to go off the rails without some level of constraint or control. There’s no problem with setting guardrails during the project planning phase and readjusting later if needed.

When it comes to estimating, you might want to use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to help identify tasks and effort. A WBS is a visual layout that breaks out the scope of a project.

Once you’ve made your time and effort estimates, you can create a project plan that lays out phases, tasks, resources, responsibilities, milestones, and deadlines. This is a critical step in managing your project, so take your time and think through every step with your team.

Using a tool like TeamGantt can truly help you to build a plan—and a gantt chart—that is well-defined, readable, and easy to update.

VIDEO - How to Create a Killer Project Plan in TeamGantt

Communication plan

Because communications can make or break a project, you’ll want to think through and even document how you’ll communicate as a team. Communication plans are particularly valuable when your team is large or if you have stakeholders who work outside of your organization.

Your communication plan needs to set expectations for how you will communicate as a team and what information they’ll receive or provide, making sure to include dates, check-ins, status reports, and other meetings.  

Risk management plan

The last part of project planning is to make sure you’ve got a risk management plan in place. A risk management plan identifies foreseeable risks and how they can be avoided. It’s the project manager’s job to look out for risks and report them to the team. The best way to do this is to create a simple list that outlines:

  • Title of the risk
  • Details of the risk and why it exists
  • A plan for how the risk can be avoided or solved
  • Additional notes that might be important for the team and stakeholders to understand

Risk management is a conversation you want to keep going throughout the project. Keeping a list of risks on your status report helps keep them top-of-mind and allows the team to provide input.

Having these plans in place will make the following stages of your project easier.

Step 3: Project execution

In this project phase, the team is off and running! The execution stage is typically the longest in the project management process because it’s when the actual work is done. You’ll find teams collaborating, reviewing work, presenting to stakeholders, and revising.

In the previous project planning phase, a project manager does a lot of heavy-lifting. During project execution, a project manager guides the team—and stakeholders—through a series of milestones.

In this project management step, a project manager is typically responsible for:

  • Budget management
  • Timeline management
  • Resource planning
  • Change management
  • Risk management
  • Quality management
  • Internal deliverable reviews
  • Communications and facilitation
  • Meeting management

That’s a long list! How do project managers handle all of it? They stick to the plan. As was mentioned in the previous section, a project brief, scope, and plan serve as their source of truth. Project managers use those documents to make their decisions.

At the same time, a project manager needs to be tuned-in to what’s happening with the team. This can be done through regular team check-ins, conversations, status reports, and timeline review and budget tracking.

Having a single platform to track your budget, timeline, resourcing, and communications certainly makes managing a project easier. Lucky for you, TeamGantt does it all .

Step 4: Project monitoring & control

Stage 4 is all about making sure the project runs smoothly and ensuring things go according to plan. As part of the project monitoring phase, you should keep an eye on:

Project goals

Quality of deliverables, team performance.

Be sure you fully understand and embrace the project goals. Use those goals to help make decisions about design, functionality, and any new requests. Sometimes it’s okay to stray a bit. Just be sure to keep the lines of communication open with the stakeholders and bring new ideas to the table with enough time to rework them as needed. (Yup, it happens!)

When it comes to quality, you need to consult with leadership on company standards. As a best practice, review all deliverables before they’re sent out or presented for review. First review them as a team, then individually as the project manager. Be the person who not only manages process, but also cares about the work. Your team and stakeholders will love you for it. 😍

As a project manager, you’re not typically responsible for the management of people. Your role is to look out for the project. But the success of a project depends on the team working on it. If you see someone slacking or even unintentionally dropping the ball, it’s your job to address it. Just make sure you find the right avenues to address the problems and be empathetic when handling performance issues with team members.

TeamGantt’s Project Health Report makes it easy to monitor team performance and stay on top of deadlines by showing you which tasks are falling behind before your project goes off the rails.

project health monitoring report

Step 5: Project closure

When your project is complete and everyone is happy with what’s been delivered, tested, and released, it’s time to wrap up. In the project closure phase, the team will complete the steps needed to close tasks, hand off the project to stakeholders, finalize any reporting, and celebrate the project.

Many organizations move from one project to the next and don’t take time to properly close down a project. It’s a smart move to take a few hours to properly close, reflect, and even celebrate a project. Here are a few steps to consider.

Celebrate the project

‍ Organize a small party over lunch or after work to get the team and stakeholders together to acknowledge the hard work done and the great product produced. 🎉

Hold a retrospective meeting

Conduct a retrospective meeting where you discuss what did and did not go well. Record the outcomes and share the notes within your company to improve your next project.

Create a project closure report

Write a 1-page report on the project with details that might be useful for your organization. Information to include might be:

  • Project name
  • Stated goals
  • Date of initiation
  • Stated deadline vs. actual date of delivery
  • Project budget vs. actual budget used
  • Team members involved
  • Stakeholders involved
  • Project issues and pain points
  • Project wins
  • General comments

Don’t just move on to the next thing. Take the time to reflect on your work so that you can continue to be better.

And never forget to celebrate. If there’s no budget, that’s fine. A high-five, or a nice message to the team works really well when it comes to team morale. As the project manager, the more you can be a cheerleader for your team, the better experience you’ll have working with them.

Put the project management process to work

Processes and frameworks are great to have in your back pocket. But remember, every organization runs differently. You have to consider the people, institutional history, challenges, and existing practices before you roll something out. Motivations and empathy are everything in project management. So carry on, attack those projects, and do what’s right for everyone involved.

Simplify your project management process

Want to take the pain out of project management without sacrificing your hard-earned gains? TeamGantt makes every project step a whole lot easier. (Heck, we’d even call it fun!) Spend less time in spreadsheets and more time giving your team high-fives for all the awesome work you’re doing together.

Watch the video below to see how TeamGantt works, and try our online project management software for free today !

VIDEO - See How TeamGantt Works

Try TeamGantt for free today!

5 Phases of Project Management – A Complete Breakdown

Managing a project is no easy feat, no matter what the scale and scope are. From planning the minutia to handling the ever-changing demands of clients to shipping the deliverables on time, there’s a lot that can go wrong. When you divide the project into manageable stages, each with its own goals and deliverables, it’s easier to control the project and the quality of the output.

In a   project management guide , if you are somehow in a position where you are expected to manage projects for your organization and are feeling overwhelmed, it’s better to start learning the basic stages of the project life cycle phases.

According to the PMBOK Guide (Project Management Body of Knowledge) by the Project Management Institute ( PMI ), a project management life cycle consists of 5 distinct phases including initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure that combine to turn a project idea into a working product.

project management life cycle steps

Five phases of project management

The 5 basic phases in the project management process are:.

  • Project Initiation
  • Project Planning
  • Project Execution
  • Project Monitoring and Controlling
  • Project Closing

project management phases

Phase 1: Project initiation

The   project initiation   phase is the first stage of turning an abstract idea into a meaningful goal. In this stage, you need to develop a business case and define the project on a broad level. In order to do that, you have to determine the need for the project and create a project charter.

The   project charter   is an important document consisting of details like the   project constraints , goals, appointment of the project manager, budget, expected timeline, etc.

Once you have the project goals and   project scope , identify key project stakeholders–the people who are to be involved in the project. Create a stakeholder register with the roles, designation, communication requirements, and influence.

While a clear goal of the project is established in this phase, a project charter does not contain any technical details that happen in the planning stage.

Consider the example of an automobile manufacturer assigned to develop an electric vehicle. The selection of the design, capacity, and battery power of the vehicle will not be a part of the initiation phase. The only certainty would be that an electric vehicle will be developed within the given timeframe and budget.


Want to learn project management but put off by jargon?

Learn what's important in the simplest ebook for non-project managers.

Phase 2: Project planning

The   project planning   stage requires complete diligence as it lays out the project’s roadmap. Unless you are using a modern project management methodology like   agile project management , the second phase of project management is expected to take almost half of the entire project’s timespan.

Check out how to implement an effective  project roadmap .

In this phase, the primary tasks are identifying technical requirements, developing a detailed   project schedule , creating a communication plan, and setting up goals/deliverables.

There are several methods of setting up the project’s goals but   S.M.A.R.T.   and   C.L.E.A.R.   are the most popular.

Here is our Customizable Marketing Templates to try for Free:

–   Marketing Plan Template to Streamline your Marketing Efforts

–   Social Media Calendar Template for Social Media Planning

S.M.A.R.T Goals:

The   ‘SMART’   criteria ensure that the goals you set for your project are critically analyzed. It is an established method that reduces risk and allows   project managers   to make clearly defined and achievable goals.

smart project management

C.L.E.A.R. Goals:

The   ‘CLEAR’   method of setting up goals is designed to cater to the dynamic nature of a modern workplace. Today’s fast-paced businesses require flexibility and immediate results and CLEAR can help citizen developers with that.

The acronym for   CLEAR   stands for

clear project management

During the planning stage, the scope of the project is defined. There is a possibility of changing the scope of the project demands it but the project manager must approve the change. Project managers also develop a work breakdown structure (WBS), which clearly visualizes the entire project in different sections for the  team management .

Learn more about how  project goals and objectives  are defined.

A detailed   project timeline   with each deliverable is another important element of the planning stage. Using that timeline, project managers can develop a   project communication plan   and a schedule of communication with the relevant stakeholders.

Risk mitigation is another important aspect of project management that is a part of the planning stage. The project manager is responsible for extrapolating past data to identify potential   project management risks   and develop a strategy to minimize them.

An important element that professionals often overlook is an effective change management plan. As a project manager, you must be ready to incorporate a few changes in the project to avoid bottlenecks and   project delays .

In the absence of a working change management plan,   scope creep   happens and causes huge problems for the project team in the later stages of the project. So, it’s best to reduce the possibility of unforeseen changes as much as possible.

And don’t forget to try our Free and Customizable Templates:

–   Content Calendar Template for Strategic Content Planning

–   Competitive Analysis Template for Strategic Content Planning

Phase 3: Project execution

The   project execution   stage is where your team does the actual work. As a project manager, your job is to establish efficient workflows and carefully monitor the progress of your team.

Another responsibility of the project manager during this phase is to consistently maintain effective collaboration between   project stakeholders . This ensures that everyone stays on the same page and the project runs smoothly without any issues.

You can take help from the best   project collaboration tools   that are available in the market. They’ll not only make your life easier but also improve efficiency and increase the productivity of your team.

Execute your projects better with Kissflow Project.

Phase 4: project monitoring and controlling.

In the project management process, the third and fourth phases are not sequential in nature. The   project monitoring and controlling phase   run simultaneously with project execution, thereby ensuring that objectives and   project deliverables   are met.

As a project manager, you can make sure that no one deviates from the original plan by establishing Critical Success Factors (CSF) and   Key Performance Indicators   (KPI).

During the monitoring phase of project management, the manager is also responsible for quantitatively tracking the effort and cost during the process. This tracking not only ensures that the project remains within the budget but also is important for future projects.

Phase 5: Project closing

This is the final phase of the project management process. The   project closure   stage indicates the end of the project after the final delivery. There are times when external talent is hired specifically for the project on contract. Terminating these contracts and completing the necessary paperwork is also the responsibility of the project manager.

Most teams hold a reflection meeting after the completion of the project in order to contemplate their successes and failures during the project. This is an effective method to ensure continuous improvement within the company to enhance the overall productivity of the team in the future.

The final task of this phase is to review the entire project complete a detailed report that covers every aspect. All of the necessary data is stored in a secure place that can be accessed by project managers of that organization.

Simplify your project management process

Nowadays, using cloud-based project management software is a common way of storing all of the documents related to the project.

Dividing a project into multiple phases gives the project a semblance of predictability. It gives a framework to operate, making it easier to plan and execute. While spreadsheets and post-it notes sufficed in the past, the requirement of   digital project management   is completely different.

You need the right tools to plan, organize, and track projects. You need an   online project management software   to simplify the project management phases for each project.

Finally a Project Management Tool that Works for you

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The 9 Stages of a Successful Project Planning Process

Find out what steps you can take to lay the foundation of a successful project..

Stella Inabo

Stella Inabo

  • project planning

The project planning process is essential to laying the groundwork for a successful project. 

But planning a project is not linear. The project manager might need to change things on the fly to adjust plans to reality. For example, you could need to adjust the project timeline after planning your resources to avoid burning out your employees.  As a result, the project planning processes can quickly become complicated!  

In this guide, we’ll share a structured approach to project management planning that will help you plan your future projects better.

What are the stages in project planning?

There are nine essential stages in the project planning process that should be adhered to. Follow these steps to create your project plan:

1. Determine the project goals and objectives 

The first step in the project planning phase is to define the goals and objectives of your project. 

Project goals and objectives help you decide if the project should be prioritized (or even undertaken—essentially you need to use a proof of concept ). They also assist you in deciding what to deliver to the client and in identifying problems early on, e.g., a short deadline.  

Your project goals provide a broad idea of what you’re trying to accomplish and help dictate the direction of your project. 

Your project objectives are similar to your goals, but they define the project in more specific terms like cost, time, and quality. Once you have your project objectives, it's easy to determine the deliverables . 

To set your project goals and objectives, refer to the information gathered in the project initiation stage . For example, the project brief or project proposal state that the client needs an e-commerce store to handle the volume of orders on their social media pages. Their goal, in that case, is to launch an e-commerce website. Their objectives might be to launch a fast and user-friendly e-commerce website by the end of Q4 at a cost of $20,000.

If you're wondering where to start, take a look at our project planning templates or the more specific project charter templates that will help you save time and effort.

2. Determine the project scope 

Stakeholders often request extra tasks or significant changes in direction (sometimes several of them) during a project that could derail it. 

Your project scope protects you from unrealistic expectations, conflicting interests, and unattainable demands as the project progresses.  

To determine your scope, look at your project goals and objectives. What do you need to do to achieve them? What isn’t necessary? For example, the scope of a new housing project may be limited to erecting and finishing the building but might not include landscaping or the construction of an outdoor pool. And it certainly does not include switching the design to a skyscraper!

It’s normal to feel uncertain about all the details. Stephen Whitworth, co-founder of, recommends being flexible in your approach. “You can scope with different levels of detail in your scope. It’s helpful to start vague, get early feedback, and then go precise.”

Using a scope document or a scope statement ensures you can refer back to it if the need arises (this can be achieved in several ways). 

3. Build your work breakdown structure (WBS)

At this stage, start determining which tasks, subtasks, and deliverables must be carried out to complete the project. You can do this by referring to your scope and creating a work breakdown structure—a structured decomposition of tasks needed to complete a project. 

In his book Project Management for Humans , Brett Harned emphasizes the importance of work breakdown structure:  "Creating a work breakdown structure for any plan or set of tasks helps you get granular about the work that needs to be done on any given project."

You can create a written work breakdown structure by:

  • Breaking down your project using a Kanban board like Trello
  • Mapping out tasks and timelines using Gantt charts in a project management tool like Asana  

Start by taking the project itself and breaking it down into large chunks or workstreams. For example, your initial workstreams for an e-commerce website would be setting up the site infrastructure and authentication, creating the cart system, and connecting the payment gateway. 

You can go further by breaking your workstreams into smaller deliverables (don’t forget to add managerial tasks at each level!). For the e-commerce website, tasks like buying a domain name, instituting website hosting, and load balancing all fall under setting up the site infrastructure. 

If you’re using a project management tool like Asana or Trello to create your WBS, you can integrate with Float to easily allocate tasks based on your team’s skills, availability, and capacity.

4. Set timelines  

Now that you have individual tasks created, you can set timelines for each activity. 

Project timelines help you estimate the completion date and keep things on track. Timelines are usually plotted on a Gantt chart or in a resource management tool like Float .

A view of projects in Float that supports the project planning process

A view of projects in Float that supports the project planning process.

A view of milestones in Float

A view of milestones in Float.

You can set timelines by comparing the duration of tasks in similar projects or asking your team how long specific tasks take them.  

Remember to add a buffer period for unplanned events like switching hosting providers or delays in getting approval from building control inspectors. "If there's a project I can get done in a week, I'll estimate two and half weeks for it. In case of unforeseen circumstances, I'd like to overestimate so I'll have more time," says David Ibia, CEO of BoxMarshall LLC .

Here are some other things to keep in mind when creating timelines: 

  • Set milestones for project phases : An example of a milestone could be that 2 months from the start date, the engineers will have completed their work on the backend of the e-commerce site . 
  • Be conscious of time constraints : Your timeline might have to fit the deadline given by clients. In this case, you may need to follow the critical path. 

Learn more about project timelines in our brief guide to project scheduling.

5. Determine and plan resources 

For a project to succeed, you need the right people and resources. 

The resource planning process in project management involves a lot of project assumptions and making estimates . But from the past steps—especially your WBS, scope, and goals—you should have a rough idea of what resources you need. 

For example, if you’re building an e-commerce website, you’ll need a developer, a designer, and a copywriter.  You’ll also need to purchase hosting and a domain name for the website. If they are a co-located team, you should provide a meeting room for collaboration. 

For a new house construction project, you’ll need masons, plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, and materials like sand, rocks, wood, pipes, and wires. 

When planning your resources, ensure you:

  • Determine the skills/criteria you need 
  • Confirm future availability of resources 
  • Identify costs of resources, e.g., hourly rates 
  • Find out about special requirements, e.g., do you need to find a contractor who is licensed through a guild?

You’ll want to make sure that you have the people with the right skills and capacity to make the project a success. Also, ensure your plan shows clear ownership of tasks. One easy way is to use your WBS to create an organizational structure.

6. Estimate costs 

One of the challenges in the project planning process is balancing your budget with your stakeholders' desire to save money.

However, if you underestimate costs, you might find yourself without funds in the middle of the project. To approximate the cost of the project , you can use: 

  • Ballpark estimation: What do you think the entire project will cost based on project objectives and client expectations? This is not an exact figure. It could cost less or more, so let your clients know. Use this method when you need to give a cost estimate before determining things like your WBS or resources. 
  • Parametric estimation: Use historical data in your resource management tool and the cost of variables to estimate costs. Turn your WBS into a cost breakdown structure. You can take the prices of a unit of labor, such as a mason working at $23 an hour, and multiply it by the amount of time the project will take.  

Choose your method and establish an initial cost baseline . Make sure to include details about the contact person and processes for releasing the funds. For example, the team lead could approve spending for limited amounts, while larger amounts must be approved by the finance department. 

A convenient way to manage project budgets

Easily manage project budgets with Float by selecting hourly or dollar-value options, tracking billable or non-billable tasks, and monitoring real-time progress through reports. Simplify your budgeting process and stay on target with Float!

7. Determine risks and constraints 

No project exists without risks or constraints. The key to avoiding a project failure is identifying the potential pitfalls and creating an action plan to handle them.  

One way to properly prepare is to create a risk register—a document that lists all of the potential risks and information about them. Also, include an action plan to counter each project risk in your risk register .

8. Plan out communication 

Creating a communication blueprint is essential in developing a project plan. "No matter what role you’re playing on a project, if you’re not making a strong effort to communicate with your team, you will likely fail," says Harned.

Be sure to include details about the following:

  • Communication channels: This may be via email for clients, while team members might communicate primarily over Slack.
  • Frequency: This may be weekly,  on-demand asynchronously, or per milestone.
  • Communication type/details: Execs typically need fewer details and more high-level information, while team members who are actively working on the project need more granular information. 
  • Contact persons: Define who you go to and with what type of information to avoid delays.

Did you know?

Float centralizes your people and projects, so everyone can always see who’s working on what and when. Automate notifications via Slack, email, and mobile to let the team know when plans change.

9. Make plans for quality control and assurance

Planning for project quality control involves providing guidelines for managing, assuring, and maintaining standards within the project. 

Without a plan, it will be very tough to achieve your desired results. You might end up with a slow e-commerce website or a leaky plumbing system!

To set quality control metrics, you should:

  • Leverage in-house experts' knowledge of best practices
  • Reference industry standards—for example,  e-commerce sites need to have a secure and fast payment system 
  • Work with key stakeholders to determine expectations of quality 

Your plan should also include acceptance criteria, define the people in charge of verifying work, and set any corrective actions.

What are the components of a project plan?

The elements will vary from project to project, but here are some essential components every successful project plan should have: 

  • Scope: Define the boundaries of your project. What will be included and excluded in the entire project? 
  • Deliverables: Define what products/deliverables need to be submitted at the end of the project. 
  • Budget: Define how much the project will cost. One easy way is to use your WBS to create a cost breakdown structure by assigning costs to each task. 
  • Quality: Define how quality will be assured and controlled on the project.  
  • Schedule: Assign time to each project activity and people to tasks.  
  • Resourcing: Define what human and material resources will be needed to complete the project. 
  • Stakeholder management/communication: How will you communicate with your stakeholders and keep them in the loop? Define which stakeholder will be given what information at what times.    
  • Governance: To keep your project transparent and compliant, define which team members are responsible for project monitoring and decision-making. 
  • Risk: Enter all risks in a risk register. Also, include details about each risk and plans to combat them. 

Learn about the factors to successful project planning .

Try the #1 project planning software

More than 400 of the world’s top teams choose Float to plan, schedule, and track their team’s time. Rated #1 on G2 for resource management, Float gives you the most accurate view of your resource capacity to plan project work.

Why is project planning software important? 

Planning a project involves a lot of guesswork. The truth is, as accurate as you try to be, your estimates may still end up a bit off track. 

Project planning software makes this work easier by providing a central place to document and share plans with stakeholders. It allows you to automate timeline planning and milestone setting. It also provides reliable historical data to inform decisions for future projects. 

With project planning software, you can forecast potential risks and resource shortages before they happen. You can track the availability and capacity of resources and find the right skills in your resource pool, effectively planning your project from start to finish.

Project plans are not set in stone 

The planning phase is iterative. More often than not, you will need to change your project management plan to match reality. 

Don't hesitate to find a way to redistribute resources or cut costs if you are falling behind schedule. If your communication plan isn't working, reassess and try new ways to keep your stakeholders informed .  

A successful project requires contributions from everyone involved, and that’s only possible with a solid project plan.

Related reads

Project timelines: how to deliver projects on time and on budget, it resource management: best practices + expert tips, how to create a work plan in 5 steps (+free templates).

Tactical Project Manager

Project phases: An overview with real examples

Baloon featured image

Every project can be broken down into several phases.

In this article I’ll walk you through the phases in the project management life cycle.

Continue reading to learn more about the different project phases.

Project management phases: the simple view

In the most general form, a project can be broken down into:

  • Preparation phase
  • Execution phase
  • Closing phase

The preparation phase is where the project is being set up. The project manager, together with the customer and contractor, will arrange all the formal aspects of the project.

This includes finding the right people to work on the project (establishing a project organization), creating a project plan , setting up a project budget , holding a project kick-off and other activities.

The project team must also gather the requirements and plan the steps for the next phase. Without knowing the detailed requirements ( ‘What do we need to do?’ ), the project cannot do anything.

During the execution phase , the project is concerned with all the tasks to turn the project goal into reality. This can mean building something tangible (a product, a building) but also could involve defining a new process (e.g. how a company can find clients online). As you can guess, this takes time.

That’s why the execution phase is usually the phase taking the longest. In terms of complexity this phase will also be the most challenging to manage, because there are so many activities taking place in a tight sequence.

The closing phase is the last one in the project life cycle. Usually it only takes a few weeks or months, which doesn’t make it an easy phase. The last critical tasks have to be completed to make sure the customer is satisfied. There’s no more time for making errors. Everything has to work as planned.

Otherwise the project deadline cannot be met. What’s happening in the closing phase? It’s when the final product or process of the project is prepared for handover to the customer:

  • A building is finalized and the customer makes his final inspection.
  • Employees are trained for a new process to be used in a company.
  • A product is packaged and shipped to the customer. That sort of stuff.

A closer look at the project phases

What I shared with you above was a simplified look at project stages. I wanted to give you the essence before we dive deeper into the project life cycle.

What follows next is an explanation of the way projects are structured in real life. It’s the project phases according to the PMI project phase model.

The 5 Project management phases:

  • Project Concept & Initiation
  • Project Definition and Planning
  • Project Launch or Execution
  • Project Performance & Control
  • Project Close

project planning phase

Phase 1: Project Concept & Initiation

“Manufacturing cost has gone up 7% over the last 2 years. This is killing our profitability! We need to do something about it.”, the CEO of a company says during a board meeting.

“I propose to start a project. We need our top experts to look into this issue and find ways to cut our spending.”

Every project starts with a goal. Or a problem that has to be solved, like in this example.

What happens next? The CEO will delegate the job to one of his managers (let’s say the head of manufacturing), who in turn will look for a suitable project manager. Once a PM has been found, this person will coordinate the next steps. These are, defining the rough scope of the project, setting targets, building a team and documenting the first things in a project charter.

What happens during the project concept and initiation phase are only the first ‘baby steps’ of a project. It is when an organization comes to an agreement that something should be done, and the first actions will be taken. There is not much formalism in the sense that you have to create a lot of project management documentation.

Phase 2: Project Planning

This is the first phase where you really have to go into detail. During the project planning phase, you have to plan every aspect of the project, down to a weekly (or even daily) level.

As you can probably guess, the planning phase is critical:

95% of your project’s success depends on how well you plan things

What you have to do in this phase:

  • Define roles and responsibilities  – What kind of skills or people do you need in the project? And what do you expect from each of those members?
  • Create a scope statement  – The scope statement is a document which clearly states what the project is expected to deliver. It also defines the boundaries, i.e. what is not expected from the project.
  • Create a project plan (Gantt chart)  – Create a project Gantt chart to visualize the flow of the project. This will give everyone on the team clarity on what has to be done by when. Need a good template? Get my project plan template for Excel .
  • Define key milestones  – Milestones are goals which have to be accomplished during the project. A milestone could be specification completed or product prototype completed .
  • Set up a communication plan  – A simple table which shows how the team and stakeholders will communicate throught the project. Communication can happen in the form of meetings or by email.
  • Perform a risk analysis  – It is always better to be prepared for issues than to be surprised. Do a risk analysis to identify the most critical risks and have a “plan B” ready in your pocket.

I cover all the above points in my article on how to create a project plan .

Phase 3: Project Launch or Execution

This is where the rubber meets the road. All tasks defined in the previous phase are now being executed. One after another, or sometimes in parallel. The project team – supported by the project stakeholders – now produces tangible results: A detailed concept outlining the changes driven by the project, or product that will later be sold to the customer.

It’s a very hectic phase which requires good management. Issues pop up, tasks get delayed, people fall sick. All this can (and will) happen, and it’s the project manager’s job to fix those issues and steer the project into the right direction.

The execution phase is also where most of the project budget is spent. Team members will clock a lot of hours, which represent a cost. But the project may also have to purchase goods and services in order to reach the project goal.

Phase 4: Project Performance & Control

This is not really a dedicated phase, but more an ongoing duty of the project management. The project leader has to monitor the progress and quality of the project with respect to several factors:

  • Are the project targets being met?  – Projects are launched with a specific purpose in mind. As project manager, you should constantly monitor whether the project is on track to meet those targets.
  • Are we still within budget?  – Tracking effort and cost is one of the necessary (but most disliked) tasks of a PM. Set aside a few hours for it every month, and get my project budget template to make your life easy.
  • Are we deviating from scope?  – Every now and then, a project will face unforeseen changes. The customer may say: ‘I’ve changed my mind. I want the building to be painted blue, not orange.’   Such change request have to be evaluated by the project team. Maybe the changes require extra budget or require special skills to be implemented.

Phase 5: Project Close

Project close is the last phase in the project lifecycle. These are the final weeks or months during which the project’s end product is finalized and handed over to the customer.

What steps are taken largely depends on the type of project. If we’re talking about an IT project, the closing phase may involve final checks and tests, installing the system at the customer site and training people. In a construction project the customer will inspect the building (or whatever was built) and sign an approval sheet.

The project manager usually will prepare a final report with the actual cost values . Some organizations also do post mortems  (also called lessons learned ) to evaluate what went well and what didn’t go well in the project, mainly to learn for upcoming projects.

Read also my article Think it’s Over? Not Yet! Four Tips for a Smooth Project Closing .

Don’t let the project phases restrict you

The project phase model is a generic template for structuring projects. It’s good because it optimizes your project for minimum risk: First you do the planning, and then you execute. No messing up of things where you execute first and then discover your results don’t meet the project’s targets.

While a sequential approach is generally the right way, you shouldn’t feel restricted by it. Sometimes it makes sense to start with a certain execution task while you finalize the planning. Starting early with a job reduces the likelihood of a delay. And if you are absolutely sure there’s nothing gonna happen which could make the task a waste of resources, then start early.

Example:  You’re leading a manufacturing project for a new truck. The truck is going to be shipped to a customer in Europe 10 months from now.  Due to the booming economy, shipping resources are very scarce. So you decide to reserve a spot on the cargo vessel already now, even though the project is still in the early planning stage (during your risk assessment you’ve recognized the limited shipping resources as a potential risk). Shipping costs $30k, and you need to get the expediture pre-approved by the CEO, because the project budget hasn’t been officially approved yet.

Do you have any questions?

You can leave a comment below with your question. I will answer it as soon as possible.

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Adrian Neumeyer

Hi! I’m Adrian, former Senior IT Project Manager and founder of Tactical Project Manager. I created the site to help you become an excellent project leader and manage intense projects with success!

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What is project planning? (Plus, 7 steps to write a successful project plan)

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Organize your projects with project plans to keep things on track—before you even start. A project plan houses all the necessary details of your project, such as goals, tasks, scope, deadlines, and deliverables. This shows stakeholders a clear roadmap of your project, ensures you have the resources for it, and holds everyone accountable from the start. In this article, we teach you the seven steps to create your own project plan.

Project plans are essential to keeping your project organized and on track. A great project plan will help you kick off your work with all the necessary pieces—from goals and budgets to milestones and communication plans—in one place. Save yourself time (and a few headaches) by creating a work plan that will make your project a success.

What is a project planning?

Project planning is the second stage in the project management process, following project initiation and preceding project execution. During the project planning stage, the project manager creates a project plan, which maps out project requirements. The project planning phase typically includes setting project goals, designating project resources, and mapping out the project schedule.

What is a project plan?

If you're still unsure about what a project plan is, here's how it differs from other project elements:

Project plan vs. work plan: A project plan and a work plan are the same thing. Different teams or departments might prefer one term or another—but they both ultimately describe the same thing: a list of big-picture action steps you need to take to hit your  project objectives .

Project plan vs. project charter: A project charter is an outline of your project. Mostly, you use project charters to get signoff from key stakeholders before you start. Which means your project charter comes before your project plan. A project charter is an outline of a simple project plan—it should only include your project objectives, scope, and responsibilities. Then, once your charter has been approved, you can create a project plan to provide a more in-depth blueprint of the key elements of your project.

Project plan vs. project scope: Your project scope defines the size and boundaries of your project. As part of your project plan, you should outline and share the scope of your project with all project stakeholders. If you’re ever worried about scope creep , you can refer back to your pre-defined scope within your project plan to get back on track.

Project plan vs. agile project: Agile project management is a framework to help teams break work into iterative, collaborative components . Agile frameworks are often run in conjunction with scrum and sprint methodologies. Like any project, an Agile project team can benefit from having a project plan in place before getting started with their work.

Project plan vs. work breakdown structure: Similar to a project plan, your work breakdown structure (WBS) helps you with project execution. While the project plan focuses on every aspect of your project, the WBS is focused on deliverables—breaking them down into sub-deliverables and project tasks. This helps you visualize the whole project in simple steps. Because it’s a visual format, your WBS is best viewed as a Gantt chart (or timeline), Kanban board , or calendar—especially if you’re using project management software .

Why are project plans important?

Project plans set the stage for the entire project. Without one, you’re missing a critical step in the overall project management process . When you launch into a project without defined goals or objectives, it can lead to disorganized work, frustration, and even scope creep. A clear, written project management plan provides a baseline direction to all stakeholders, while also keeping everyone accountable. It confirms that you have the resources you need for the project before it actually begins.

A project plan also allows you, as the person in charge of leading execution, to forecast any potential challenges you could run into while the project is still in the planning stages. That way, you can ensure the project will be achievable—or course-correct if necessary. According to a study conducted by the  Project Management Institute , there is a strong correlation between project planning and project success—the better your plan, the better your outcome. So, conquering the planning phase also makes for better project efficiency and results.

[Product UI] Brand campaign project plan in Asana, spreadsheet-style list (Lists)

7 steps to write a project plan to keep you on track

To create a clear project management plan, you need a way to track all of your moving parts . No matter what type of project you’re planning, every work plan should have:

Goals and project objectives

Success metrics

Stakeholders and roles

Scope and budget

Milestones , deliverables , and project dependencies

Timeline and schedule

Communication plan.

Not sure what each of these mean or should look like? Let’s dive into the details:

Step 1: Define your goals and objectives

You’re working on this project plan for a reason—likely to get you, your team, or your company to an end goal. But how will you know if you’ve reached that goal if you have no way of measuring success?

Every successful project plan should have a clear, desired outcome. Identifying your goals provides a rationale for your project plan. It also keeps everyone on the same page and focused on the results they want to achieve. Moreover, research shows that employees who know how their work is contributing to company objectives are 2X as motivated . Yet only 26% of employees have that clarity. That’s because most goal-setting happens separate from the actual work. By defining your goals within your work plan, you can connect the work your team is doing directly to the project objectives in real-time.

What's the difference between project goals and project objectives?

In general, your project goals should be higher-level than your project objectives. Your project goals should be SMART goals that help you measure project success and show how your project aligns with business objectives . The purpose of drafting project objectives, on the other hand, is to focus on the actual, specific deliverables you're going to achieve at the end of your project. Your project plan provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, so you can create a workflow that hits project objectives.

Your project  plan  provides the direction your team needs to hit your goals, by way of your project objectives. By incorporating your goals directly into your planning documentation, you can keep your project’s North Star on hand. When you’re defining your project scope, or outlining your project schedule, check back on your goals to make sure that work is in favor of your main objectives.

Step 2: Set success metrics

Once you’ve defined your goals, make sure they’re measurable by setting key success metrics. While your goal serves as the intended result, you need success metrics to let you know whether or not you’re performing on track to achieve that result. The best way to do that is to set  SMART goals . With SMART goals, you can make sure your success metrics are clear and measurable, so you can look back at the end of your project and easily tell if you hit them or not.

For example, a goal for an event might be to host an annual 3-day conference for SEO professionals on June 22nd. A success metric for that goal might be having at least 1,000 people attend your conference. It’s both clear and measurable.

Step 3: Clarify stakeholders and roles

Running a project usually means getting  collaborators  involved in the execution of it. In your project management plan, outline which team members will be a part of the project and what each person’s role will be. This will help you decide who is responsible for each task (something we’ll get to shortly) and let stakeholders know how you expect them to be involved.

During this process, make sure to define the various roles and responsibilities your stakeholders might have. For example, who is directly responsible for the project’s success? How is your project team structured (i.e. do you have a project manager, a project sponsor , etc.)? Are there any approvers that should be involved before anything is finalized? What cross-functional stakeholders should be included in the project plan? Are there any  risk management factors  you need to include?

Consider using a system, such as a  RACI chart , to help determine who is driving the project forward, who will approve decisions, who will contribute to the project, and who needs to remain informed as the project progresses.

Then, once you’ve outlined all of your roles and stakeholders, make sure to include that documentation in your project plan. Once you finalize your plan, your work plan will become your cross-functional source of truth.

Step 4: Set your budget

Running a project usually costs money. Whether it’s hiring freelancers for content writing or a catering company for an event, you’ll probably be spending some cash.

Since you’ve already defined your goals and stakeholders as part of your project plan, use that information to establish your budget. For example, if this is a cross-functional project involving multiple departments, will the departments be splitting the project cost? If you have a specific goal metric like event attendees or new users, does your proposed budget support that endeavor?

By establishing your project budget during the project planning phase (and before the spending begins), you can get approval, more easily track progress, and make smart, economical decisions during the implementation phase of your project. Knowing your budget beforehand helps you with resource management , ensuring that you stay within the initial financial scope of the project. Planning helps you determine what parts of your project will cost what—leaving no room for surprises later on.

Step 5: Align on milestones, deliverables, and project dependencies

An important part of planning your project is setting milestones, or specific objectives that represent an achievement. Milestones don’t require a start and end date, but hitting one marks a significant accomplishment during your project. They are used to measure progress. For example, let’s say you’re working to develop a  new product for your company . Setting a milestone on your project timeline for when the prototype is finalized will help you measure the progress you’ve made so far.

A project deliverable , on the other hand, is what is actually produced once you meet a milestone. In our product development example, we hit a milestone when we produced the deliverable, which was the prototype. You can also use project dependencies —tasks that you can’t start until others are finished. Dependencies ensure that work only starts once it’s ready. Continuing the example, you can create a project dependency to require approval from the project lead before prototype testing begins.  

If you’re using our free project plan template , you can easily organize your project around deliverables, dependencies, and milestones. That way, everyone on the team has clear visibility into the work within your project scope, and the milestones your team will be working towards.

Step 6: Outline your timeline and schedule

In order to achieve your project goals, you and your stakeholders need clarity on your overall project timeline and schedule. Aligning on the time frame you have can help you better prioritize during strategic planning sessions.

Not all projects will have clear-cut timelines. If you're working on a large project with a few unknown dates, consider creating a  project roadmap  instead of a full-blown project timeline. That way, you can clarify the order of operations of various tasks without necessarily establishing exact dates.

Once you’ve covered the high-level responsibilities, it’s time to focus some energy on the details. In your  work plan template , start by breaking your project into tasks, ensuring no part of the process is skipped. Bigger tasks can even be broken down into smaller subtasks, making them more manageable.

Then, take each task and subtask, and assign it a start date and end date. You’ll begin to visually see everything come together in a  cohesive project timeline . Be sure to add stakeholders, mapping out who is doing what by when.

[Product UI] Brand campaign project in Asana, Gantt chart-style view (Timeline)

Step 7: Share your communication plan

We’ve established that most projects include multiple stakeholders. That means communication styles will vary among them. You have an opportunity to set your expectations up front for this particular project in your project plan. Having a communication plan is essential for making sure everyone understands what’s happening, how the project is progressing, and what’s going on next. And in case a roadblock comes up, you’ll already have a clear communication system in place.

As you’re developing your communication plan, consider the following questions:

How many project-related meetings do you need to have? What are their goals?

How will you manage project status updates ? Where will you share them?

What tool will you use to manage the project and communicate progress and updates?

[inline illustration] Communication plan for brand campaign in Asana (example)

Like the other elements of your project plan, make sure your communication plan is easily accessible within your project plan. Stakeholders and cross-functional collaborators should be able to easily find these guidelines during the planning and execution phases of your project. Using project planning tools or task management software that integrates with apps like Slack and Gmail can ensure all your communication happens in one easily accessible place. 

Example project plan

Next, to help you understand what your project management plan should look like, here are two example plans for marketing and design projects that will guide you during your own project planning.

Project plan example: annual content calendar

Let’s say you’re the Content Lead for your company, and it’s your responsibility to create and deliver on a content marketing calendar for all the content that will be published next year. You know your first step is to build your work plan. Here’s what it might look like:

Goals and success metrics

You establish that your goal for creating and executing against your content calendar is to increase engagement by 10%. Your success metrics are the open rate and click through rate on emails, your company’s social media followers, and how your pieces of content rank on search engines.

Stakeholders and each person’s role

There will be five people involved in this project.

You, Content Lead: Develop and maintain the calendar

Brandon and Jamie, Writers: Provide outlines and copy for each piece of content

Nate, Editor: Edit and give feedback on content

Paula, Producer: Publish the content once it’s written and edited

Your budget for the project plan and a year’s worth of content is $50,000.

Milestones and deliverables

Your first milestone is to finish the content calendar, which shows all topics for the year. The deliverable is a sharable version of the calendar. Both the milestone and the deliverables should be clearly marked on your project schedule.

You’ve determined that your schedule for your content calendar project plan will go as follows:

October 15 - November 1: The research phase to find ideas for topics for content

November 2 - November 30: Establish the topics you’ll write about

December 1 - January 1: Build the calendar

January 1 - December 31: Content will be written by Brandon and Jamie, and edited by Nate, throughout the year

January 16 - December 31: Paula will begin publishing and continue to do so on a rolling basis throughout the year.

You’ll have a kick-off meeting and then monthly update meetings as part of your communication plan. Weekly status updates will be sent on Friday afternoons. All project-related communication will occur within a  project management tool .

How ClassPass manages project plans from start to finish

Kerry Hoffman, Senior Project Manager of Marketing Operations at  ClassPass , oversees all marketing projects undertaken by the creative, growth, and content teams. Here are her top three strategies for managing project plans:

Identify stakeholders up front: No matter the size of the project, it’s critical to know who the stakeholders are and their role in the project so you ensure you involve the right people at each stage. This will also make the review and approval process clear before the team gets to work.

Agree on how you want to communicate about your project: Establish where and when communication should take place for your project to ensure that key information is captured in the right place so everyone stays aligned.

Be adaptable and learn other people’s working styles: Projects don’t always go according to plan, but by implementing proper integration management you can keep projects running smoothly. Also, find out how project members like to work so you take that into account as you create your plan. It will help things run smoother once you begin executing.

Write your next project plan like a pro

Congratulations—you’re officially a work planning pro. With a few steps, a little bit of time, and a whole lot of organization, you’ve successfully written a project plan.

Keep yourself and your team on track, and address challenges early by using project planning software like Asana . Work through each of the steps of your project plan with confidence, and streamline your communications with the team.

Related resources

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What is resource management? Your guide to getting started

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What is RAPID decision-making?

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What is an estimation method? 6 techniques for project planning

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What Is Project Planning? Benefits, Tools, and More

Project planning is an essential part of project management. Discover more in this guide to what it is and how to create a plan.

[Featured image] A project manager reviews the process and goals of the project plan.

What is project planning? 

Project planning refers to the phase in project management in which you determine the actual steps to complete a project. This includes laying out timelines, establishing the budget, setting milestones, assessing risks, and solidifying tasks and assigning them to team members. 

Project planning is the second stage of the  project management lifecycle . The full cycle includes initiation, planning, execution, and closing.

Read more: How to Make a Project Plan in 4 Steps

Components of a project plan

During the planning phase of the project management lifecycle, you'll determine the steps to achieve your project goals. This is the "how" of completing the project.

The components of project planning are: tasks, milestones, people, documentation, and time. This step involves outlining your project scope, objectives, and timeline to make sure all stakeholders are on the same page.

Tasks: Tasks are activities that need to be accomplished within a set period of time. These are assigned to different members of the team according to their role and skill set.

Milestones: To go along with tasks, milestones are important points within the schedule that indicate progress. They tend to signify the completion of a deliverable or phase of the project.

People: A project plan also includes the people working on your team and their roles. It's important that each team member understands their role and the tasks they're responsible for completing. Ensuring that everyone is clear on their assigned tasks frees you up to focus on managing the project, ultimately creating a sense of personal responsibility for team members.

Documentation: During the project planning phase, it is a good idea to draft a project plan that links to relevant documentation. Besides your project plan, you can include documents like a RACI chart (Responsibility Assignment Matrix), which defines roles and responsibilities for individuals on your team. Another document is your charter which defines the project and outlines the details needed to reach your goals. You can include a budget and risk management plan, if relevant.

Time: Project plans should include the estimated duration of the project. How much time will be spent on each part? The schedule will be the anchor of your project plan. It includes dates for starting and completing tasks, and dates (deadlines) for reaching specific milestones. Indicating the project's start and end dates will help situate this project among competing priorities, and helps determine resources (including people) needed and when you'll need them.

Check out this video that outlines the components of a project plan:

Benefits of project planning

Project planning is important because it helps form the steps needed to complete a project successfully. Planning helps teams avoid potential problems and roadblocks to ensure the project stays on track. These are some benefits of a good project plan:

Helps ensure projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the required standard

Facilitates effective communication between all members of a project team

Helps identify potential risks and issues at an early stage

Helps you communicate your vision and objectives to your team

Keeps everyone focused on the goal

Tools used in project planning

Project planning tools can be manual using tangible items like pen and paper. They can also be software tools that produce visual elements that can connect teams across departments and time zones. A Gantt chart and a risk register can be conceived manually or on software.

Gantt chart:  A horizontal bar chart in which members can see what tasks must be completed in what order, and how long each is expected to take

Risk register:  A chart that lists risks associated with the project, along with their probability, potential impact, risk level, and mitigation plans

Project management software for planning

Project planning software helps you track and manage your project from start to finish. It can help you plan your project, assign tasks, track progress, and more. Project software has become more sophisticated and using cloud technology enables anyone to access the project data anywhere.

Here are some planning tasks you can perform with project management software:

Prioritize, organize, and allocate responsibilities using charts and graphs.

Create a timeline with milestones and task dependencies.

Keep track of your progress, costs, and resources.

Adjust timelines and maintain flexible scheduling as obstacles arise.

Share project plans with relevant parties.

Prepare data-driven reports and updates for stakeholders.

7 popular project planning software 

Each project planning software has its own unique features and benefits. Here are some of the most popular options:

This is a great option for small businesses, because it offers features like task management , time tracking, and file sharing. You can create projects and assign tasks to team members. It even has a built-in calendar so you can plan your upcoming workload.

ClickUp is a cloud-based software for managing projects, teams, and tasks. You can create projects, organize tasks, assign tasks to team members, track progress, and much more. ClickUp also offers integrations with other popular apps, including Trello, Jira, Google Docs, and Slack. 

3. Freedcamp

Freedcamp is a web-based project management tool designed specifically for people who need help managing multiple projects at once. It features task lists, calendars, file sharing, and other features needed by teams who want to collaborate on a project simultaneously. 

This is a very simple and easy-to-use project management tool that's great for teams of any size. It offers time tracking, progress reporting, and task management features. You can also integrate Hive with other tools like Slack, Google Drive, and Jira.

This is another popular project management tool with many great features like Gantt charts , resource planning, and issue tracking. You can also add comments on tasks, assign tasks to specific users or teams, and collaborate with them through chat.

Trello is a popular free project management app for managing projects and collaborating with teams. With Trello, you can manage projects across teams or solo efforts using cards representing tasks or ideas for future projects. The tool offers flexible sharing options so team members can collaborate on specific cards from anywhere.

Wrike is a project management and collaboration tool that allows you to manage projects from start to finish. It has a clean, easy-to-use interface and features like time-tracking and resource management. Like other tools, Wrike can integrate with other tools like Slack and Gmail.

Learn project management with Google

Whether or not you want to become a project manager, learning how to make a project plan and keep team members on track is important to many jobs. Google offers the popular Project Management Professional Certificate that covers the basics of project management, from traditional and agile methodologies. Over 75% of Google Career Certificate Graduates in the US report an improvement in their career trajectory (e.g. new job or career, promotion or raise) within 6 months of certificate completion.

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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A Step-by-Step Guide to the Project Planning Process

May 5, 2022

Every successful project starts with a plan. But planning for a big project can be almost as much work as the project itself. 

The planning process in project management is easiest when you follow a guide. It helps take the stress out of what can be a complicated process and ensures you cover all the details for a successful project. 

Today, we’ll take you from the first step in project planning all the way through to the finishing project planning stages. 

Here’s how to create a project plan for your project, start to finish, in a step-by-step guide. 

What Is Project Planning? 

Project planning is a key first step in any project management process. Without a plan, you’re likely to get off track, waste time and overlook something important. 

A project plan is the roadmap for a successful project and the project planning process is what you use to create it.

When planning a project, you consider: 

  • The people on all sides who will be involved in the project. 
  • The goals, objectives and outcomes you hope the project will achieve. 
  • And all the work that will be required to make the project happen. 

Project planning is also the stage in project management where you will consider contingencies — your Plan B for when things don’t go to plan — and how you will handle and recover from any setbacks.

Other project planning elements also come into play, such as project scope, where you decide what is and isn’t relevant for the project and hand, and your plan for project communication, which is key for a successful project.

Why Is Project Planning Important?

In project management , the project planning process is especially important because it sets you up for success with your project. 

It is designed to make things easier for the project manager, break things down into smaller more manageable steps and allow you to plan ahead for time and resource needs. 

Project planning is important because it answers a number of key questions about a project, such as: 

  • What tasks need to be done, when, and how? 
  • Who is responsible for each of the tasks?
  • How communicate will happen during this project?
  • What the plan is for handling issues that come up?
  • How project progress will be tracked and monitored? 

Project planning is important, but it’s not the only part of managing a project. It also fits into a larger project management process. 

How Project Planning Fits Into Project Management 

When you start managing projects, you’ll find that project planning is not the only important aspect of project management. There are other things that go into it. 

According to the experts at the Project Management Institute (PMI), there are actually five phases of project management and project planning is just one of them. 

However, project planning is still pretty important. Planning well for your project is so crucial that you may spend as much as half of the project in the planning stage. 

But since it’s often helpful to look at the big picture, it’s good idea to take a look at all five phases of the project management process. 

What Are the 5 Phases of Project Management? 

The experts at PMI have spent decades studying and perfecting what goes into effectively managing a project. For any project, PMI says there are five phases you must progress through: 

  • Planning 
  • Monitoring and Control
  • Closure 

Each one is important for moving through the project and arriving at a successful result. Consider how each one of these phases impacts a typical project: 

1. Initiation 

Everything has a beginning and the initiation phase is it for project management. This first step is about realizing the desire or need for the project and the possibility of taking it on. 

In the initiation phase, you may: 

  • Evaluate the project idea.
  • Consider project fit and feasibility. 
  • Think about outcomes and benefits.
  • Draft project charter documentation.
  • Propose budgets, goals, constraints.
  • Make a list of potential stakeholders.

As someone interested in understanding the project planning process, you will realize right away that a lot of early project planning takes place during the initiation phase. 

However, the initiation phase is still a point where things are intentionally left a bit vague. Once you’re ready to start filling in the details and making some concrete decisions about the project, it’s time to move on to the project planning phase. 

2. Planning

The planning phase is the second phase of the project management life cycle and the first phase where you will undertake significant detailed work on the project. 

The planning phase is primarily about creating a roadmap that will guide you through the rest of the project. 

Important elements of the planning phase will include decisions on: 

  • Stakeholders
  • Deliverables
  • Communications 

Obviously, there’s a lot to project planning, but primarily you’ll focus on: 

  • Setting goals and objectives.
  • Working out budgets and costs.
  • Defining scope and deliverables. 

It’s best to start vague and then fill in the details: 

  • Are your goals and objectives S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) or C.L.E.A.R. (collaborative, limited, emotional, appreciable and refinable)?
  • Do you have a plan for how you will procure, utilize and manage resources and work within your budget by minimizing costs? 
  • Have you set out a clear timeline of what needs to happen and when, with key milestones for deliverables with their due dates? 

Scope creep, cost overruns, delays and other project risks are a real possibility, so your planning also needs to take these factors into account.  

It’s a lot to think about, which is why this phase of project management can consume a lot of time and attention. But once you’ve got a detailed project plan, you’ll transition to the next phase of project management: execution. 

3. Execution

The third phase of project management is where ideas come off the page and you and your team begin the real work of the project. 

Project execution is about following the plan you’ve designed in the previous stages. 

  • Task work begins. 
  • Collaboration starts. 
  • Progress is made. 
  • Deliverables are created. 

As a project manager, your role during the execution phase is to make sure everyone knows what they have to do, people have what they need to get started, and everything progresses smoothly. 

Once things are underway, your team may continue on in the execution phase, but you’ll transition to the next phase: project monitoring and control. 

4. Monitoring and Control

One of a project manager’s main responsibilities in any project is monitoring and control. This phase often overlaps partially or fully with the execution phase. 

A project manager has various ways of helping make sure sure the project stays on track, such as monitoring:  

  • Critical success factors (CSFs), which are the key areas of the project that are determined to be vital to its success, such as leadership, teamwork, communication and costs. 
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs), which are specific metrics you choose during the planning of the project that show how efficiently you are meeting your goals and objectives. 

During the monitoring and control phase, you’ll not only observe whether the project is running smoothly, you’ll also take action to try to improve processes and solve problems if and when they do occur. 

Most importantly, you’ll pay attention to budgets, deadlines and progress so that you can reach the successful completion of the project and the last phase of project management. 

5. Closure 

The fifth phase of project management is closure. This phase is often shorter than any of the others, but it’s still important. 

With the closure of the project, the project manager is responsible for making sure the finished deliverable is formally handed over to the necessary parties. 

There may be things to explain and questions to answer for clients and paperwork to sign for those who participated in the project. 

The last phase of a project also often involves a team meeting or a report, where the project is evaluated in terms of what went well and where there are areas for improvement to work on for the next project. 

If you’ve worked out a thorough project plan and carefully monitored and managed your project, the closure phase should be a time to celebrate a job well done. 

How to Create a Simple Project Plan Online or On Your Computer

Once you break it down into steps, the project management process isn’t as hard as it seems. You can break process down even further to easily create a project plan online or on your computer for your next project. 

Here’s a simple project planning guide that breaks this process down into nine project planning stages: 

1. Identify the Stakeholders

The first step in project planning is to identify the stakeholders of your project. A stakeholder is a person or group who has an interest in the project outcome and can either affect or be affected by the project. 

Project stakeholders typically include people inside your organization who will work on the project and be responsible for its outcome, such as your: 

  • Team members 

However, your list of stakeholders should also include those outside your organization who will be impacted by your project, such as your: 

  • End-users 

You could also have stakeholders that will actively participate in the project who are outside of your organization, such as specialists, contractors or vendors. 

When you’ve identified all of your project stakeholders, you can congratulate yourself for being done with the first step in project planning and focus on moving on to the next stage of planning: roles and responsibilities. 

2. Define Roles and Responsibilities 

Once you have a list of all your project stakeholders, it’s time to define their roles and responsibilities. 

Deciding how stakeholders will be contributing comes early in project planning because many later steps depend on getting this element just right. 

When thinking about project roles, remember these guidelines:

  • A role is not necessarily the same thing as a person.  
  • A person can often play more than one role in a project. 
  • A role can be shared by multiple people divvying up the work.

Problems cans result if people or roles are mismatched or if a key role is left unfilled. Consider the skills required and competencies available to match your people to the right roles and cover key responsibilities. 

3. Hold the Kickoff Meeting

The first meeting you have with all the project stakeholders is called the “kickoff” meeting and it’s the next step in the project planning process. 

However the kickoff meeting isn’t just a get-together. There are goals to hit and an agenda to cover. 

The primary goals of the kickoff meeting are to: 

  • Bring all the stakeholders together. 
  • Share your vision for a successful project. 
  • Meet and establish good working relationships. 

To accomplish these goals, it’s important to go into the meeting with a clear agenda. 

  • Let everyone get acquainted.  
  • Go over the project’s background. 
  • Discuss the purpose of the project. 
  • Touch on scope, methods and processes. 
  • Cover the roles for all the stakeholders. 
  • Open the floor for questions. 
  • Wrap things up. 

A good kickoff meeting should be informative but not too detailed yet. Make sure it’s collaborative, so you can benefit from the expertise and perspectives of other stakeholders during the rest of the planning and execution of the project. Send out meeting minutes and leave open a line of communication if attendees still have questions. 

4. Define Project Scope, Budget and Timeline 

After the kickoff meeting, you should be ready to dive into the more details of the project, specifically, it’s scope, budget and timeline. 

  • For the project scope, it’s important not only to define what will be part of the project but also what will not be part of it. Scope is about limiting the project to achievable and realistic objectives. 
  • For the project budget, you’ll determine what resources are needed and available to meet the specific objectives of the project and what the total cost of the project will be. 
  • For the project timeline, you’ll think about what phases of the project it will be necessary to go through and start making some estimates about how long each of these phases can be expected to last. 

A project’s scope, budget and timeline are major project planning elements that you are likely to spend a lot of time working on. Don’t be afraid to give this stage of the planning process the time it takes to get it right. It will increase the likelihood of your success. 

5. Set Goals and Prioritize Tasks 

The next stage of the project planning process is about setting goals and prioritizing key tasks.  

This next step focuses on determining all the in-between tasks and goals that will help you get there. 

  • Start by breaking down the project into distinct phases. 
  • Define individual goals you need to achieve for each phase. 
  • Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T. and/or C.L.E.A.R. 
  • Work out the tasks needed to reach each goal. 
  • Prioritize tasks in order of importance for the project. 
  • Consider the dependencies that exist between the tasks. 
  • Have contingencies to adjust if/when goals aren’t met on time. 

At this point, you should have a good understanding of the purpose of the project, a vision for what success will look like and the steps needed to make it all happen.

6. Define the Project Deliverables 

The next project planning stage involves defining your project deliverables. 

A deliverable is something that is able to be delivered, but the term has a more specific meaning for the planning process in project management. 

The Project Management Institute defines a deliverable as a unique and verifiable product, result or capability to perform a service that is produced in order to complete a project, project phase or process. 

This means that a wide range of deliverables are possible, but it all depends on your project. 

  • For an auto manufacturer project, a deliverable might be a new car rolling off the assembly line. 
  • For an advertising firm marketing project, a deliverable might be a new ad appearing on a billboard. 
  • For a customer service center project, a deliverable might be the capability to receive a customer call. 

The deliverables you define for your project should be tied to the project’s central objectives. A project can have one final deliverable, or several that are produced in different phases of the project. A deliverable may be something tangible, but it doesn’t have to be. 

7. Create the Project Schedule

As you near the end of your project planning process, it’s time to create a detailed project schedule. 

The project schedule is a document that needs to include a few important things: 

  • A detailed timeline for the whole project. 
  • A description of the resources allotted for each task. 
  • Any instructions or info needed to complete the tasks.

A good project schedule can be tricky to create, because it has to strike a balance between being detailed and being easily understandable. 

However, the process of creating the schedule is much like the earlier stages. You’ll continue to break things down into smaller and smaller steps, then look at how these pieces need to fit together. 

Things to keep in mind include: 

  • What activities make up tasks and project phases. 
  • What items are dependent on other items in the schedule. 
  • What sequence of activities is the most logical and efficient. 
  • What resources and time each task is estimated to consume. 

As you work through the project schedule stage, don’t be afraid to revisit previous stages and make adjustments. If something will require additional resources or a few additional days of work to make the project successful, it’s better to plan for it now, rather than be caught off guard later. 

8. Complete a Risk Assessment 

After scheduling, the next step when you’re planning a project is to complete a risk assessment. A risk assessment lets you take a realistic look at what might go wrong during your project and work out some proactive steps to minimize any damage. 

A risk assessment is another good time for collaboration with the other stakeholders. While you may have your own insight on what risks exist, other stakeholders can bring a fresh perspective with risks you may not have thought of. 

Common project risks include: 

  • Project delays 
  • Resource shortages 
  • Scope creep 
  • Technological failures 
  • Communication problems 

While almost anything could go wrong during the project, some risks are more likely than others. Like other aspects of the project, prioritizing comes in handy. 

Focus on the risks that are most likely and come up with a plan to reduce these risks and handle them quickly if they do occur. 

9. Communicate Your Project Plan

By the end of the project planning process, you will have covered a lot of ground. At this point, your plan should be in great shape. There’s just one thing left to do: communicate your plan to everyone who will be involved. 

A lot depends on how well the stakeholders understand your plan and how closely they follow it. So it’s a must to communicate all the details clearly to everyone that’s involved. 

A part of your plan may also involve how you want other stakeholders to communicate with you and each other during the project. This also needs to be communicated at the end of the planning phase so that it can be put into action for the project execution. 

Make sure to cover preferred communication channels and expectations for when and how to share updates and ask questions. 

How Project Planning Software Can Help with Project Planning 

Project planning can be a big undertaking. Large projects can take months or years to plan effectively. Even smaller projects can take weeks to plan. 

With so much time and energy going into the planning of your project, it makes sense to use technology to make the planning process easier. 

Project planning software can help you avoid the inefficiencies of trying to plan projects on paper, juggling multiple project spreadsheets or doing your project plan online through email threads. 

A project planning software tool like Folio can simplify your project planning process and even help you manage your project execution after the planning is done. 

Folio is an easy-to-use email add-on for your Gmail or Outlook inbox that helps you stay organized, no matter what type of project you’re planning or managing, with features to: 

Organize Stakeholder Contact Info Automatically

Folio uses AI-powered algorithms to connect the dots, automatically organizing the contacts for each of your projects and keeping everyone in the loop when you communicate. 

Sort Communications by Project Automatically 

Folio has Smart Folders that keep your inbox neat and tidy, even when you’re managing communications with multiple stakeholders and multiple projects. 

Keep All Your Documents Organized 

Folio’s Smart Folders also help you keep track of important email attachments related to your project, with easy integration with Google Docs for storing project documents in the cloud.

Integrate Your Task Management 

Folio adds new functionality to your existing Gmail and Outlook task management features, letting you create, assign and track tasks from your email with just a few clicks. 

Handle Task Prioritization Details

Folio has features to help you set task priorities, define milestones and meet project goals, saving you hours of work per week, thanks to our smart AI-powered algorithms. 

Stay on Top of Deadlines 

Folio connects with your calendar, letting you set task due dates and track multiple project deadlines so that you can stay on track and finish your project on schedule. 

Get Notifications and Reminders 

Folio features customizable notification and reminder settings that keep you informed about the status of your project, even when your inbox fills up and things get busy. 

Share Real-Time Project Updates 

Folio comes with real-time project update features, allowing you to create custom timelines that can be shared with customers, clients and other stakeholders to keep everyone in the loop. 

The project planning process doesn’t have to be difficult. Understand how project planning fits into project management, follow the right steps to plan your project, and take advantage of project planning software to help plan your next project. 

Try Folio today for free with up to three projects and simplify your project planning process. 

We've built Folio: the first AI email assistant for professionals. Folio plugs directly into your work email inbox and automatically organizes your email, giving you contextual access to all the information you need to increase your productivity in minutes. We are a team of passionate product people and engineers that gets excited about solving complex processes and creating value for people. We're a venture funded company backed by Accel Partners, Vertical Venture Partners, and other leading venture capital firms and angel investors such as Ash Patel and Jerry Yang.

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