Learn the basic steps of a project life-cycle and improve your planning skills.

How to Plan a Project Efficiently?

In project management, there are always equal chances for a project to succeed or fail. Sometimes, even if the project is planned exceptionally well, it still fails. One of the main tasks of a project manager is to create a project plan for a successful project delivery. Proper project planning will create a systematic approach that can be applied later to any other project.

5 phases of project life-cycle

According to PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), there are five phases of project management. Each phase is goal-oriented, has its characteristics and deliverables. In reality, these phases might not always happen in chronological order. 

The project life cycle consists of five phases:

Phase 1: 
Initiation

The first phase of pro­ject life­cy­cle is con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing. Ini­ti­a­tion is the step, where ideas are ex­plored, pre­lim­i­nary re­search gets done, and prospects are de­ter­mined. Ideas have to be rep­re­sented con­vinc­ingly so that the stake­hold­ers and in­vestors green­light the pro­ject. Ini­ti­a­tion ac­tiv­i­ties de­ter­mine the pro­ject fea­si­bil­ity. If the de­ci­sion is pos­i­tive, then the pro­ject can move to the next step.

Phase 2: 
Planning

In the second phase of project management, all the planning happens. The main goal of this step is to create a project plan. It should not only guide the project execution but should also be a realistic snapshot of the project in its entirety. Creating a project plan is a complex process, and should be considered as the most crucial step of the project management.

During this stage, the following actions have to be done:

Define the roles and responsibilities of every project participant;


Hold a kick-off meeting to bring stakeholders together and discuss the project in detail;


Develop a scope statement — the document that describes what should be the outcome of the project;
 

Develop a scope baseline — it identifies all the deliverables to be produced for the project and all the work to be done;

Develop the schedule and cost baselines;


Create a baseline management plan;


Develop the staffing plan;


Analyze project quality and risks;


Organize and plan communication (reports, meetings, decisions, and problem resolutions).

Once the project plan is complete, it is essential to communicate its content to the sponsor to receive approval and clarify if any changes are needed. Next steps include execution and control of the project plan and define key stakeholder roles/responsibilities in the upcoming phases.

Phase 3: 
Execution

During the execution phase, all the processes are implemented, resources are allocated, and tasks are assigned. The goal of the project team is to start creating deliverables and seek to accomplish the project objectives. All activities that happen in this phase can determine whether or not your project will be a success.

Phase 4: 
Monitor and control

The aim of this phase is performance and progress tracking. During this step, you have to establish measures to ensure that the project is going according to the plan, budget, and time frames. The project manager can adjust the schedule or resource allocation plan if needed. A couple of things that can be implemented to track the project progress are review meetings and regular project performance reports from the team.

Phase 5: 
Closing

Project closure is the final step when all the project activities come to their conclusion. Closure is not equal to success, because even if the project fails, it has to be closed, anyway. Throughout this phase, the project is signed off, the documents are handed over, and the deliverables are given back. All the liabilities should be settled, and resources released. Evaluation process is considered an essential part of the closing phase. Asses your project's ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses, evaluate your team's performance.

Now we have gone through the five phases of the project management process, and we have highlighted that planning is the most crucial step. But how to make your planning process more efficient?

6 steps to improve your project planning

1. Set the priorities

As a project manager, you need to be focused on the most important things and set the right priorities. Let's admit — it is impossible to track everything, so try to focus on the most critical elements of your project, e.g., project scope, milestones, budget, and resources. It is vital to keep tabs on your upcoming milestones and monitor them since stakeholders are interested in these deliverables most. Besides, you should control your budget expenses and update them, to inform stakeholders in time. To ensure that you aren't spending more than it was initially allocated, you can conduct regular budget reviews. Finally, pay special attention to the project scope — during the project, it should be modified according to workflow, due dates, and deliverables.

2. Set measurable targets

Your targets should be realistic enough to be measured. Think about how you will track them. Changes in the project are inevitable and can make a significant impact on the project. Therefore the project baseline is crucial for project success. Create a baseline for performance measurement (a combination of scope, time, and cost baseline) with realistic targets, which will represent a standard to manage your project's performance. The project baseline will improve future project plans and estimates.

3. Establish efficient communication 

Hold a kick-off meeting with your team to discuss the tasks and the best ways of getting them done. If you work in a distributed team, make sure you have the right tool for internal communication. Efficient team collaboration is the driving force to project success. Another way to improve team communication is to establish regular checkpoints. Set daily or weekly meetings to see where each member is and which difficulties he/she might be facing. If you're managing several teams, conduct one-to-one meetings with each team's lead. And of course communicate all the project changes to your team. Make sure that you all are on the same page with your project vision.

4. Assess all the risks

List all the possible risks that may appear. What happens if tasks won't meet expected deadlines? What will you do if costs end up being much higher than you initially budgeted? First, think of how the identified risks can be mitigated. Then spend some time with your team to identify the actions to be taken for every possible negative outcome. Remember that you always should have a plan B if anything unexpected happens.

5. Organize your resources in one place

Don't spend time emailing files and other resources back and forth. Set up a proper digital document management system to stop wasting time searching for the right information. Google, Dropbox  and others offer free and paid cloud storage and sharing.

 

To monitor the task progress and communicate in the same place, a collaborative workspace should be set up. Project management applications like Infolio allow you to collaborate with teams, share and store files, and communicate with stakeholders in the same place.

6. Keep a clear and accessible schedule

Make the project schedule available to everyone. You could use a whiteboard in the office, calendar, or a convenient project management application. When you assign a task to an employee, make the deadline obvious. Everyone should know exactly when their tasks should be completed and what other teammates do.

Remember that there is no magic formula for efficient project planning and management. But staying organized and ensuring efficient communication will move you ahead. Project management software with right templates will help you staying updated and monitoring the process wherever you are. Effective teamwork, smart workflow organization, and reliable project management tools form the foundation for your project success.

If you need to create a plan for your upcoming project

try our Project planning template.

It offers a comprehensive example of your workflow organization, which you can fully customize to fit your team's needs.

How to use this template?

Create a new project and choose the Project planning template to start. All Infolio templates include some demo content. Feel free to remove it once you've familiarized yourself with 
the concept.

 

The tasks are grouped by the steps of project planning: "Ideation", "Plan and strategy development", "Communication organization", "Milestones" and "Deliverables". Example tasks provide general guidance, remove them and add your own tasks and lists with ease.


Group tasks by Status to track their progress (e.g. "Working on", "Needs approval", "Needs to be planned", "Needs assistance", "Done") . In this view you can easily add new statuses to your workflow or rearrange existing ones. Update the status of any task by dragging and dropping it to the corresponding column.

To see how tasks are distributed within your team, group the project by Assignee. In this view, you can reassign tasks quickly by dragging and dropping them between columns.

If you need any further help or if you have suggestions about how to improve

this template, don't hesitate to let us know!

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