The five steps to create a successful plan

This blog post shows you the five steps to create a successful plan.

A man needs to have a plan, right? And a woman too. And multi-potentialites? They need lots of plans haha… 🙂

Woman writing "Plan 4 success" on a white board

Now, everyone talks about planning. But in general, what people mean by planning is putting their task list in a schedule or on their calendar. That is not creating a plan; Scheduling is only a part of a plan. It’s the last step before starting the execution of the plan.

If putting your to-do list on a calendar is not the entire plan, then what does it take to create a successful plan? Keep reading… Because it only takes five steps to make a successful plan. And this is how.

When do you need to create a plan?

First of all, when do you need a complete plan?

Writing a checklist in a notebook

Would you need an extended plan for your day-to-day work? No! Your day-to-day work consists of regularly recurring operations. You do the same tasks over and over again.

Instead of creating a plan, and if your day-to-day work involves a series of tasks, you can create standing operating procedures. Your procedures can be just a checklist or a full description of the tasks if other people are also involved and need to do complicated tasks.

In general, you need to create a plan for a project. And a project is a unique one-off endeavour aiming to achieve a unique result. What could be the projects for which to create a plan?

You will need a plan for big events, like a wedding or an anniversary celebration. You also better plan when travelling abroad, the longer the trip and the less you know the country or countries to visit, the more you will need a plan. You will definitely also need a plan when you want to build a house or set up a business.

Five steps to create your project plan

What are the steps to follow to create a successful plan?

Woman writing in a notebook with globe and cup of coffee in the background

1. Define your project key points

  • Define your objectives and success criteria. What should be the end result of your project and what are the criteria that need to be true to call it a success?
  • Define the scope of your project. What will be part of your project and what might be related but is not a part of your project?
  • Define the resources you will need to achieve the expected results. How many people will you need and are available? What is your budget and how much time do you think it will take to get to the end result you want? This will be your project baseline.
  • Define the Assumptions you expect to be true, define if there are any Constraints you need to take into account. See if there are any Dependencies with other projects or people and define eventual Risks.
  • Define your exit strategy. When will you stop your project? For sure, when the objectives are achieved. But what will be your criteria to abort a project prematurely?

2. Break down your project in big parts of work.

Break down every part until you arrive at the level of individual tasks. To know how to do this, check out the blog post ‘How to break down a project in manageable steps.

You will get a hierarchy of tasks. Don’t forget that planning and managing your project are also tasks and they also take up some time, so they also need to be part of your work breakdown structure.

3. Make estimates of workload on all the individual tasks.

In some cases, you can group tasks together. If other people will do the work, let them give you their estimates. Estimations of work need to be expressed in the number of hours a task will take to finish, even if this is a big number.

This is because you need to make a difference between ‘Workload’ and ‘Duration’. If a task has a workload of 8 hours, the duration can be 1 day if a person works these 8 hours in one day. But in case a person works on this task only one hour a day, the duration of the task will be 8 days.

4. Try to find the shortest time in which your project can be done.

This is called the critical path. To do this, you need to see in which order the tasks need to be done. Sometimes, a task can only start after another is finished. And there might also be tasks that can be done in parallel by different people.

5. Schedule your tasks on a calendar

When all that is done, you can finally start scheduling, putting all your project tasks on a calendar. To do that, you first schedule your shortest path (see point 4) and then you schedule the tasks you can do in parallel in between.

One plan fits all?

Of course not! A plan needs to be adapted to the project. It needs to scale with the size of the project. So, small projects only need a small plan and the bigger your project, the more extended your plan needs to be.

Laptop, notebook and pencils to write a one-page plan

In a small project, you can write the five-step plan above on one page. But, it is possible that for a real big project you will need to add some of the following plans:

  • A list of all stakeholders, any person who has a stake or interest in your project, with their responsibility and level of communication needed. See also ‘Things you need to know about the people involved in your passion or project’.
  • A resources plan, what will be the human and material resources that are needed and how you will get them to be available at the right moment in your project.
  • A communications plan, in which you say what you will communicate to who, in what way and with what frequency.
  • A plan to agree on how any changes will be handled.
  • A quality plan in which you explain what level of quality your end results need to have and how this quality will be assured. See also blog post ‘Life-changing ways to get the right quality level in your passion or project’.
  • A procurement plan in which you agree with any material and service providers on what and how purchases will be handled and paid.

A few additional thoughts

Be careful not to start micro-managing. Your plan needs to set out the big lines and give enough details to work. But when it’s too detailed, it will become impossible to manage.

Scheduling tasks on a calendar

On the other hand, when your plan lacks details and it isn’t clear what the end result must be, people will fill out the gaps with their interpretation and the result might not be what you expect. So, the question is to find a balance.

A series of plans for a project are guidelines; they are not set in stone. Plans should stay flexible enough to adapt to the reality of the day. Especially, the scope, the schedule and the budget are subject to changes. It is very important to closely monitor these three.

Especially the scope has the tendency to grow while working on your project. Logically your budget and time schedule grow accordingly. This is in general ‘The number one reason why your passion projects don’t get finished’.

In general, people also tend to be too optimistic when estimating the effort a task will take (see my blog post ‘Why estimates are always too optimistic compared to the real time needed to get a job done’). It’s always a good idea to add a buffer at the end of your project schedule for eventual delays.

There is still a lot we can say about the planning of projects, but I hope, for now, that this main structure to create a successful project plan will get you started.

Are you ready for your next project now?

Your view?


The five steps to create a successful plan
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