When will the project be completed and how will it be executed? The “when” and the “how” are vital attributes of the project plan and the plan is one of the project managers most important tools.The plan is in its nature a tool to navigate towards a future desired destination.

Time is a key success criteria in most projects. Not only the time when the new product is delivered, deadlines are needed to move things forward and milestones are key to monitor if the project follows the plan.

By defining how the project will be executed, the plan is functioning as a mechanism to align people inside and outside the project about the overall path to follow, It is also putting order into the myriad of deliverables and activities that are to be carried out. The good plan is rooted in solid understanding of -the work to be made, it is aligned with actual resourced needed and is clear about underlying assumptions.

When navigating in unknown or turbulent waters (long term) planning can be useless, and rather than obeying a plan that is not valid, it make better sense to face realities and adjust to actual conditions.

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The path to a future destination – There can be many paths available but the project must select one road to follow towards the project goal. The below statements can be used to verify if a plan seems good:

  • The plan provides a clear direction towards the destination
  • The plan has clearly stated milestones 
  • The plan provides options for early feedback on the product
  • The plan is rooted in solid understanding of the work ahead
  • The plan is taking into account who shall do the work / and how fast they work
  • The plan is addressing risks and contain sufficient buffer
  • The plan is clear on underlying assumptions


Overview plan – When things are reaching a certain level of complexity it will in many cases pay off to create simple one-pager versions of the plan. These simple representations of the overall path are valuable in the planning process to maintain overview (you can get stuck in details), and also a strong tool when sharing the plan with the project team and stakeholders. 

It may require some graphical effort to transform a lot of underlying information into condensed easy-to-explain one-pagers. The typical content is:

  • Simple calendar view
  • main activities,
  • Key milestones
  • Other relevant key information needed to explain the plan


Detailed plan – While the overview is showing the path, the backbone of the project plan is the detailed plan. It is in the detailed plan the bricks in the puzzle: deliverables, activities, resources and start/end days are joined into an executable plan. 

The level of details in the plan must match the purpose of the plan. More details does not necessarily mean better quality but pay special attention when relevant details are missing and replaced by (implicit or explicit) assumptions 

 Below some checkpoints for the detailed plan

  • Deliverable and activity break down is made and estimated (to sufficient level)
  • Non-functional scope is incorporated into the plan
  • Dependencies are identified and addressed
  • Start – and end dates are defined
  • Clear responsibility for deliverables and activities is defined
  • Resource requirements are defined and availability is confirmed
  • Velocity data is available (actual knowledge about team productivity)
  • Sufficient contingency is incorporated to address risks


The planning process – The planning process is often valuable in it-self. Making breakdown of deliverables and activities usually reveals tasks, dependencies, risks, options and challenges nobody thought of. 

Having the team involved in the planning process is an option to share knowledge and to build understanding of the work to be made and to establish buy-in to the plan including the deadlines. 

As with everything else, also planning gets better when you exercise. Consider the planning process an investment, use the time needed initially and iteratively during the project to establish and improve plans on different levels including:

  • Overall project planning, 
  • Planning 3-6 months ahead, 
  • Short term 1-3 weeks planning (sprints)


Make it happen – Plans are followed when somebody has the dedication to make things happen, and the mechanisms in place to trace progress and the ability to act when things do not go as it was planned.

Make sure to define who is responsible for monitoring and reporting progress. In bigger projects this responsibility will normally be split on more persons. Also make sure to have iterative routines in place to track progress (weekly or bi-weekly)

Establish mechanisms to track progress and make sure to do it in a way that can deliver “early warnings”. Waiting until milestones are missed can be way too late. Burn down graphs, sprint reviews, regular ETC updates are some techniques that can be used to deliver factual progress information.

In a big project with many things happening in parallel, there will always be activities that for some reason develop in a way that was not projected, require special attention and creative problem solving. Be ready to have an eye on each finger, so you can spot those challenging activities and be ready to invest in finding solutions.

Adjust to realities – It can happen that it is not just single activities that get out of control but rather the overall plan. Initial estimates may have been too optimistic, vital activities may have been missed or the plan approach is not right. It is always tough to realize when the plan is not good, but it is even worse to have a plan that is not being followed, not trusted by team and stakeholders, and not leading the project in the right direction with desired speed.

Establish project plan
Define overall plan ideas(Initial draft)
Document assumptions
Define tools to document project plan
Define who to involve in planning process
Plan and conduct planning meetings
Create overview plan (main deliverables and milestones)
Create detailed plan (w/detailed WBS and resource view)
Use detailed scope as basis for plan
Align project plan with resource availability
Define key milestones
Define critical path
Identify risky activities
Incorporate contingency into plan
Define external dependencies
Review plan / get plan approved
Confirm baseline plan version
Share project plan with team and stakeholders
Create plan presentation (overview)
Share plan with team and stakeholders
Share detailed parts of plan with specific target groups
Establish a process for assigning tasks to resources and for follow-up
Define a process for progress tracking
Plan updates
Prepare phase changes
Define process for plan updates
Unclear process for progress tracking

Problem: The project lacks an efficient method for regular progress monitoring.

Consequence: It is difficult to know whether the project is on track. If things go wrong, early warnings may not be given and the opportunity to adjust the approach is missed.

Insufficiently shared project plan

Problem: The project team and key stakeholders have limited awareness of and commitment to the project plan.

Consequence: There is a risk that the project plan will not function as a key reference point on what, how and when to deliver the project. Team members may not be aware of activities to be performed and may not work towards common milestones.

Complex project with many integrated activities

Problem: The planning process is time-consuming, the plan is complex and tight procedures for reporting during execution needs to be established.

Consequence: Planning may be underestimated, agility during execution is limited and any change to the plan may have cascading effects.

Tight project plan

Problem: The project plan has a tight (or unrealistic) time frame with limited or no contingency.

Consequence: It may not be difficult to realize the project within the defined time frame. Just a few deviations or unforseen activities can destroy the plan.

Poor project plan

Problem: The plan is missing specification of the work to be done, has unrealistic estimates or lacks commitment from project team members and key stakeholders.

Consequence: It will be uncertain whether the project can be executed within the defined success criteria. The plan may not function as a key reference point for stakeholders.