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What is Project Planning? 8 How-to Steps for Creating One

Updated on May 3, 2024By
Project Planning

We’re in the project economy—where a large part of our work revolves around innovating a new product or service. Even if you’re not a project manager, you might have embraced the responsibilities of one to manage a project at some point and would have utilized project planning.

The art of project planning requires strategic thinking about how to achieve a desired goal.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss project planning in detail—from what it is to 8 project planning steps to use as a checklist for your next project.

But First, What is Project Planning? 

In the context of project management, project planning is the second stage of the project lifecycle. It comes after project initiation and is preceded by project execution.

Project planning helps set goals, deadlines, and tasks. Project managers use project planning to designate resources and map out schedules and requirements.

The end goal is to drive a productive course of action for achieving said goals. A comprehensive project management plan is a critical output of this process, guiding the project toward its objectives by detailing goals, success metrics, stakeholders and roles, scope and budget, milestones, timeline, and communication plans.

With 76% of project managers feeling that the main project is a primary source of stress, project planning, and by extension, a detailed project management plan, has emerged as a coveted skill to have.

What is a Project Plan?

An effective project plan allows you to scope the workload better, define responsibilities, and allocate resources optimally. This way, teams can complete projects on time and within budget without compromising on work quality.

Teams use a project plan—also known as a work plan—to track activities throughout the project lifecycle. A robust project plan includes all the necessary project information, such as goals, deadlines, tasks, deliverables, and scope. This action plan showcases how you will get to the project’s finish line. 

Different schools of project managers may use different formats for project planning, such as:

  • Project Charter: A formally signed document by stakeholders that signals the start of a project and authorizes the project manager to allocate resources and carry out the project; key components include project purpose, objectives, scope, stakeholders, assumptions, constraints, high-level timeline, and approval signatures
  • Statement of WorkA document that defines the work to be done in a project and serves as a formal agreement between the project team and the client/sponsor; key components include project objectives, scope, deliverables, milestones, timeline, resources, costs, and acceptance criteria
  • Work Breakdown Structure: A hierarchical breakdown of the total scope of work into manageable sections for planning; key components include project phases, tasks, sub-tasks, and work packages
  • Project Plan: A roadmap that defines how a project will be executed, monitored, and controlled; key components include project scope, objectives, timeline, milestones, tasks, resources, budget, risks, and quality management plan

Project Planning vs Project Scope

People often use project planning and project scope interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences between the two:

AspectProject PlanningProject Scope
1. DefinitionDefines project objectives, timelines, resources, and deliverablesDefine the size and boundaries of the project
2. FocusHow the project will be executedWhat needs to be accomplished in the project
3. TimeframeTypically done at the beginning of the project, but can evolve throughoutAlso done at the beginning but can be updated as the project progresses
4. DeliverablesOutlines the tasks, milestones, and resources needed to complete the projectSpecifies the outcomes, products, or services that will be delivered to stakeholders
5. FlexibilityAllows for adjustments and refinements as the project progressesDoesn’t offer as much flexibility as a project plan; changes in scope can lead to scope creep and cause delays, overstretched budget, etc.

Project Plan vs Work Plan

A project plan and a work plan are the same thing; it’s just that different teams may prefer one terminology over the other. Both refer to high-level action steps teams must undertake to achieve project objectives on time and within budget.

How to Create a Project Plan in 8 Easy Steps

No two project plans look alike—it all depends on your unique project goals, stakeholder expectations, and customer needs. That said, your project plan should be created methodically and with clarity.

Utilizing project planning tools is crucial for effective planning and execution, ensuring project success, timely delivery, and customer satisfaction.

Here are eight project planning steps to help you write an impactful project plan and improve your ideation as well as execution prowess:

1. Start with project discovery and definition

A project plan has multiple moving parts. Regardless of the type of project you’re planning, you need to start by defining its why. This is where project discovery and definition come into the big picture. 

So, if you’re kickstarting a new project, here’s your roadmap for successful project discovery:

  • Round up your crew: Gather your team, project sponsor, stakeholders, clients, etc., and get everyone on board.
  • Scope out your scope: Define what you’re aiming for, what’s off-limits, and what you absolutely must achieve to get everyone on the same page.
  • Dig deep: Do your homework! You must research the market, check out the competition, and gather all the intel you need.
  • Plot your path: Create a killer project plan by mapping out your timeline, resources, budget, and key milestones. Remember, this will be your project’s GPS.
  • Spot trouble before the project begins: If you want to stay ahead of the project, identify potential issues and plan how to dodge them.
  • Set the bar: Define what success looks like and give everyone a clear target to aim for.
  • Keep everyone in the loop: Regular updates and clear communication will help keep stakeholders in the know, and you’ll build trust with the team.
  • Write it down: Document everything! From meeting notes to decisions and changes, having a digital trail helps when things go south.

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2. Define your project goals

The second step is all about defining what you want to achieve with the project as specifically as possible.

When defining your goals, consider the iron triangle of project management—scope, resources (such as budget and teams), and schedule. Use this list of questions to arrive at S.M.A.R.T goals (specific, measurable, realistic, achievable, and time-bound):

  • What is the expected outcome of this project?
  • What USPs and features do you want to focus on?
  • What factors can negatively impact your project progress?
  • How will you keep the stakeholders and customers informed?
  • Do you have the necessary resources and budget to achieve your goals?
  • Are your team members getting real-time visibility into the goals?

For example, Nifty allows you to create in-depth goals with space for a description, target date, metrics, etc.:

Teams can use this information to work towards a common outcome that aligns with your organization’s goals. You can add tasks and lists to make the goals more well-rounded:

3. Set success metrics for your project

They say you can’t succeed at what you don’t measure. The same goes for project planning.

You’ll never know how well your team is faring without defining accurate key performance indicators.

The best way to assess the right mix of success metrics is to use the S.M.A.R.T framework here as well. For example, say your goal is to get customers to sign up for your website’s newsletter in the first month of your website launch on September 1, 2024.

So, your success metrics for this goal can be getting 2000+ customers to sign up for the newsletter, achieving an uptime of at least 99%, and getting at least 1 lac plus site visits in the first month post-launch.

To make the reporting process easier, Nifty’s Reporting feature is well worth looking into. This feature automates progress reporting across all your projects and team activities to ensure there’s operational clarity:

The platform’s Dashboard Report feature helps convert your workspace and project task boards into a dashboard-style visual report—one that can be exported and shared with external stakeholders.

4. Clarify stakeholders and roles

Project planning is a collaborative process. You need to outline:

  • Who will be a part of the project?
  • Who will be directly responsible for project success?
  • What each team member’s roles and responsibilities will be?
  • How will cross-functional stakeholders be informed of their responsibilities?
  • How will your team be structured, and who will report to whom?
  • Will there be any project approvers and project sponsors?
  • How will you mitigate risks?

Collate all these answers in the form of a RACI chart and share the work plan with the team.

5. Finalize your budget

You’ve already defined your stakeholders and project goals. The next step is to establish a project keeping in mind:

  • Will you be hiring contractors, freelancers, or other external stakeholders to accommodate the tasks?
  • Will your cross-functional departments split project costs, or will the costs be borne by your team alone?
  • Will you need to create an emergency fund in case of delays, resource unavailability, etc.?

Creating a project budget early on gets you quick approvals, helps you to make intelligent and economical decisions, and enables you to use your resources optimally.

6. Define milestones, deliverables, and project dependencies

Setting milestones and deliverables helps project managers assess their project progress at regular intervals and measure the outcomes.

While you don’t have to set a start and end date for the milestone, know that achieving it marks a big win. Nifty’s Milestones feature serves as your visual project guide, automating the milestone progress as and when you complete tasks:

You can add relevant bulk task dependencies by blocking all tasks in a milestone until the other tasks of a milestone are completed. This way, you’ll never lose sight of the important details.

When creating your milestones, make sure to add a tangible project deliverable for that specific milestone to know you’re on the right path. Every goal or objective you add to the project plan should be clear, specific, and measurable.

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7. Write in your timeline and schedule.

Setting and managing a project timeline is crucial for successful project execution, as it involves aligning your project with specific time frames and creating a schedule that everyone can adhere to. A project schedule also helps prioritize tasks and keeps everyone informed about who is working on what and when.

8. Define and follow your communication channel.

An integral part of project planning is discussing, brainstorming, emailing, and chatting, which is basically communication. At every juncture, you need to coordinate with teams and communicate real-time progress.

This is why project managers need strategic communications tools built into their project planning software. For instance, Nifty’s Discussions feature enables real-time collaboration between project members.

You can use the chat feature to share ideas, organize your discussions by creating threads, create a task directly from project Discussions, and more:

Discussion in Nifty

No matter what your choice of communication tool, be sure to build a foolproof communication plan, which includes:

  • The number of project meetings you intend to have
  • How you plan to communicate project status updates
  • How team members can reach you outside of work hours

Do you know you can use Nifty for end-to-end project planning? Know how!

A Free Project Planning Template Just for You!

A project planning template allows you to scope your work and break it into smaller, manageable components. 

The following is an example of a project planning template you can make your own. Use this template to:

  • Create guidelines and procedures your team can follow
  • Define key activities and tasks to complete within the project
  • Assign resources and team members to ensure timely completion
  • Capture relevant project details such as scope, milestones, delivery dates, and descriptions:

A project plan is essential for effective communication, stakeholder engagement, and risk management. Think of it as a roadmap that guides every step and ensures tasks are completed on time, within budget, and to the desired quality. 

Get this project planning template in Google Docs, Word, or Excel. Get it now.

360-degree Benefits of Creating a Project Plan

A project plan is a fundamental document that sets the stage for project success. The plan encapsulates tasks, activities, resources, deadlines, and milestones as outlined in the project charter. 

According to PMI, project planning is directly linked to project success—meaning the better you plan, the higher your chances of project efficiency and project success. But why do you need a project document? Here are a few compelling reasons.

A project plan helps you to:

  • Understand the “why” behind a project in addition to scoping the what, where, and how aspects
  • Kickstart your project with all the required information in one place—from budgets and goals to milestones and communication plans
  • Prevent scope creep, disorganization, and stress within departments and teams
  • Ensure teams work together and with a better understanding of the shared goals
  • Keep the team and resources on track before the project even begins
  • Showcase a clear baseline roadmap to stakeholders
  • Hold team members accountable for their work at all times
  • Stay ahead of potential issues that may arise during the project

Top 3 Project Planning Software That Are Worth It!

Without routine and careful attention, a project plan can quickly become disconnected from the project it’s meant to guide. If your plan becomes static, it will be forgotten sooner rather than later.

To make matters worse, some teams view planning as a wasteful activity that delays the ‘real work’ of project delivery. In other cases, project managers may put together a project plan solely for the client and the stakeholders. Either way, your project plan will become dated and irrelevant, staying in the rabbit hole forever.

The following three tools will prevent your project plans from vanishing into thin air:

1. Nifty: Save Time and Effort with Streamlined Project Planning

Not being able to track your project workflows and data in one place is headache-inducing for teams. This is where Nifty shines. Instead of letting you waste time switching between multiple tools, tasks, docs, chats, etc., Nifty unifies your project planning process and allows you to share it with your teams at one click.

The Tasks feature helps you prioritize, organize, and track daily work at a bird’ s-eye level. Think of the Roadmaps feature as a visual timeline for your big-picture goals.

Using a single source of truth for project planning better aligns your team. Plus, Nifty automates project progress and notifies members as tasks are completed.

You can also create your own knowledge hub to share ideas, finalize specifications, and gather feedback in real time using chats and video calls.

Use Nifty for all your project planning needs. Get started free

2. Freedcamp: Organize Projects with Visual Boards

Freedcamp, project planning tool

If you like planning your project using a Kanban board or Gantt chart, Freedcamp is a great project planning software. It offers a Project Overview app to help you quickly see who is doing what and how far along they are within the project lifecycle.

You can set the start and end dates, add custom fields, post and view project status updates, and more. One of its most useful features is Project Recap, which shows what’s due, what’s past due, and what hasn’t even been started yet.

3. Kissflow: Ideal for Driving End-to-End Process Management


Kissflow prides itself on being a project planning software that empowers teams to build, automate, and manage processes—all without needing to code! You can effortlessly create freestyle workflows and projects on adaptable smartboards. Plus, you’ll have the tools to plan your processes, set priorities, and assign tasks to your team.

Bring Discipline to Your Project Planning with Nifty

Project planning can escalate quickly and become chaotic without the right tool, primarily because it is an ongoing process. You constantly need to revisit your project plans and pivot in real time. Given the dynamic setting, let automation come to your rescue. 

With an all-in-one project management tool like Nifty, project planning can be everyone’s cup of tea. Nifty offers ready-to-use project planning templates that can be integrated into your everyday workflow.

You can store important documents, collaborate in real-time, save hours by automating admin tasks, and leverage out-of-the-box reports as well.

To know more about how Nifty can help you with project planning, get started free.

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