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Iryna Viter

Creating an Implementation Plan: The Beginner's Guide

To get from point A to point B, you always need an implementation plan. Here's what it's all about and how to create one.

An implementation plan is the bridge between project ideas and their execution. It means to show everyone involved in the project how they are going to get from point A to point B using the time, money, and resources provided. On top of it, an implementation plan can help you see how feasible the project is, what walls it might run into, and what it will take to get it to the finish line.

Suppose you decide to build a house, that's the project idea. The building process is the execution part. But how do you get from idea to execution? Who do you hire to build it? What materials will they use? Do you need a designer? How much will it cost and how long will it take? And if you do set out to build a house right now, will it be worth the trouble and pay off in the end? In the project management world, your implementation plan will answer all of those questions.

In this beginner's guide, we're taking you through the very meaning of an implementation plan, its purpose, and ways you can create one from scratch.

What is an implementation plan?

An implementation plan is a document that lays out a step-by-step guide to help you achieve a shared company goal or initiative. In other words, it explains how you are going to execute a project plan or hit a certain target. If a strategic plan is more about the strategies you pick when trying to reach a goal, an implementation plan is always more of a detailed roadmap showing all the milestones you need to go through before crossing the finish line.

The purpose of an implementation plan

Same as most plans, the implementation plan means to bring clarity into the process. It helps everyone who's involved in the project understand why, what, when, and how the project needs to be executed.

A good implementation plan will leave no stone unturned - even if you show it to someone who is not involved in the project, it should be fairly easy for them to understand what is going on, why, and how things will be achieved. It is this simplicity and granularity that help you achieve the true purpose of an implementation plan.

How to create an implementation plan

Several essential steps go into creating an implementation plan. In this guide, we will walk you through the ones you can never skip in a successful project plan.

Establish goals

Before anything else, everyone needs to be aligned on what the project needs to achieve. Your project team needs to understand where they are headed, why the company needs that, and how reaching those goals will help everyone move forward as a team. After all, successful project execution always starts by matching expectations so be sure that all key stakeholders agree on what they set out to achieve with this new initiative.

An open discussion is the best place to start this step. See if you can answer questions like "What are we trying to achieve here?" or "What would be the ultimate goal of this project?" in a manner that helps everyone agree on a single answer. To make this goal-setting process easier, you should also consider applying a relevant framework, like SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Setting realistic and achievable goals gives you yet another chance to ensure successful implementation.

And let's be clear on something here: goal setting might sound like a logical and relatively easy step to cover. But more often than not, you will need to do effective stakeholder management right off the bat to make sure everyone is on the same page as to what the project promises to achieve. Analyzing your stakeholders, the role they have to play in the project goals overall, and finding the right way to meet everyone's expectations is the first challenge on the way to your implementation strategy.

Do research

Conducting research can entail many things in your project planning journey and will primarily depend on the type of project at hand and the customer you're trying to satisfy. Ideally, you should be able to hold interviews and discussions with relevant stakeholders, observations with the focus group, surveys, etc. As long as that research can help you polish project scope and avoid scope creep, it is worth the time as it will help you ensure project success and realistic implementation plans.

Doing this research might also require you to identify resource requirements, current gaps, and growth opportunities that need to be met before the timer in the implementation schedule starts running. By aligning available resources with previously outlined project goals, you can proactively identify where resources are spread too thin and take measures to give your team members the reinforcements they need to successfully deliver project objectives.

Once your project research is complete, it is paramount that you share the findings with key stakeholders so they can adjust their expectations accordingly and say how they feel about them. As you move forward with your implementation plan, it is a good idea to have regular check-ins or feedback sessions with your stakeholders so that when it comes to project execution, everyone has the same expectations. It will also give you yet another opportunity to align on the strategies you will be using and the project management software that will help you centralize all information so it is accessible to everyone involved.

Predict risks

Predicting risks is one of the most important project planning steps out there. This exercise helps you identify where your project can get derailed so you have adequate time to think of preventative measures or ways to tackle dangerous turns along the way. With Runn, you can design "what-if" scenarios that will help you predict how your project can change under different circumstances and complicating factors.

But just listing out your risks is not enough. On top of it, you need to analyze each item, see which one is most likely to happen, which one will be most impactful, etc. Those 'risks' can be anything from people leaving the team or taking unexpected time off (which will lead to resource constraints) to scope creep (potential budget constraints and timely delivery issues) and other factors that might be out of your control.

One of the best practices here is to create a risk register, an in-depth analysis of all the potential risks and what they could mean for the project. On top of it, it's a good idea to do a project SWOT analysis, identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats so you have a clear picture of all the vulnerabilities and leverages that you have.

Based on that risk register, you can see where and how you can get flexible to accommodate the changing tides without jeopardizing the overall success of your project. Or better still, what measures you can implement to make your project bulletproof.

Lay out milestones

Everyone knows that large projects can be hard to swallow in one go. Your team can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work, you can lose track of who is doing what, things can run overtime or over budget, etc. This is why laying out your milestones is such an important step in your implementation plan roadmap.

These milestones serve as bite-sized parts of the project that help you identify dependencies and mark meaningful points in project delivery. Apart from making project execution easier, milestones help you make sure the project stays on track, improve your communication with stakeholders (as everyone can see the project progress), and increase your chances of successful project execution.

In fact, all the best project planning tools will give you several options when it comes to visualizing your milestones. One of the most popular options you should start with are Gantt charts. They help you visualize each meaningful stage of the project. Alternatively, you can use milestone charts, which make a simpler alternative to Gantt charts and make a great pick if you need to quickly plan out the project and see what it will look time on a specific timeline.

milestone chart - gantt chart alternative

But whatever option you choose when it comes to visualizing your milestones, be sure to add some wiggle room in case something unexpected happens and some tasks get delivered with a delay. It is this wiggle room that can help you ensure timely delivery even if things don't exactly go as planned.

Assign tasks and responsibilities

With all the milestones laid out, your next step is to assign tasks and responsibilities. An important thing to note here is that tasks will be executed by the people you assign to them. Responsibilities, on the other hand, might just require someone to oversee the delivery process, manage and correct it if need be, but not necessarily do the actual tasks. This step is yet another must-do where you need to clearly communicate who is expected to do what and what their role in the project is.

Having assigned all the items, it's a good idea to check in with the team to see if they need any clarifications as to why work got distributed the way it did. Some managers like to use the Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RACI) to clearly outline who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed on each project activity.

Using efficient project management software will prove its worth here too as it will help you visualize roles and responsibilities as well as track task progress. If you are working with a large team, be sure to opt for a user-friendly tool that promises quick and easy adoption and onboarding. Provide training sessions so that all the project team members can benefit from the toolbox available during the project implementation process.

Allocate resources

Doing proactive resource allocation before the project actually starts running is one of the most effective risk aversion strategies. By calculating your resources and evaluating realistic capacities of the available talent pool you can be sure that the project will never stop dead in its tracks just because you ran out of resources or require an expert who is not on the team yet.

In general, your resources might be anything from finances and equipment to software and personnel. But if you are working in the professional services industry or one that bears some similarities, your main resource are going to be people, their talents, and their time.

As a rule, you will start with resource assessment to see who is already available and who can be reassigned from one project or task or another (which is a risky business but it might be worth it depending on the nature of your project). Once you run out of your existing resources, it should be fairly easy to identify the gaps you need to fill in. Here you need to make sure that you minimize resource shortages without overhiring and risking having multiple people on standby.

Once you have a working resource allocation plan, it is a good idea to have another check-in with your stakeholders in case the extra hires will bring along a substantial increase in expenses. With everyone aligned on this step, you can move forward to the next one, project execution.

Final thoughts

If there is one thing you need to take away from this article, it would be that an implementation plan is not a rigid set of rules but a flexible framework. It's a dynamic tool that evolves with your project, responding to challenges and opportunities along the way. By fostering collaboration, setting clear expectations, and aligning actions with overarching objectives, you pave the way for a successful project journey.

Needless to say, your implementation plan and the way it looks will always primarily depend on the type of project you're handling but whatever it is, having a reliable resource management tool to back you up is a sure way to increase your chances for success.

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