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Masooma Memon

Smarter, Not Harder: How to Create a Work Plan in 8 Simple Steps

Is your work plan a little too "back of the napkin"? Learn how to do proper work planning in our guide.

Know what’s a leading reason behind a whopping 55% of organizations struggling with achieving project success? Lack of work planning.

Without a work plan, everything about the project — from its goals to its schedule and the people who’d work on it — is unclear. In turn, the lack of clarity breeds problems like resource clashes, going above budget, and doing work that’s out of scope.

Ultimately, the lack of a project plan makes it challenging to achieve the results you promise your client or stakeholder.

Not sure where to start with work planning? We’ve got the step-by-step guide for creating a work plan including why it’s important and what’s included in the process.

Read on.

What is a work plan?

A work plan is an actionable roadmap laying out all the project deliverables and milestones to achieve including a breakdown of who will do what and by when. It's the essential part of work management.

Put another way, work planning creates a plan of action to follow for completing a project within its defined scope and budget, and by a set timeline.

Since a work plan, also referred as a project plan, is an action plan for setting and accomplishing project goals, it addresses all the key components of a project including the:

  • People/teams involved
  • Project goals and objectives
  • Project schedule including milestones
  • Steps to reduce project risks 

Why is work planning important?

Just as you can’t create new buildings without an architectural blueprint, you can’t start working on new projects without identifying their goals and requirements, breaking them down into component tasks, and creating a plan of action to complete them.

Here’s more on how work planning is important:

Work planning guarantees project success and work quality

Breaking down a project into specific tasks makes it easy to complete the work while ensuring you’re accomplishing the set goals and objectives.

By assigning tasks to folks with the skills required to complete the work, you also ensure the quality of the project deliverables is of the promised standard.

Not to mention, since work planning makes sure all projects follow a schedule, your team can complete them by the defined deadlines. In turn, timely work delivery and quality guarantee client/stakeholder satisfaction.

It prevents resource clashes and overutilization

Work planning lets you create resource calendars that optimally use employees' time. This workload management reduces the odds of employee burnout, boosting employee engagement at the same time. 

What’s more, by laying out which projects need which resources and during which dates, you can prevent overbooking employees.

Work planning reduces stress

A work plan sets project milestones, which makes it easy to track progress. 

As mentioned above, work planning also assists in timely work delivery, helps you stay within the project scope, and prevents resource clashes. It also takes steps to mitigate project risks.

Put together, all these benefits of project planning contribute to reducing stress. 

It improves employee motivation

Since work planning gives you insights into what type of skills are required to complete a project, you can assign work based on employees’ strengths. Naturally, this improves employees’ motivation to work on the project tasks assigned to them.

It also helps with resource scheduling, letting you create optimized work schedules for employees. In turn, workload planning gives team members an idea of how many hours of work are required from them, what the nature of the work is, and by when it's required.

All of this contributes to better employee satisfaction — thanks to the clarity you offer them.

So what’s involved in the work planning process?

Work planning touches on all key aspects of project management: project budgeting, project scheduling, resource allocation and management, and project risk mitigation.

The process typically starts with developing a clear understanding of the project’s requirements and creating tactical project goals, scope, and budget based on that. 

With defined project objectives, the planning process goes into creating a visual representation of the work involved — complete with a deadline-fueled project schedule. Next, the process identifies the best resources to work on the tasks (within the budget) and their availability.

One more thing that a successful work plan involves is pre-determining project obstacles to create a backup plan in case things go wayward.

Let’s break this process down into steps for you to follow below:

How do you make an effective work plan?

Creating a successful work plan with all the relevant information boils down to three broad steps that we’ve further divided into important sub-steps. Let’s look at them one by one:

A. Create a strategic and operational plan

  1. Set project goals
  2. Make a project scope and budget
  3. Identify obstacles

B. Plan, allocate, and manage resources

  1. Create a project team
  2. Put together a project schedule
  3. Allocate resources and brief them on the project

C. Execute and evaluate

  1. Set check-in dates
  2. Host a team retro

A. Create a strategic and operational plan

Strategic planning involves understanding the project’s vision, which is uber-important for large projects.

For example, if you’re tasked with creating thought leadership content for a client, you’ll start with understanding their company’s vision, their competitive advantage, and their unique take on what’s lacking in the market.

On the other hand, operational planning includes making a detailed game plan explaining which team will do what and by when. It’s your blueprint for achieving the project’s vision and goals.

So here’s what you need to do to start creating your work plan:

1) Set project goals

Kick off by understanding the project’s vision and requirements. And make sure you document the requirements as they’d guide the entire work plan’s creation.

The better your clarity here, the better you’d be able to set and prioritize objectives for the project.

Once you have a grip on the requirements, create SMART goals for the project. SMART goals are specific goals with a deadline, which makes them actionable. Meaning: as you set goals, determine the following for each:

  • Specific: Write down exactly what the goal is.
  • Measurable: Set metrics or ways you’ll track progress on the goal.
  • Achievable: Determine how possible to achieve the goal within the project’s scope.
  • Relevant: Identify how the goal contributes to the project's success.
  • Time-bound: Roughly estimate how long it should take to achieve the goal.

2) Make a project scope and budget

Next, identify the work involved in the project. At this point, divide the project into deliverables. Then create a list of specific tasks you need to get done to complete each project deliverable. 

Keep in mind: it’s only when you break down the full project by a task list that you can identify the full work that’d go into it. With the tasks list that you create, add the time estimate for each so you can put in the foundation for the timeline — we’ll talk about creating that in a bit.

In addition to including the rough time estimates for each task, add an estimate of how much it’d cost you to get each task done. 

Roughly, you’ll work plan draft should look like this:

Using this plan, create a budget plan. You can use it in two ways: either break a given budget down into different areas or make a budget estimate and ask stakeholders for it. The exact depends on whether you’re working with clients or stakeholders who give you a budget or you share a project budget proposal (also known as a price estimate).

Again, don’t forget to document your work plan. For the project scope, in particular, share the document with your client so they know what work you’ll be doing and the project deliverables.

This project scope document will also align your team on doing work that’s within the scope instead of entertaining excessive client requests without communicating about the change in scope.

3) Identify obstacles

Last sub-step to this step: identify potential risks associated with the project and ways you’ll mitigate the risk.

Creating a project scope is one way to reduce risks and maintain transparent communication with clients. Another idea is to factor in buffer time within the project schedule you create.

It’s also a helpful idea to allocate resources based on their availability. For health emergencies or so, make sure you have a backup plan about who will work on the project. If you tend to outsource work to reliable contractors, you can use them as your backup plan. 

For other obstacles, make sure you create a list of them. And then once you’re in the executing step of the work plan, keep tabs on these potential bottlenecks. The best way to do so? Use a project management tool to track progress on the work and host regular status update meetings with team members.   

B. Plan, allocate, and manage resources

With your strategic and operational planning done, dive into resource planning. Here’s everything you need to do:

1) Create a project team

Here’s where you put together a team that’s the best fit for completing the project on hand. Use your resource inventory to select people with the skills needed for this project.

You’ll also want to keep in mind any stakeholder or client requests and the project budget. For example, a client may request to work with a particular team member. In that case, check the team member’s availability and workload.

If a client requests for senior members to work on the project, check their hourly rate and see if the project budget can afford them.

2) Put together a project schedule

After laying out the project scope and work involved above, you’ll have a rough timeline for the work to be done.

In this step, create a project schedule that breaks down the project into phases, which are bracketed by milestones. These milestones help track project progress.

Make sure your schedule defines each task and marks a due date to it as well. Here’s what an example project timeline would look like:

But to make sure you’re creating a realistic timeline, pull up your resource calendar as you work on your timeline. This way, you can create a timeline that aligns with the prevailing schedules of the employees you’ve selected to work on the project.

3) Allocate resources and brief them on the project

In the final step for this stage, loop in the team into the project — assigning work to their calendars. 

As for briefing them about the project, the documentation on the project vision, scope, and goals should simplify the process. Exactly how you brief them, however, depends on your company culture.

Pro tip: For a large project, make sure everyone has clarity on who they’d collaborate with and who they’d report to. This makes it easy to communicate throughout a project’s lifecycle and simplifies reporting as well.

C. Execute and evaluate

By the time you reach this step, you’ll have everything that you need to execute the project. A few remaining things include setting check-in dates and pre-booking time for a retrospective meeting. Let’s look at these remaining steps:

1) Set check-in dates

These are dates you add to the project calendar for tracking progress. Set dates for when you’d host status update meetings, who will be involved, and what will be reported.

At the same time, create milestone updates with start and end dates in your project management software so you can track how much work is completed, evaluate how well things are within the project scope, and update stakeholders accordingly. 

It’s also important that in the last phase of the project, you pencil in a time on your team members’ calendars for a retrospective meeting. Prebooking a time helps ensure you host the project evaluation meeting instead of letting it slip to the back burner.

2) Host a team retro

A retrospective meeting aims at communicating with the team (or teams) on how well the project went. It’s an essential prerequisite for creating better, more accurate work plans for future projects and for improving your work processes. 

Here’s what to address in this meeting:

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well
  • What could’ve been better? 

At the end of the meeting, you should have a list of action steps to take to improve your work planning process in the future. 

Ready to create a successful work plan?

Work planning is essential for project success. Without it, you’ll find yourself hitting into one bottleneck after other, which risks your work productivity and efficiency. 

Thankfully, creating a work plan isn’t all that hard. Just follow the steps we’ve mentioned above, and you’ll be good.

But remember to use project planning software that gives you a visual overview of all the work involved and helps you coordinate with the project team and track progress.

If you’re looking for a recommendation, we’d suggest giving Runn a try for free. Not only does it help with project planning, tracking, and team coordination but it also helps you create a resource inventory and calendar so you can create accurate work plans.

Try Runn for free today and improve your work planning.

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