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How to create a surefire project plan

A solid plan is the foundation behind any successful project. Only, if you’ve never planned a project before, it can be difficult to know where to start.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to create a surefire project plan and, with our free template, you’ll have everything you need to get things moving on your next project immediately.

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A group of people collaborating on a project at a conference table, which is essential during project planning.

In order to create a foolproof project plan, you’ll first need the right tools for the job. Right now, that means finding somewhere to create, share and collaborate on your project plan document.

Dropbox Paper has everything you need to write your project plan and do tons of other work. Try it for free and use our guide for the best chance of success.

All set? Open up a Project plan template and we can start.

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What is a project plan and why are they essential?

A project plan is a detailed roadmap that outlines the scope, objectives, deliverables, timelines, resources and risks of a project.

Project plans are important because they provide a clear picture of a project’s overall goals, key milestones and individual tasks. The best project plans deliver the following benefits: 

  • Accurate time frames for the project
  • Precise budgeting and financial projections
  • Balanced allocation of resources
  • Lower risk or more awareness and mitigation of risk
  • A clear way to communicate expectations between teams and stakeholders

Projects take time and involve using lots of data and different files. Don’t wait for something to go wrong – use Dropbox Backup to quickly secure and store your hard work.

Ten steps for creating an amazing project plan

The specifics within a project plan will vary wildly between projects. Maybe you’re building an app, or maybe you’re making a film – it could be anything.

Thankfully, no matter what you’re working on, there are repeatable steps you can follow to formulate any project plan.

Step 1: Define the scope of the project

For this stage of the plan, you simply need to figure out the boundaries of the project – what’s included and what’s not? What project goals will look like a win?

Examples include higher revenue or customer satisfaction, growing sales or the customer base – or lowering your costs. Goals help you determine the deliverables and tasks for the project.

This step is critical as it helps lay the foundations for planning, but it also gives the wider team a bit more motivation – as they can see the bigger picture.

Step 2: Set measurements for success

You need crystal-clear criteria to determine whether you meet the objectives that define success. Big milestones might include things like moving into beta testing or finalising a billboard design.

Define the goals and make sure they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). Goals aren’t achieved by feelings alone; you need solid data to back them up.

Examples of concrete measurements might be 1,000 podcast downloads in the first month, 500 reservations before the end of the year, 10,000 ad impressions by Q2 – and so on.

Step 3: Break down the project into smaller tasks

Here’s the part where you can outline the key stakeholders, start doling out work and determine responsibilities. This is the chance to establish who is involved and what you expect from them.

To do this, identify large blocks of tasks and break them down into manageable chunks. For example, you might divide a project plan for a video into script writing, shooting and editing.

The most important thing is to estimate the time and resources you need to complete each one, which leads you to the next step.

Step 4: Create a project timeline

You need a thorough schedule that includes each task, milestone and deadline. Dropbox Paper has superb collaboration features that make planning easier – use it to accurately plot a course.

Try creating a Gantt chart to develop your timeline, which might be months away, as this makes it a little easier to comprehend. Visuals in a timeline can help make a project feel more workable.

Step 5: Allocate resources and budget

This is where you identify the resources you need – like people, equipment or materials – for each task. This part is crucial to make sure everything is available when you need it.

For example, maybe you need two actors and a camera person for a commercial shoot – or one designer to render a logo. Whatever it is, be sure to precisely estimate each task’s resources.

Step 6: Identify risks

Plan for delays or surprise issues, like illness, and have contingencies in place to avoid problems. Risks could include too many rounds of feedback from a client, tech delays or even bad weather.

Analyse the dependencies (what tasks need to finish before another can start) and focus on these. Most risks are pretty manageable if you have firm plans in place to deal with them.

Step 7: Communicate and collaborate

This part of the project plan is where you outline the communication chain between stakeholders. Decide who reports to whom, such as junior team members to heads of departments.

An important example of this is in change management – crucial for long-term projects.

Who sets expectations if a project changes, and who motivates the team? You’ll have to nominate stakeholders to hold meetings or Q&A sessions to communicate changes – and resolve any issues.

Encourage collaboration at this stage of the plan and as you continue to manage the project. Collaboration helps promote teamwork and ensures everyone is working towards the same goal.

Dropbox has powerful features that allow you to annotate PDFs, comment on videos frame-by-frame, give feedback on documents in real time and more. Choose your plan and sign up today.

A GIF showing how easy it is to take a screen recording and use your camera to give video feedback on a project with Dropbox Capture.

Step 8: Monitor and track progress

Good news! Everything for a successful project plan is in place, so now you can sit back and relax. Just kidding – you’ll need to constantly monitor progress and make adjustments. Sorry.

Dropbox Paper has task management tools and features that help you manage dates, track work and get automatic reminders. It’s great to follow progress against your budget and schedule.

Step 9: Review and evaluate

As the project plan progresses, you need to conduct regular reviews to determine what’s working well and what needs improvement. Is there a sticking point in the plan you would reconsider?

For example, if your project is an advert for nappies with parents and kids on the set, it’s tough to schedule accurately. As a good project manager, you can factor things (like nap times) into future projects.

Step 10: Celebrate success and acknowledge failures

Project planning involves celebrating success when it happens, such as passing a milestone. This fosters a team spirit on large projects with many moving parts and across different departments.

Planning and effective management go hand in hand. So even if something is not working, acknowledge the efforts of your team members and take time to reflect on group achievements.

For the best chance of success in your project plan, use the free Project Plan template in Dropbox Paper, which includes a huge library of useful templates for other types of work too.

Create impressive project plans and more with Dropbox Paper

Project plans are a vital roadmap and a bulwark against risk – you need one to keep your project on time, on budget and with the best chance of a successful outcome. But anyone can do it!

Dropbox Paper is the perfect place to create a foolproof project plan. Sign up for Dropbox to use Paper for free, or just sign in and start work on your next successful project plan right away.