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Apr 2, 2012 by Vadim Katcherovski in PM Best Practices & News, Project Management 101 & Tools

How to plan a project – 5 easy steps

When you’re new to the whole project management concept it’s very easy to get lost in the amount of jargon, new concepts and the plethora of complicated PM methodologies.

Here are 5 simple steps to create and plan your first project. We’ll use a sample project of creating and delivering a training course to illustrate these steps.

Step 1: Define Key Parameters

The first step in your project planning process should be creating a “shell” for your project – its structure. Start by giving a good descriptive name to your project, define its goals and objectives and choose the team who will be working on it.
Keep in mind that none of it is set in stone and might change as your project progresses.

We recommend not to specify project end date manually, since the tasks that we will create later will automatically set the project deadline.

Step 2: Identify Major Milestones

For the purpose of this post let’s consider Milestone to be a task, completion of which indicates a significant progress towards the end of the project.

We have a dedicated blog post explaining in more details how to use milestones in a project:

In our example we’ll have 3 milestones:

  • Research and create content
  • Design presentation
  • Deliver training

Same as with our project, let’s leave the deadlines for the milestones empty.
Project Milestones

Step 3: Add Sub-tasks with Durations and Timelines

So far we’ve created a skeleton for our project. Now it’s time to add some meat to it.

We’ll create tasks (steps), required to complete each milestone. In addition to the name and description, we also recommend adding start dates along with duration in business days for each task. Also it might be useful to also specify estimated number of hours required to complete each task. It will help you track progress and allow you to be more accurate in the future by having a history of estimated vs. actual hours for the completed projects.
Creating a Task
We recommend that the estimated time to complete each task should not exceed 16-20 hours. Otherwise it can be rather difficult to provide an accurate estimation. If it does exceed 20 hours – split it into sub-tasks. This way you will have a better control over the progress.
Project Schedule
Step 4: Assign Team Members

Now let’s choose who will be responsible for each of the tasks. We recommend that you don’t assign people to the milestones and only to the sub-tasks.

Sometimes it makes sense to have multiple assignees for a task in case people will be sharing the workload, however if you want to be more granular in terms of the progress and responsibilities, then go with a single assignee per task.
Choosing an Assignee
You can also assign (book) shared resources like a projector at this step.

Step 5: Specify Dependencies

At this point we know all the tasks for our project, their duration and who will be working on them. In certain cases it makes sense to use dependencies.

Dependencies are particularly useful when the delays in one task can delay others and you want to be able to quickly re-calculate the entire project schedule when one of the tasks slips.

In our example, you cannot add content and screenshots to the presentation if the template is not ready yet.

Please note that once you introduce the dependencies, some of the previously defined dates might shift.

In this example, we’ll be using the simplest single “Finish to Start” dependency, however keep in mind that there other types that might be really useful under certain circumstances e.g. if you need plan your project backwards from a deadline.
Adding a dependency

Now we have our complete project schedule with correct dates, durations and assignees.
Project schedule on Gantt Chart
Congratulations, your project is ready! Next time we’ll talk about tracking its progress.

Vadim Katcherovski

Vadim Katcherovski is the CEO of Logic Software Inc. based in Toronto, Canada. He has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry and has managed dozens of software development projects.