Project planning is as complicated as it is tricky! You deal with an enormous amount of information and stress-inducing deadlines. It also demands a certain level of expertise or application of project management skills and knowledge. 

Due to the challenges surrounding project planning and implementation, some sources claim that 7 in every ten projects fail. 

In fact, only 2.5% of companies see 100% of their projects to 100% completion - in other words; almost no one finishes everything they plan to. And according to the Harvard Business Review, the U.S. economy loses up to $150 billion every year due to failed IT projects. 

Sure, creating an effective project plan can be tough—but it’s not impossible. Crafting a perfect project plan starts with simplicity. It’s about grasping the essentials of a project and simplifying the process. 

“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.”

—Martin H. Fischer

With this in mind, here’s how to make a simple project plan.

What is a Project Plan?

First things first; what is a project plan? In its purest form, a project plan is a document that defines the goals, objectives, and scope of a project. It’s the first—and arguably the most critical—step in project management. It attempts to answer questions such as: 

  • What is the project about—and what are the activities/tasks?
  • How will you achieve the objectives?
  • What is the activity schedule? And are there completion milestones?  
  • Who does what?

As long as your project plan addresses these fundamental questions, you’re on the right track. This is the core of how to make a simple plan.

Why Should you Make a Simple Project Plan?

Wait…what is the point of making a simple project plan? What’s wrong with conventional plans? And more importantly, how can it help you? Well, the answer is quite ‘simple.’ A simple project plan allows you to: 

  • See the bigger picture clearly: A simple project plan allows you to better map out the necessary processes and steps. It allows you to be strategic—with a clearer vision of the bigger picture.
  • Save valuable time: Don’t fall into a habit of over-complicating tasks. Simplicity saves time! And in project management, every second shaved off is more money saved.
  • Ensure you don’t skip the fundamentals: It gets rid of the clutter—i.e., the unnecessary details that have a negligible impact on the project’s success. This allows you to focus on what really matters. 
  • Help you anticipate obstacles better: Since you can see the bigger picture clearly, and you’ve focused on the fundamentals – the only logical follow-up is an ability to anticipate the barriers to your project management process. And in a business landscape where projects fail at an astonishing rate, this may prove key to your success.

Here’s How to Make a Simple Project Plan

Now that you have a better understanding of why a simple project plan is important, let’s dive into how you can create one—including some hacks to crush deadline like a pro. (PS: In line with the mantra of “simplicity,” I’ll try and make the process as simple as possible).

STEP 1 – Write down the project goals

Did you know that 37% of projects fail due to a lack of clear goals? For this reason, you should always start with clear goals and a general understanding of the project. What is the objective of the project? Which resources are at your disposal? What are the deliverables? And what is the best approach to get the deliverables? Ultra-clear project goals lay the foundation for your project plan.

STEP 2 – Create a Timeline

You have a good idea of the scope and goal of your project; next is creating a timeline. A well-mapped timeline acts as a guide for your entire project management process—making it the single most crucial part of a project plan. It highlights the estimated time each member of your team is supposed to spend on a particular task. If something is off with your timeline—the entire project is also doomed.

Please note that projects tend to change in accordance with different circumstances. Therefore, you may be forced to tweak the timeline from time to by—or even push back the final completion deadline.

STEP 3 – Assign Tasks 

Introducing the most time-intensive and effort-sucking part of making a project plan – assigning tasks. For big projects, you have to grapple with the challenge of understanding who is best suited for what—and how much each member of your team can handle without overloading them.

Getting this step right may translate into a seamless project—while messing up is a remedy for re-assignments and wasted time. To make the process simpler, each member of your team should approach their assigned tasks as their own personal project. As people accomplish their ‘projects,’ they’ll be contributing to the bigger picture—piece by piece. 

STEP 4 – Set Important Milestones

Milestones allow you to divide the project into simpler and more achievable segments. Depending on the scope of your project, you can treat each of these milestones as a separate project—using different strategies, budgets, and deliverables. Keep in mind that the milestones must be closely tied to the project timeline, assigned tasks, and the goal.

STEP 5 – Make a Checklist

How do you keep track of the progress or responsibilities? How do you know which activity or milestone comes next—including the ones that should be prioritized? Simple; create a checklist!

This allows you—or other team members—to seamlessly navigate through the entire project. It also serves as a source of motivation—improving the outcome of your project. 

STEP 6 – Identify and Evaluate Possible Risks

Regardless of how well you plan for a project, there’s always room for risks—either avoidable or unavoidable. Some common risks include; unexpected budget changes, lack of cooperation within the team, poor communication, conflict of responsibilities, and misplaced project estimates (i.e., time, budget, and scope).

The trick to mitigating these risks and increasing your odds of success lies in your preparation. Make a point to identify or evaluate possible risks and come up with effective backup plans to mitigate them.

STEP 7 – Crushing it!

The final step on how to make a simple project plan is embracing the journey ahead. Maintain a positive mindset that your project plan will pull through—and that you won’t be part of the ‘project failure’ statistic.

Tricks and Hacks to Crush Deadlines with a Simple Project Plan

 Do you find yourself combing through an avalanche of documents as you race against the clock? Time urgency keeps us on the edge—forcing us to constantly check our clocks with zero tolerance for anything that takes up a second of our time. 

However, fast-approaching project deadlines are a source of stress and sub-par work. According to an article appearing in the Entrepreneur, researchers suggest that time urgency is detrimental to rational decision-making, attention spans, and even health. It creates an illusion that you’re busy—when in fact you’re running in place, rather than forward.

To avoid this ‘time urgency’ trap with your project management process, you need to learn how to prioritize tasks. Here are a few tricks to make simple project plans that crush deadlines: 

  • Choose your Most Important Tasks (MITs): Which are the most important tasks in your project? Which ones contribute the most towards your project goals? Whatever they are, prioritize them! According to the author of Zen Habits, MITs are the things that you should make sure you do, regardless of what else you have planned. Consider incorporating this approach to your project timeline and task assignment. 

  • Make use of Project Management Software: Task/project management software comes with tons of features—including deadline reminders, real-time overviews, Kanban boards, and Gantt charts. These project management tools make your project planning process easier—allowing you to crush deadlines and meet your objectives more efficiently.

Taskworld holds simplicity and clarity in the highest regard - that’s why we have a 4.5/5 on Capterra with over 200 reviews. 

The three most common words people use to describe us?

Intuitive. Flexible. Powerful.

  • Implement the Pareto Principle: According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of your work often accounts for 80% of the results. The idea is to identify the tasks that provide the biggest value and filtering out non-productive activities. By applying this idea during your project planning phase, you can prioritize the tasks and milestones that matter most for better project outcomes. 
  • Learn the Art of Delegation: Having trouble with a task? Why don’t you delegate it to someone who is better suited to deliver? Rather than waste hours of valuable time struggling with something you’re clearly not good at, find someone to help you crush your deadlines. If it’s a big project, this may include hiring contractors to handle technical tasks. 
  • Concentrate on Form, Rather than the Finish Line: The goal of any project is in its completion—but this shouldn’t be your primary focus. Take your mind off the finish line and divert all your attention to the moment at hand. As you crush each current task, you’ll get a lot more done.

Key Takeaway

As shown in this “how to make a simple project plan” guideline, creating a winning project plan does not have to be overly complicated. You don’t have to be a guru or sacrifice your weekends—you only need to understand the fundamental steps. This, coupled with a few ‘deadline-crushing hack up your sleeves’ tips & tricks sets you up for better odds of success.

Remember; Goals – Timeline – Assign Tasks – Milestones – Activity Checklist – Risk Evaluation – Crushing it (GTA.MARC) …this is how to make a simple project plan!

In the words of Isaac Newton, “Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy.”