How to Make a Project Plan That Works

April 5, 2016 Natalie Ward

creative professionals making a project plan

Working on a marketing team throws you all kinds of challenges. While it's stressful to manage all aspects of campaigns and their looming deadlines—sometimes the toughest part of your job is starting with a solid project plan.

Nearly half of all marketers say they lack standard processes for workflow. Poor planning at the beginning of a project can lead to delays down the road.

See "How to Overcome The Top 5 Causes of Project Failure" for help navigating more issues that can lead to project delays.

It's helpful to have a standard set of steps to follow, but what are the key elements of a good project plan? Are you missing any steps in effective planning that would help you complete projects on time?

The following six steps will guide you through that tricky planning process and set you on the right track to successfully deliver your next project.

1. Define Project Details

Start with a thorough review of the initial work request. Be sure you have enough key details to get started—objective, urgency, timeframe, audience, distribution needs, and insight into the overall purpose of the project.

You will want to include any other information your team will need to fulfill the request. (This might be a great time to give your work request form a refresh so it asks for all the essential information.)

2. Create a Brief

Once you've established all the specifics, create a standard marketing brief to document the project information from the request. Only 23 percent of in-house teams use briefs for all projects, despite the fact that everyone wants to get work done right the first time.

Without a brief, rework is inevitable and time consuming. If you want to create consistency, it may help to use templates, especially for repeatable work.

Professionals agree that standardized processes mean greater success.

3. Identify Stakeholders

Whether included in your work request or not, take a minute to map out all stakeholders involved in the project. Consider everyone involved beyond the requestor.

Who will be affected by the project? How are they connected? Are all stakeholders, customers, or users internal or will there be external channels and audiences as well?

The answers to these questions may have an impact on approvals, timeframes, and delivery. Also, keep in mind the interests, challenges, and benefits to each group as you plan.

kicking off a project plan

4. Hold a Kick-Off Meeting

Now that you've got most details nailed down, set a time to meet with your list of stakeholders to review the project brief you created. Determine if you've correctly established the objective and set the scope based on the initial request.

Clarify all expectations and nail down exactly what your team is expected to deliver. Also, work together to create a project schedule. Together you can establish timelines and choose achievable deadlines.

"When people work on the same project but have different notions for what the goals are, what their roles are, and how or why to help each other when things go wrong, it creates the friction that makes projects fail." – Scott Berkun, best-selling author on business productivity

5. Make a Communication Plan

As part of the kick-off meeting, decide how you will communicate project details. Don't forget to establish how and when you will get approvals. You will also want to have the same discussion with your team.

Planning in a silo, rather than collaboratively, can spell doom for even the best laid out projects. The work a marketing team does is collaborative and requires buy-in and feedback from both stakeholders and team members from the beginning.

And, don't be afraid to stay in touch, even (especially) when things aren't on track. According to a post on project management in The Harvard Business Review:

"All customers want their jobs finished on time and on budget—or preferably faster and cheaper. But if they can't have that, and sometimes they can't, what they really want is to be kept informed along the way. Share bad news as well as good so they're never outraged by enormous last-minute changes."

6. Assign Resources

Establish who is available to work on the project. Marketing teams struggle to know who to assign work to based on availability when planning a project.

"A common reason why projects fail is related to visibility," says Cynthia West, vice president of Project Insight.

It won't be helpful to start without having a good idea of workloads and the status of current projects. Find out who is overloaded and who might be available to handle another assignment. Also, review the scope and schedule to help better plan resources and priorities for your team.

Once you have your project plan to this point, take some time to review any risks. Realize that there will be adjustments, but with a plan in place that works, you can start your project off right.


Read more tips on managing marketing work in the ebook "The Complete Guide to Marketing Work Management."

About the Author

Natalie Ward

Natalie Ward is a Content Marketing Manager on the Solutions Marketing team at Workfront with nearly a decade of experience in various marketing functions. Her background includes marketing for both business and non-profit organizations including content production, public relations, events, and brand management. When she isn’t managing content—or the schedules of her four kids—she enjoys talking with friends over delicious cuisine.

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