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Effective Project Planning Guide

Effective Project Planning Guide

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Last Updated March 6, 2013

Project managers can get a head start on success by creating a project planning guide that serves as a reference tool for current and future projects. The project planning guide should be company-specific, taking the organization’s size and standard processes into account, yet flexible enough to accommodate projects of varying size and scope. A project manager who is working for a small company and coordinating relatively few team members faces a far different task than one who is managing a large, complex project with many different stakeholders.

Preparing a Project Planning Guide

An effective project planning guide should outline the questions that need to be answered at the outset in order to establish clear and measurable project goals and identify the budget and departmental resources required for its completion. Senior management plays an important role in the preliminary steps of a project, as these individuals must sign off on the project’s goals and objectives and allocate the necessary resources. It is the responsibility of the project sponsor to obtain executive-level buy-in, but a project manager will often assist in preparing the initial presentation or request.

Identifying the Team

Once the project has been approved and the resources have been allocated, the next section of the project planning guide should define the specific expertise that is needed to move a project forward. For example, while a project may be considered an IT initiative, it may also require marketing resources or training materials. The project planning guide should include a list of department heads or coordinators who can assign team members to the project based on their availability, relevant experience, and skills. It is important for the project manager to facilitate clear and effective communication between all of the key stakeholders at this juncture, so each participating department and/or team member is fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, as well as how and when their tasks are to be performed.

Defining Objectives and Strategies

An effective project planning guide should address how the objectives of a project will be determined. Once the objectives are defined, the project manager can focus on the strategies required to achieve them. For example, a team leader may put into place a peer-auditing system that adheres to a clearly defined timeline with a distinct set of benchmarks, ensuring transparency regarding the progress of all stakeholders. The tools that stakeholders will use to communicate this progress and any changes or issues should also be identified.


The project planning guide should specify the reporting mechanism(s) that will be used for the project so the project sponsor and/or senior management can evaluate the incremental progress that is being made toward its goals and objectives. The system should allow team members to record specific metrics, dates and milestones. The project manager will need to communicate the reporting schedule, and all stakeholders must agree upon and adhere to it to ensure deadlines are met.

Master the Tools Required to Create an Effective Project Planning Guide

This article provides a high-level overview of the elements of an effective project planning guide; however, the project manager will need to tailor the specifics to his or her own organization. Various resources are available to help professionals develop a project planning guide, from books and articles on online training.

Project planning is one of the core components of successful project management, and this topic is covered extensively in the 100% online project management courses offered by Villanova University. Villanova uses a unique video-based e-learning platform to offer its Certificate in Applied Project Management. Professionals will gain the skills and knowledge required for effective project planning while preparing for the PMP® or CAPM® certification that is the hallmark of a qualified project manager.