The importance of having an actionable software project plan

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Whenever you create a project, you need to have a plan. However, not just an idea or clear goals and objectives, but an actionable plan that will allow you to achieve them and benefit the company.

It is here that a project plan plays a vital part in the structure of every successful project management life-cycle. It is also here that the five PMI project methods of planning, executing, controlling, and (most importantly) closing are implemented.

Below we will focus on everything you’ll need to create an effective project management plan. Project planning plays an invaluable part in keeping things within the project scope and ultimately reaching the project objectives more efficiently.  

{How to write a project plan}

A project plan exists primarily to frame a project’s objective, deliverables, risks, and schedule concisely that all stakeholders can easily understand. People often get bogged down by writing a project management plan during the beginning stages of a project. They feel it must contain every minute detail about every phase or step in the companies development. However, this is not the case, as the best-written project plans give a clear project overview that everyone involved can easily understand.

Project plans should give stakeholders and team members a better understanding of the project’s aims, propose, end-users, or deliverables. This way, they can better predict and account for future risks or obstacles as things progress.

Ideally, a project plan should neatly sum-up the following questions about your project plans:

• Can we achieve this project?
• Can we complete this project on schedule?
• How much will the project cost?
• What are the project requirements?

People often assume that the reason projects fail is due to technical problems or steep competition. The reality is that many well-founded projects usually subside to a lack of project planning.

Below are some of the most common project planning shortfalls that can severely impact a project:Slope-creep causes the parameters of the project to shift off-target.

• Slope-creep causes the parameters of the project to shift off-target.
• Employees and team members lose sight of the aims and objectives of the project.
• Stakeholders become despondent as they feel their voices go unheard.

Through detailed and well-thought-out project planning, all of these issues and obstructions can be avoided, as all team members and stakeholders are focused on the same objective.

{Know the scope of the project}

To effectively plan any project, you must first determine the project scope.

Project scope essentially is everything that needs to be done to achieve the project’s goals. To determine this, you must first understand the value of the end-product or deliverable.

Other considerations that must be made to establish the scope of a project include:

• The project environment.
• The goals of the project.
• The desired outcomes for a project.
• Milestones within the project schedule.
• Specific dates and deliverables along the project timeline.

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{Document and define the scope with a step-by-step structure}

The best approach to defining the scope of a project is to create a classic hierarchal tree diagram. This is known as a work breakdown structure (or WBS) and is the most effective when it draws together team members from all areas of the project, stakeholders and the project manager.

Usually, a WBS is worked out during team workshop activities and can help identify unforeseen project risks and get input from a project team.

{Create a comprehensive project schedule}

After creating a comprehensive step-by-step work breakdown structure, you should know all the individual parts contributing to the project. The next step a project manager must take is to create a project flow diagram with this information.

As all of the project tasks are identified, a project manager can then establish any interdependencies or links between each development stage. This is often a problematic decision-making task, as not all stakeholders or team members usually agree on the various dependencies between phases. Therefore, the project manager’s responsibility is to facilitate a workshop session in which managers can solve things through a product flow diagram.

It would help if you kept in mind that a project plan aims to establish the project deliverables’ value. This can only be achieved through input from team members, stakeholders and management. Once a flow diagram and product breakdown structure are finalised, a project manager then has everything they need to create an effective schedule plan.

When writing a schedule plan, a project manager should always consider:

• The projects end deliverables or products.
• The requirements and resources needed to complete each project phase.
• The cost of all activities and phases.
• Time-constraints and dates for specific project goals.

{Adjust the plan when necessary}

When project planning, it is essential that you have a firm understanding of the project deliverables. Once these are grasped, you can establish the resources required and the cost of doing so. Many project managers are prone to thinking that a project plan is not susceptible to change.

Even the best-managed projects run over the projects schedule—the true skill when project planning is preparing for these changes and adapting the plan. While a project schedule may be prone to change as things progress, certain requirements in a project plan – such as budget or project scope – should remain unchanged.

If a project manager foresees that project progress may exceed these requirements, it is responsible for refining the project accordingly.

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{The benefits of agile methodology in project planning}

An agile project plan is similar to traditional project planning in principle. Many people assume that an agile project plan does not require any preparation, although this is not the case. The primary differentiation between an agile project plan and a traditional one is that agile project plans evolve and change as a project develops.

Both planning methodologies begin with a pre-planning process of collecting all the project details and requirement, assigning activities to specialist team members, and establishing a budget. When determining the project’s scope within the planning process, the project is usually divided by phase into several iterations or sprints. The project manager will then work with stakeholders to determine the length of each of these ‘sprints’.

In an agile project plan, only the first of these sprints are documented in detail. Once this phase is complete, the following sprint is then determined in a step-by-step process. This differs from the traditional project planning approach in which each planning phase is mapped out in detail at the beginning.

The advantages to the agile method of project planning are that the project team and stakeholders can adjust their expectations and plans based on the previous phase.

Planning can help massively in decision-making and avoid any risks as each step of the project’s progress is determined by the success of the one before it.

{The importance of predictability for a project manager}

The value of any project is determined by the cost of investing compared to the expected returns. Providing the predicted return on a project outweighs the final output cost, then a stakeholder is likely to feel comfortable investing in a project. If a project’s cost is undetermined, it is almost impossible to predict the outcome accurately, so predictability plays an essential role in project planning.

One of the benefits of agile planning is that when project management invest time into using agile techniques during the project planning phase, they can create an accurate estimate of a project’s cost. This can help stakeholders and project management determine is a project is worth progressing with.

The agile project planning approach is not one set rule or process but rather an approach or perspective towards decision making. Users of the agile project planning method recognise the fluid and evolving nature of a project and work through an adaptive approach established from continued progress and development.

{Why project plans fail}

When signs that a project plan fails first become evident, it is common for the project management team to blame their poor planning process. However, several factors can lead to a project management project failing. Below are some of the most commonly cited reasons:

Poorly managed project scope

Ensuring that all project deliverables and tasks remain within defined project parameters is one of the most critical and important duties of a project manager.

Project management projects often fail because team members aren’t entirely sure of what is expected of them, the resources they will need, or the budget to do so.

The best way to avoid these issues is to establish clear and regular communications between every team member and stakeholder. That way, you can be certain that everyone has all the relevant information and resources they’ll need to work effectively.

Communication problems

It is common knowledge that a large part of what a project manager does is communicate the project’s goals, aims and objectives to everyone involved in the project.

However, many project management projects fail because of a lack of communication from the project manager – but because of a lack of communication between other project members.

Communication is the key to success in any project. For any plan to be actionable and effective, it requires back-and-forth communication across all areas of the company or project.

Poorly allocated resources

Not assigning enough or misallocating resources is another common contributor to a project management plan failing. Project goals and objectives are made to assume that certain tasks will be divided amongst those best equipped to handle them.

One of the most vital project management steps in a project is ensuring that resources are allocated to everybody who needs them. If these resources are poorly managed, it can lead to the project manager having unrealistic expectations of deliverables.

Monitoring is key

Another common project management problem comes from overbearing or micro-managing your team too closely. While setting clear and direct expectation is a good motivator for productivity, watching over your team’s actions too intently can have a detrimental effect on their work.

A good method of avoiding a project failing because of over micro-managing is to have team members periodically fill you in on their individual progress through meetings or updates – rather than verifying everything yourself.

Giving team members the responsibility of updating or reporting on their progress also frees project managers up to focus on the bigger picture and achieve the organisation’s larger aims or company.

{Final thoughts}

One of the most important things to remember during the planning process is don’t rush. When done properly, project planning is an extensive and complex task that should always remain subject to changes and developments as they unravel.

The more time and effort put into a project plan, the greater use it will serve further on in the project’s life-cycle, as you will be better prepared for any risks or roadblocks. Planning truly is key to success, and the project planning phase should be valued highly and taken seriously.

Well planned projects give stakeholders and important decision-makers the confidence that a project has all the required tools and resources to achieve the best results possible.   


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