Project Planning Step-by-Step

Dear project planning manager,

Please ensure a) deadlines aren’t missed, b) goals are met,  c) employees are happy and d) the client is satisfied. We regret to inform you that failure to project plan accurately will result in your 100% accountability.


Project planning logic 🙂

There’s no way around it. Project planning boils down to issues of accountability. As project planning manager, you certainly feel this pressure. One person cannot simply hold the weight of the world — or a creative agency’s newest project. Keyword mantra du jour: distribute. Distribute goals, deadlines, and workloads. But don’t just sprinkle assignments around the office. Project plan with care by using Bric’s step-by-step project planning guide.

By the end, you should have a project plan that is:

  • Client-centered: Remember How to Write a Winning Project Proposal? That article taught us that the major purpose of a project proposal is to prove to the client that you listened during all those initial conversations. The proposal must articulate their needs eloquently. It shows you care.
  • Adjustable to changes: Think of your project proposal like Google Maps. You’re in a new city trying to get from the carnival to the baseball park. Google Maps can try it’s hardest to create a list of steps of how to get you there, but it can’t account for exceptionally bad traffic or a turkey flying through your window. Through research you can learn how to pinpoint possible trouble areas in your project planning. Then, you can make backup plans based on your predictions.  
  • Based on historic facts but unique to the client: Once you determine the scope of the project, you can bring up old project proposals with a similar scope. These are extremely helpful when assigning staff members and choosing deadlines. However, the new project proposal can’t be a facsimile of these old ones. Every project has its own story. Its unique goals, stakeholders, and quirks. Old project proposals are simply a jumping off point.
  • Educates stakeholders on all aspects of the plan: Anyone who reads your project proposal, from the client’s mother to their top investors, should have a very clear understanding of the project. Who’s working on what? How long is it expected to take them? How does each small task contribute to a greater goal? Answers to these questions should be presented on a silver platter, metaphorically speaking, to anyone who reads it.

The project proposal should be something that you, the project planning manager, should be proud of. Not afraid of. That way, when things go amiss, the finger isn’t pointed at you, but instead at the exact place in the initial stages of project planning where something was miscalculated.

Step 1: Time to talk and take notes

You hold the supreme knowledge. Well, as project planning manager, you should. You have to know all the sides of the project before you can begin planning. The first step is gathering information on people. This begins with the client. Who is the client anyway?

Before creating the project proposal, you likely know who what the client’s business is and what sort of work they want to solicit from you. But, there is so much more to know. Review all conversations previously exchanged with the client. Research past ad campaigns and note their successes and failures. Jump into the company’s history. Who were the founders? How long have they been around? What’s their motto? What’s the company culture like today? What area (ie marketing, sales, employee satisfaction) is the client hoping to improve with this project?

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to discover the key ingredient in solving a client’s problem. Through your own research, you may find insight that could be major enough to include in the project proposal. Create a “client fact sheet” document that the entire project team can read and add to. Sort of like a CIA witness protection profile. Gotta know all the facts. A condensed and composed version of this client fact sheet can serve as the introduction to your project proposal.

Next, you need to talk to your employees. Who will work on this new project?

One you have a list of names, start interviewing them. Gather practical information like availability and who they will answer to during the project. The goal is employee optimization. Collect information relevant to the specific project with questions like:

What creative skills will be utilized for the project?

What past projects make this employee eligible the current one?

Does the employee have any bright insights on the client’s situation?

Short versions of these interviews are useful profiles in the project proposal, as long as they are kept short and sweet. As stated earlier, everyone and their mother should be able to understand all sides of the project after reading the proposal. Other stakeholders who don’t know your firm as well will find these employee fact pages interesting.

Speaking of other stakeholders, they are the third and final party you, the project planning manager, needs to talk to before sitting down and laying out the project proposal. Although you may not necessarily find a need to include their information in the project proposal, getting to know any other stakeholders will help shape your ideas as you carry out project plans. 

Other stakeholders may be investors, competitors, or a Board of Regents. Ask your client who they are ultimately trying to impress with your work. Talk to those people, and do your best to impress them too.

Step 2: Organize the goals into deliverables with time stamps

You have all the notes from conversation with clients. You know their big goals. So… get working, right? Not quite.

Let’s say you want to climb Denali. You’re not simply going to wake up one day, fly to Alaska, and be snapping photos of the snowy vastness that afternoon. Climbing Denali usually takes about 3 weeks.

Your big goal is to summit the mountain, but you have to plan for every night you camp. And food and gear for everyday. Without these “smaller” goals under your belt you’re not going to achieve the “big” goal. If you don’t plan to bring a tent, or enough water, or proper shoes, you’ll never make it. And, given the nature of nature, you’ll most definitely need backup plans if you have to suddenly change paths. Figuring out those details can be a summit in and of themselves.

You know what your client wants. Be it an ad campaign that highlights their humanitarian efforts or a website design that reflects their millennial-heavy staff, you know that “big” goal. Now, you not only need to determine the smaller goals, but also timestamp them so the stakeholders know when to expect their completion.

It’s best not to view your project like a train running down tracks. It’s not a linear effort. Think of it more like a web, or a family tree. You’ve got the “big” goal, let’s say the ad campaign, at the top. The smaller goals trickle down. Someone needs to come up with color, font, and design for the campaign. That team has a section on the web. Someone needs to write a script. They have a section of the web, and the editing team has a section underneath theirs. As you map out the project, you’ll see what needs to happen first, second, and so on. Timestamps are easier to assign in this webbed fashion. Compare different project management styles. 

As you run through the map, imagine all possible situations. Play devil’s advocate and try out these questions:

What if someone working on this section of the project gets sick?

How flexible is the budget for this project? 

What if this team needs to hire another member?

What if the client asks a team to re-do their contribution?

You can’t plan for every bump, but if you leave room in budgets and scheduling at the beginning you’ll have less headaches and better reviews at the end. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Addenda in the project proposal can reflect these red flags.

You’re not going to attach a hand drawn “family tree” of steps to your project proposal. It’s just a way to organize your thoughts before you clean them up for project planning. For ideas on how to keep the deliverables and scheduling sections of your project proposal neat, simple and easy to read, revisit How to Write a Winning Project Proposal.

Step 3: Break down goals into digestible bites for your team

You’ve got the “smaller” goals aligned the way you want them. Now you’ve got to assign them to team members without confusion.

Key phrase: without confusion.

There are two employee-relate problems that cause confusion in project planning.

  1. The “web” we spoke of earlier. All of the “smaller” projects are connected. You can’t tell one person to start building a website for client without giving them access to the person designing the fonts. And that person needs to know who is doing the graphics. Completing a project is not checking off boxes on a to-do list. Creativity is collaborative.
  2. Creative people need a healthy dose of freedom. You can give your employees a task and a timeline, but that’s about it. It’s an issue we come back to again and again on our blog. Don’t micro-manage creative people or you’ll stifle creativity.

You need a way to organize the project teams so they can communicate with each other, but you also need to give them freedom and not overload them with daily checklists. Given the first problem, online capacity planning and team communication software is a must. Given the second problems, these softwares pose a threat to the creative process.

Gantt charts used in Excel present a happy medium for these inter-related questions. They are simple to use (we can show you how here) and don’t ask too much of your employees with timetracking and checking in. Gantt charts simply place tasks against time. You can fill in employees names, tasks, and due dates so anyone can see them and communicate as necessary. The visuals are simple and leave little room for misinterpretation. You may even consider including them in the project proposal so the client has access to a detailed project guide.

Bric makes project planning easy.

Being in charge of project planning can feel like a lot of pressure. In a previous post, Project Management Steps, we listed 10 steps to help managers project plan with accuracy. In fact, our blog is a great place to get to know Bric. Our project planning software goes above and beyond the theory of gantt charts. If you’re unsure about jumping into a new software, however, start skimming our blog posts. They’re for everyone, not just our clients.

On our blog, project managers can find articles written on big ideas, like the importance of time tracking and capacity planning for teams. You can find practical advice on things like designing proposals and invoice factoring. Our, you can read a fun piece on creativity.

As you become familiar with our style and read our ideas, you’ll inevitably learn more about our product. We offer more than an Excel spreadsheet of information. We offer a software that:

  • Allows employees to time track with ease
  • Collects data from timesheets for future project planning and employee optimization
  • Presents projects and deadlines on visually appealing dashboard
  • Allows for schedule and budget adjustments as needed

We at Bric are dedicated to easing the project planning process for managers and teams. Next time you run into a project planning oops, consider a free trial of our software.

We hope our step-by-step guide helped you map out what you need to get started on your next project. Happy planning!