Development Cooperation Handbook/Designing and Executing Projects/Guidelines/How to prepare a detailed project plan document

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Guideline: How to prepare a detailed project plan document

In the project initiation we identified project objectives and outputs, here we identify.

  • the activities required to produce and deliver the outputs,
  • the resources required
  • the time required.

In detailed planning we divide the whole action into tasks and figure out the time and the resources, both human and material, required for each task. Then we calculate the cost necessary for performing each tasks, calculate the cost of the whole project and decide how to raise the financial resources required for covering these costs. Finally we decide how we assign the tasks to the persons who will execute them, how we will select them and how we will supervise and coordinate them.

The Project Plan Document is the deliverable that terminates the planning phase of the project life cycle.

A comprehensive project plan is a key document that binds you, your project team, the project sponsor, and the beneficiary. It is an agreement that defines the work of the project and the beneficiary's project/programme purpose objectives. A comprehensive plan can help you identify changes in scope after the project has started and help you plan for any modifications or adjustments that might be needed during the life cycle of the project.

See Swiss sknife.png Template for the project plan document



A detailed project plan document will include The information already provided in the project scope document, i.e.:

  • Project justification: The need that the project meant to address and the solutions envisaged.
  • Project objectives : The outcomes and changes expected as a direct consequence of the delivered project outputs.
  • Project outputs: The deliverables (products) and direct results (services, events, etc.) that the project team is expected to deliver and that will lead to the project outcomes.

See in the guideline How to write a scope statement for the definition of the project justifications, objectives and outputs. Here we describe what you need to add more and specifically the following chapters.

Description of the activities[edit]

Activities describe the work needed to deliver the project deliverables (deliverables and direct results). They only include the work done by the project team (to produce the outputs) and should not include the work done by the beneficiaries and other project stakeholders, who are expected to avail of project outputs in order to contribute to solving the problems identified (i.e. contribute to the achievement of project objectives.)

You should decide the project activities starting from the list of final outputs (those that produce a benefit for the stakeholders) and decide the activities (work) necessary to produce them. However there is not necessarily a mathematical correspondence between the activities and the outputs: some outputs require more than an activity line; some activity line may produce more than one output. So you should first take decision about this relationship between activities and outputs.

At the core of project designing, is the development of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), i.e. a hierarchical structure that is used to organize tasks for reporting schedules and tracking costs. Generally new WBS are re-adaptations of WBS already used in earlier projects. Modifications are based on lessons learned from the previous projects, on the new need analysis of the context of the new project and on the structure and competences of the new work team. That is why it is desirable that at this stage the person designated to be the project manager is involved directly in this phase, so as to allow her/him to contribute in designing and not treat her/him just as an implementer. Specific development sectors generally include typical development activities. Good organizations record their knowledge in Books recording sector of activity standards for use by cost and schedule estimators.

This proceeds according the following steps:

  • Activity Definition
  • Activity Sequencing
  • Activity Resource Estimating
  • Activity Duration Estimating
  • Schedule Development
Activity Definition[edit]

Activity Definition is the process of "identifying the the specific schedule activities that need to be performed to produce the various project deliverables" (comp. PMBOK3, p. 123). This process identifies "the deliverables at the lowest level in the work breakdown structure". During the activity definition one answers the questions, what has to be done. Other questions like "who will do the activity", "how much time will it take", or "when has it to be started or finished" will be answered later: "In creating (the) activity list, you focus on what is being done, not who is doing it, how long it will take, or when it is being done".

Activity definition refers to the process of parsing a project into a number of individual tasks which must be completed before the deliverables can be considered completed. Activity definitions rely on a number of specific input processes. These include enterprise environmental factors, organizational process assets, the project scope statement, the work breakdown structure, the WBS dictionary, the project management plan (which consists of the project scope management plan and the schedule management plan). Through use of these inputs, the activities that will need to ultimately be completed in order to compete all of the project objectives can be readily defined, and the activity definition can be further accomplished through the utilization of a number of tools and techniques including decomposition, templates, rolling wave planning, expert judgment, and planning components. The four ultimate outputs of the activity definition process are the activity list, the resulting activity attributes, all requested changes, and any milestones.

If you have considered them in your project methodology, there should be also the activities required for Procurement, Monitoring & Evaluation, Quality management, Risk management, Team Training, Project Communication anagement Issues Management; Management Change Control Process; Management of the Acceptance of Deliverables and Organizational Change Management.

A good project will consider how to monitor and evaluate during and after the implementation phase (in itinere, at project closure and ex post). It will therefore decide what are the indicators and what are the sources of information for judging the efficiency, the effectiveness and the impact. Information sources may be independent from the programme management team and the organization. Others will be the internal evaluation tasks that will collect data concerning processes and outcomes.

Project designers will consider the standard methods of collecting and analyzing data and will adopt those that are seen as most suitable. Eventually a new approach may be proposed. After deciding on the method there will be an illustration of the evaluation activity within the program/project, including the indications regarding how to use the monitoring/evaluation results for improved programme management for employee empowerment and learning. (see evaluation reporting methods; and methods for generating acceptance for the evaluation reports). The elements of an evaluation action are illustrated in the chapter on program evaluation.

Good Project plans will also comprehend:

Tip: remember also to include also the activities necessary to undertake properly the project completion stage.

Activity Sequencing[edit]

Activity Sequencing is the process for "identifying and documenting dependencies among schedule activities" (comp. PMBOK3, p. 123), also known as "logical relationships" (comp. PMBOK3, p. 130). Having the list of (all) activities which together constitute all or some of the work packages, one answers the question, which tasks have to be started and/or finished before or after other tasks (without reflecting the question, who have to do the tasks or how long they will have to work).

he term activity sequencing refers within the context of project management to a dual process. Initially, activity sequencing involves a specific process of the identification of dependencies among a series of schedule activities. The next step of activity sequencing involves the documentation of the said series of dependencies among those schedule activities. More specifically, activity sequencing involves the chronicling the dependencies among these schedule activities and putting them into a logical order. Activity sequencing also involves a careful examination of the relationships between schedule activities and their precedence relationships, which is also provides a tangible benefit to the development of an accurate schedule. Some techniques of activity sequencing that are particularly effective include precedence diagramming method, arrow diagramming method, schedule network templates, dependency determination, and the application of leads and lags. Some outputs from activity sequencing include project network schedule diagrams, activity list updates, activity attributes updates, and requested changes.

Activity Resource Estimating[edit]

Activity Resource Estimating is the process for "estimating the type and quantities of resources required to perform each schedule activity" (comp. PMBOK3, p. 123). One has to determine, what resources (persons, equipment, or materiel) and what quantities of each resource will be used.

Activity resource estimating is a process in which the project team carefully compiles a thorough listing of the resources that will be needed in completing a project. There are six inputs that are to be used in the process of activity resource estimating. Those six inputs are the activity list, the activity attributes, the organizational process assets, the enterprise environmental factors, and project management plan, and the resource availability. There are a number of tools that can also be utilized in most effectively estimating the required activity resources. Those tools include expert judgment, a complete alternatives analysis, the use of published estimating data, project management software, and the use of bottom-up estimating. The resulting outputs from this process include activity resource requirements, activity attributes updates, requested changes, a resource breakdown structure, and the development of a resource calendar. The successful utilization of activity resource estimates will help assure that enough resources are acquired without waste and excessive expenditure.

The project actors should also be clearly identified, along with specific roles and responsibilities. This ensures that all work is “owned” by someone, that redundant work is minimized, and that role conflicts are reduced.

Activity Duration Estimating[edit]

Activity duration estimating is the process for "estimating the number of work periods that will be needed to perform each schedule activity" (comp. PMBOK3, p. 123). Duration can be estimated in units being freely defined by the project. And the durance often is also influenced by the power of the resources and vice-versa. Therefore resource estimating and duration estimating as processes should be connected.

Activity duration estimating represents the act of quantifying the amount of time that it is anticipated the activity will take to complete. This phase of the project, that which consists of the estimating of the amount of time needed to complete all individual schedule activities, typically and traditionally takes place before a project is kicked off, during the conception phase, however, it is possible for the actual activity duration estimating period to take place later, perhaps close to or even slightly after the project has officially kicked off, however, even in those cases a draft or preliminary estimation has typically been made. Estimations can be made in any calendar unit that seems appropriate, such as months, weeks, days, etc., the entirety of the activity duration estimate can be further broken down into subparts or milestones at which certain elements, or deliverables, of the activity are to have been completed in final or draft form.

Schedule Development[edit]

Scheduling is an inexact process in that it tries to predict the future. While it is not possible to know with certainty how long a project will take, there are techniques that can increase your likelihood of being close. One key ingredient in the scheduling process is experience in the project area; another is experience with scheduling in general. In every sector of activity area there will be a body of knowledge that associates the accomplishment of known work efforts with a time duration. In some organizations there are books recording sector of activity standards for use by cost and schedule estimators. Interviewing those who have had experience with similar projects is the best way to determine how long things will really take.

The duration of the task will depend on the work necessary to complete it related the number of persons who work at it and the percentage of their time that they dedicate to it. The duration of the whole activity will be the total duration of the tasks considering their dependencies (predecessor/subsequent or start-start or end-end) co relationship. This will produce the Gantt , i.e. a visual representation Work Plan of the dependencies among the tasks and their duration. It will be clearer if at the end of each task there is a "milestone": a process or final output delivered that accomplishes the task that has delivered it.


Schedule Development is the process of "analyzing activity sequences, duration, resource requirements, and schedule constraints to create the project schedule" (comp. PMBOK3, p. 123). Putting all components together, one gets not only the order of the tasks, but also the durance and the needed resources. Formally one can see at this point whether the project will fulfill the schedule constraints (by respecting the cost and quality constraints too) or not. If this act of aggregation fails the first time one should try to solve the contradictions by redoing the small row 'resource estimating, durance estimating and schedule development.

The project actors should also be clearly identified, along with specific roles and responsibilities. This ensures that all work is “owned” by someone, that redundant work is minimized, and that role conflicts are reduced.

The project actors should also be clearly identified, along with specific roles and responsibilities. This ensures that all work is “owned” by someone, that redundant work is minimized, and that role conflicts are reduced.

Calculation of the work needed for each task is done by by multiplying the human resources allocated to the task for the time devoted to it. Then one adds the material resources needed to each task and, eventually, the time that resource will be utilized in the task. When preparing a schedule estimate, one should consider that transition between activities often takes time. Organizations or resources outside direct control may not share your sense of schedule urgency, and their work may take longer to complete. One should beware of all external dependency relationships. Uncertain resources of talent, equipment, or data will likely result in extending the project schedule. Experience teaches that things usually take longer than one thinks they will, and that giving away schedule margin in the planning phase is a sure way to ensure a highly stressed project effort. People tend to be optimistic in estimating schedules and, on average, estimate only 80% of the time actually required. Failure to meet schedule goals is most often due to unrealistic deadlines, passive project execution, unforeseen problems, or things overlooked in the plan.


Note: Never put expected outcomes as milestones since their accomplishment is not entirely dependent on the team activities! So for instance put as process milestone "list of beneficiaries completed" or "book written"; as final milestone put "# copies of the book distributed to # beneficiaries; but never put as milestone # persons change behaviour because they read the book! (though this was in fact the overall objective of the activity).


See ⇒ Key Questions for Establishing the Team Organization

At this stage you may clarify it all by including a GANTT where you can specify the "critical path", i.e. the sequence of tasks that if completed late will delay all the successive tasks. This will enable the project manager to be focus on critical tasks and eventually postpone those that are non critical (in the time sequence sense).

Designing the GANTT[edit]

A Gantt chart showing three kinds of schedule dependencies (in red) and percent complete indications.

The GANTT is a visual rapresentation of the Work Breakdown Structure. It is a horizontal-bar schedule showing activity start, duration, and completion. It shows the connection between events and the calendar, and provides a graphical analog of the activity duration. The Gantt schedule can illustrate the relationship between work activities having duration, events without duration that indicate a significant completion, and milestones that represent major achievements or decision points. Various annotations can be used to communicate the progress of the project effort compared to the baseline plan, as well to depict in a graphical way areas where there are modified expectations from the baseline plan. Once a Gantt schedule has been established for a project, progress should be periodically plotted against the baseline schedule. If different functional areas are involved in a project, each area may need its own detailed schedules to support the project master schedule. In such cases it is important that working schedules be linked to a common master schedule in a way that they can be easily updated. Each activity or event on the schedule should have a responsible individual assigned, so there is clear ownership and so schedule status can be updated without a lot of fuss.

A definition of the tasks along a time sequence is also called "action plan". The action plan described in the project plan is considered to be the project "baseline", i.e. the plan agreed upon at the starting point against which future changes are measured.

Calculate the cost of the project[edit]

Once the WBS structure is ready then proceed to Create the project budget.
Swiss sknife.png The steps for creating a budget
Swiss sknife.png How do you create budgets and track costs against them?

After you have the WBS with the indication of the resources required, you should first make a list of the resources with specification of the unit cost; then do the consequent multiplications and sums. Remember to consider also the support activities not directly related to output oriented tasks but that are required in order to manage the activity (like office costs, etc.). However the more you are specific to allocate cost to each activity the more efficiently you can manage the project.

Sometimes project costs are a forced-fit to the amount of money available in the budget. This will require the project designer to initiate a cost estimate to find out if the project is feasible. Adjustments in scope may be needed so the project can survive.

If one estimates only the requirements one is sure of, estimates will usually be low. It may be prudent to add a contingency factor to account for expected changes, or to allocate management reserves to deal with later eventualities.

So first you have to list out all the resources required (human and material) and find out the item cost of each one of them.

Swiss sknife.png Project Resource Sheet

Then for each task see the number of units required to perform that task and multiply the unit cost of each resource for the work time (if human) or for the number of items (if material) that are required for that task. The total cost of each activity is the total of the cost of its tasks. Sum up the values obtained and you will get the task cost.

Swiss sknife.png Template: Project Activities Costs

Then calculate the cost of the project by summing up the individual project elements into a project total.

It is good to perform a double check: 1: sum up the total cost of each task: 2 make a summative budget by listing out all the resources needed for the project and the total of the items needed for that resource for the whole project. If the two calculations match, it means you did all right. Otherwise search for the mistake.

Swiss sknife.png Template: Summative project budget

The budget will be constantly refined as different stakeholders will give their views and contributions and the plan will be refined by adding more activities to fit with quality, communication and risk mitigation plans.

Good cost estimating requires a supportive environment in the organization. One way to help this is to develop projects using standard work breakdown structure categories, and then collect actual costs in a historical cost database. (books recording sector of activity standards for use by cost and schedule estimators)

A description of the Methodology[edit]

In a sense there is no fundamental difference between describing the activities and describing the methodology. However it is a good practice to make explicit statements about the way the project decisions are participated and how the project results will lead to a non-ephemeral change (i.e. how the project will be sustainable.

The action plan is the reference meter for the budget and schedule. After the initial iterative planning process, the plan must be frozen, i.e. the executing team should not be able to modify it without the prior consultation and approval from the major stakeholders and sponsors who agreed to the project plan. Therefore it is advisable if the project plan considers also the standard procedures for authorization of changes in the project scope, budget, schedule.

A good methodology would include sub-sections regarding:

Prepare a Logical Framework[edit]

In Development Cooperation Projects a project plan will generally also include "logical framework that summarizes the plan and represents it in a table showing the inter linkages between objectives, outputs, activities, resources, presuppositions and indicators and sources of information.

You cannot prepare a good logical framework if you have not properly planedd a monitoring and evaluation process.

See more in ⇒ Logical Framework

A description of the Sustainability[edit]

In planning the project it is very important to consider how the project will have an impact on the programme and eventually in a wider context. A good project plan will properly would have defined how the project results, obtained through external financial support) would be used by the social system in a manner that would no longer require external support. (See How can we plan a project so as to ensure that is sustainable?)

Explain how sustainability will be secured after completion of the action. This may include aspects of necessary follow-up activities, built-in strategies, ownership etc., if any. In so doing, make a distinction between the following 3 dimensions of sustainability:

  • Financial sustainability (how the financing of follow up activities is ensured, to what extend future costs are covered by expected revenues, etc.);
  • Institutional level (Which structures would allow, and how, the results of the action to continue be in place after the end of the action? Will the results of the action be appropriated by the target groups? What factors will ensure that the impact is sustainable?);
  • Policy level (What structural impact will the action have - e.g. will it lead to improved legislation, codes of conduct, methods or to better integrate developing issues in the formal and non-formal education systems, etc.).

A description of the previous experience of similar actions[edit]

See Organization and sector of activity

  • Describe the experience of project management of the organization that has prepared this project and of its partners.
  • Describe the technical expertise (notably knowledge of the issues to be addressed) of the organization that has prepared this project and of its partners.
  • Describe the management capacity (including staff, equipment and ability to handle the budget for the action) of the organization that has prepared this project and of its partners.
  • Describe haw stable and sufficient are the sources of finance has the Organization that will lead the implementation of this project and of its partners.

Other tools[edit]

Swiss sknife.png Guidelines to Project Managers on Effective Writing
Swiss sknife.png Key Questions for Establishing the Team Organization
Swiss sknife.png Determining the project manager
Swiss sknife.png Guidelines to Project Managers on Effective Writing


See also[edit]

600X WIKIPEDIA LOGO.svg On Wikipedia ⇒ Gantt

Testimonials[edit]

B.Hoeper - Baseline surveys and achievements


B.Hoeper - Looking at the project long term impact