The Importance of a Project Plan

I’ve taken on executive responsibilities for some programs where the projects have been well planned (and have documented project plans), and have also encountered programs where the project plans were embarrassingly incomplete and unusable.  On the whole, I have found that those projects with well-constructed project plans had the best chances of success.Here are a few reasons that a project plan is important to most projects:

  • It provides a shared vision for what the project will accomplish – this common understanding can bind the team together in completing actions that satisfy the project’s goals.
  • It gives clarity on the responsibilities of team members and other organizations in contributing to the goals of the project.
  • It organizes the work of the project and can be used to prevent extraneous work from crowding out legitimate project activities.
  • It can be a very powerful communication mechanism, supplementing verbal interactions.  This is an important written reference for the team, and can also be used with other stakeholders.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge an alternate school of thought that maligns the importance and utility of the project plan, considering the project plan to be an unnecessary ‘ceremony’ having essentially no value to the project team or stakeholders.  Indeed, some organizations have an established culture where team members regularly organize and deliver a project’s goals with no need for project management documentation.  However, I’d recommend caution for any project manager who pins the hopes that smart people, working together can succeed in the absence of up-front planning that results in a documented project plan.