Planning is an essential component for implementing a successful project and should not be considered as a one-off activity. Good planning enables you to determine the following:

  • what is being delivered?
  • how much it will cost?
  • when it will be delivered?
  • who will deliver it (estimation of resources)?
  • to what quality criteria?

The planning cycle

Plan — Check — Do — Review

The planning process applies to all lifecycle stages, from brainstorming at the start of the project through to planning the delivery and recording the benefits.

Project schedule

Planning requires significant consultation and research to understand the project environment and scope of work. The project schedule, sometimes referred to as a project plan, reflects the work associated with delivering the project and is typically represented in the form of activities, products and milestones. It will also capture the resource effort required for the delivery of specific activity.

The schedule should be continuously reviewed and updated throughout the projects lifecycle. This monitoring enables you to identify whether you are on track to deliver to time, cost and quality or, whether you have experienced slippage which may require escalation.

A clear and up to date project schedule will make the completion of the project progress report much easier as well as being useful tool for controlling the project.

  • Informed decision making so that we are doing things in the right way.
  • To inform governance and reporting processes – stage gates, schedule tolerances etc.
  • Understand future resource needs (forecasting).
  • Inform funding decisions.
  • Eliminate surprises.
  • To provide estimates of how much effort and time activities will take and what resources and costs will be needed.
  • Provide confidence to senior management and stakeholders that the project is progressing to its agreed budget, timescales and quality criteria.


A significant event in a plan's schedule at a particular point in time, for example:

  • completion of a product
  • end of a stage/phase
  • endorsement or signing off a product
  • high level review
  • major decision that determines the future of a programme or project


A product, or set of products or service, are delivered as a result of the project that is intended to be delivered to a customer (either internal or external). Our product breakdown structure provides more information on this. Examples could be Windows 10 deployed to 50 workstations during the MS Office upgrade, or Windows 10 training manual developed for users.


An activity process, task or piece of work that occurs over time, has recognisable results and is managed. The activities should lead to the delivery of a product (and subsequently a milestone). Our work breakdown structure provides more information. An example could be an asset mapping survey (duration: 1 day, resource: 1 fte)

Basic process for project planning

The chart below illustrates a basic process for project planning:

  • Milestone
    • Product
      • Activity
      • Activity
    • Product
      • Activity
      • Activity

A number of activities will contribute to the delivery of a product and from this milestones can be established, of which key ones will be lifted up to the next level. Please note that is a very generic way of expressing the process. There will always be exceptions to this but it is a useful way of expressing what is required at project level.

Creating a project schedule or working project plan

1) Identify

  • The deliverables (products) that need to be produced.
  • The activities needed to create those products (including owner assignment).
  • The resources and time needed for the activities.
  • The dependencies between activities (and interdependencies with other projects and programmes).

2) Create the plan

Create the plan (in Smartsheet, MS Project, Excel or Visio). Templates are available for you to use, and SPO can give advice on different formats that are available.

3) Track progress

Use your plan to track project progress.

  • Schedule regular meetings with activity owners to obtain updates for the plan and forecast future work.
  • Use the plan to inform reporting and the status of the project.
  • The plan should be version controlled so that viewers can easily access the most recent, up to date version.
  • Circulate the plan to all concerned and provide clear communications identifying who is responsible for activities.
  • Identify points in the plan to monitor and control progress eg. planning meetings, project boards.
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