We’ve always known, and quite often laughed to ourselves, that the difference between a project plan and a project management plan is just that the “management” part comes into being! But, coming down to serious business what we don’t quite realize is that a project plan differs in many ways from a project management plan and this article is going to take you through spilling the beans in a very systematic and step-by-step manner.
Welcome to the world of Projects and Project Management!
Planning is always considered to be the most important stage in a project life cycle and very much the predecessor to all that takes place in a project through till its completion. The planning stage needs to be taken very seriously by the top management, project manager, and the team involved in the project. It is this stage that yields plans and these plans are thorough descriptions of what need to be done and where, and come in all forms and formats, addressing different needs.
Why Does a Project Need Plans?
Whether you have a small project or a large scale undertaking, it’s important to know that each project can’t just proceed with multiple people working just as randomly as the work goes on. It’s important to understand that each project needs a plan. But why so?
A plan is almost like a map. A document of direction that can lead the project towards the objective it’s supposed to be headed to. The plan also ensures that the momentum is kept up when a plan is executed. Along with that, the plan maintains status and also enlists tasks that will take the project to its successful completion.
With milestones and proper distribution of roles and responsibilities, with schedules, a plan is a wholesome and very well thought through document that covers a step-by-step proceeding of a sequence of actions to achieve a slated goal. When planning is conducted in a systematical and precise manner, it becomes easier for the execution to take place. Without a complete and comprehensive plan, it’s difficult to get the execution as smooth as you would require it to be. Thus, this will cost you extra efforts and will delay and utilize more resources than you expect. In order for you to implement a plan, it’s essential to know what a plan can do for you. Listed below are 4 points that will throw light onto the benefits of planning and having a comprehensive plan at hand:
- Improving Client Communication and Response
Normally designated as the communication plan, a plan can keep you in constant touch with your clients and improve and maintain relations with them. This way you can be assured that the dealings take place methodically and in the best way possible. With better communication comes the opportunity to understand client needs and wishes correctly. This will enhance the plans put forth and the execution would be close to flawless.
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- Increasing the Transparency of Our Own Work
With a plan in place, you can know what needs to be done and the sequence of steps leading to completion of a particular task. This way even your client will know how the process is taking place and can form a clear picture in their mind of what the team members are doing.
- Becoming More Organized and Efficient
A clear plan is like a to-do list for you to follow and stay organized. This will double your productivity and will give you the desired results. An organized project is surely a successful project.
- Focus Lies on the Project Objective
With details, come the possibilities of leading astray and leading wayward from the project goals and objective. With deviation, the cost increases and the resources would need to work overtime. A plan can keep you on course and can keep you aligned to what you want to achieve with minimum or no deviation. This will enable the project to never lose on time and cost.
Project Plan vs Project Management Plan Infographics
Plans can follow any of the following two approaches to get the desired results:
- Logical Approach
- Project Plan Development Approach
The logical approach relies on the project manager creating a matrix of 4 columns and equal number of rows. These rows would have the development objective, short-term objective, outputs, as well as the inputs that need to be given to obtain the necessary output. While the column heading would have summaries, verifiable indicators, external factors contributing to the project plan, and the various means of verification.
Project Plan Development Approach
This approach would include preparing a project plan and a project management plan to enlist the various stages of the project and what different activities will be conducted in order to achieve the needed outputs. The project plans would include the basic necessities, such as project objective, description, analysis, required resources, and more.
Now, we will delve into this project plan development approach in this article. We will look into what this approach develops, the project plan and the project management plan, and what sets these two documents apart. Stayed tuned for more!
What is a Project Plan?
The Project Management Body of Knowledge defines a project plan to be…
“…a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines. A project plan may be summarized or detailed.”
Whereas, PRINCE2 define a project plan to be:
“…a statement of how and when a project’s objectives are to be achieved, by showing the major products, milestones, activities, and resources required on the project.”
The purpose of a project plan is to be able to correctly and accurately define the milestones to be achieved by the team on the project in order to facilitate and deliver the intended scope of the project. A project plan of any level should be able to answer the four basic questions that comes posed to its project. They are as follows:
- What? – What is the desired outputs/deliverables for the project? What work needs to be carried out in order to achieved these outputs?
- Why? – Why is the project taken up? What is it trying to resolve?
- Who? – Who are the team members working on the project? What does each member do while on the project?
- How? – How will the project be maneuvered? What are the activities are going to be part of the project? Will they lead the project to a successful completion?
You will notice that the project plan sounds and looks identical to a project charter, but what differentiates it from that document is its purpose. While the project charter firmly states the contents onto paper, a plan is put together to make the execution come alive.
A project plan would encompass every single detail that there is to a project. It is not restricted to solely the project management aspect or the third-party clientele meeting objectives. A project plan emphasis on the exact sequence of everything that is going to take place in a project. It encourages a detailed view of mapping out a step-by-step progression into completion of the project or, in order words, attaining its objective and vision, which was stated in the project charter. A detailed view would include a wholesome insight into the execution of each and every task to reach milestones, management of individual subtasks and activities/events, and control of the situation and, most importantly, the quality of the process and their outputs.
Most often touted as the construction plan, a project plan typically encompasses the following topics in due course of its execution:
- Scope management
- Quality management
- Finance management
- Schedule management
- Resource management
- Communication plan
- Change management
What is a Project Management Plan?
A project management plan, unlike the project plan, can be defined at the sole document used to describe the project management approach or the project management system used in the implementation of the project plan, by the project team. This would mean that for a particular project all the project management inputs at the various stages of the project would be detailed down in this document, based on the project plan, which was drafted on the premise of the project charter.
Many experts find a fine line between these two documents and some find no line at all and use the two terms for plans interchangeably. From the 3rd edition of PMBOK, the term was standardized to “Project Management Plan” for the sake of clarity, but many organizations have stuck to posing the two documents as separate entities, following different formats and serving different purposes.
A project management plan can also be stated as a logical entity made up of many management plans for the project’s tasks and activities to function as planned. These management plans aren’t limited to the 10 knowledge areas stated in PMBOK. This plan takes the best practices, which can be implemented for a particular scenario, and slates them for the successful execution of that task. This ensures the culmination of the task in the best possible way.
Depending on the scale of the project, this plan can be slotted and divided into individual plans or can be put onto a single document for the sake of brevity.
Project management plans always look to answer the question “how” rather than “what” and “why”. With this trait, project management plans tell the teams about “how” to conduct and treat a particular scenario, using which management tool or approach. This strengthens the stance of the project manager and his/her team, giving them a sense of direction and reference.
In terms of the topics that are covered by a project management plan, it strikes a good resemblance with the topics covered by a project plan, including, scope management, quality management, through till procurement management. A project management plan is taken up and implemented way before the start of the execution of the project, ensuring that all the practices are taken into account and project management best practices are adhered to.
You can think of a project management plan as a sort of guideline to help you implement the plan laid out in front of you, to achieve the project’s scope and objective.
Picking out the difference between them
Now since we’ve defined and understood the two terms and the different, yet similar, plans for a project, let’s dive into learning about them by their stark differences that set them apart. Distinguishing a Project Plan and a Project Management Plan.
|Project Plan||Project Management Plan|
|Higher-level-view plan||Lower-level-view plan|
|Detailed plan about the start of the project through till its end||High-detailed plan about how to start the project and monitor its every move through till its end|
|This plan deals and addresses the main question: what||This plan deals and addresses the main question: how|
|A visionary document that plots the project in steps towards the vision or objective||An execution document that plots the activities of the project and the tools and techniques, which will be used, to achieve the vision/objective stated in the project plan|
|Gives the project manager the vision of what the project steps and stages will be like||Gives the project manager the definitive plan and develops a system to execution the vision of the project plan|
From a PMP exam point of view, you will need to blur the lines between a project management plan and a project plan and jump on the bandwagon of the two document being the same. PMBOK 3rd edition doesn’t look at these as separate documents, rather clubs them together under the name, “Project Management Plan” as stated before in this article. I’ve written this blog in the perspective of it being a good read and a good source of knowledge for individuals who have or will come across these terms being used separately, and quite independently, at their organizations.
A project plan and a project management plan both are essential documents used in the life cycle of a project, and ensures that you have a smooth functioning of your project at all times. Being able to be in full control of your project would mean that your planning was done with sincere dedication and thorough organization. The planning when satisfactorily done constitutes of 80% of the work, which is a sure win for you as a project manager.