Cheat Sheet: Creating a Project Plan

Project Management is the discipline of planning, organising, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of a specified project goal. In all honesty, Project Management often can sound a lot more complicated than it actually is. We are here to share a few of our lighter-touch tips to help you get started planning a project.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antione de Saint-Exupery

Planning is an everyday activity. We all do it. The process is natural and thus for the most part goes unnoticed. We buy food in advance of cooking, having to remember which ingredients we need while running round the supermarket, checking use-by dates to see if we’ll be able to stock up ahead without food spoiling, assessing weights and portion sizes, and trying to find the best prices for similar products.

You don’t have to make a project plan complicated, simply think of it as an extension of the type of planning you normally do, written down clearly so that everyone shares your knowledge and any associated tasks, and can work to the schedule you set out for completion. It needs to be a map, one that is clear enough for anyone to follow and reach the end destination.

We’re going to start by offering some of our top project planning tips before we launch into a more in-depth look at what to include in a simple project plan.

1)      Have a clear goal from the beginning.

There is no beating around the bush here, you absolutely must have a clearly defined goal that you are working toward at the beginning of your project planning journey. You need to know what you want to achieve, when you want to achieve it, and what resources you will have access to, in order to do so.

2)      Involve the right people.

Projects generally require a Project Sponsor and a Project Manager. The Sponsor is responsible for the project, they need to check that it is achieving value for money and will achieve the aims it was created to. The Manager runs the project on a day-to-day basis. This doesn’t mean that they undertake every action, often a large part of their role is to delegate and supervise, but it does mean that one person will have an in-depth understanding of every aspect of the project.

For example, the Project Manager will know when one missed deadline might impact upon another and can plan and re-arrange the project to ensure that the end result will still be achieved on time. The Project Sponsor needs to challenge and hold the Project Manager to account and ask the detail how the project will still be achieved if a deadline has been exceeded.

It is very important that you agree how much responsibility and authority rests with the Project Sponsor and Project Manager – everyone needs to be clear what decisions they can make in order to push the project forward.

Drafting a Project Plan in isolation can be extremely difficult as you may not know exactly what each action will involve and how long it will take. You might miss a key action or task that will impact on timescales when drafting, with the knock-on effect of involving a lot of re-working the plan to amend it after. Speak to colleagues at an early stage, involve them in the process and save yourself future headaches, whilst also guaranteeing that they are on-board with your goals and willing to deliver on their actions.

3)      Manage expectations.

From the outset, you need to be realistic about what is possible. Can you deliver by the date specified? Is it technically possible with the resources you have been allocated? When you begin to plan your project you need to have an initial idea about the costings, timescales, and resources involved in achieving it. It is usually best to allow some wriggle room too, as overspending is an issue that escalates rapidly if you’re running late and have to pay additional fees to ship goods faster, or buy in additional hours to cover last minute work.

4)      Use tools and technology appropriately.

Technology can make the management task a lot easier by automating certain processes, but don’t ever allow yourself to become a slave to the machine. Project Management software can be costly, especially when staff require additional training to come to grips with it. The choice to buy-in technology is yours, but ask yourself whether the scale of the project justifies spending the time and money on it when you could create a simpler in-house solution.

In terms of communications and documentation, our usual advice applies here – keep it simple! If you can meet face-to-face to discuss an issue this is often the best way to achieve consensus, but it can be time consuming. Think about simplifying any documents to ensure that they can be swiftly read and understood. For example, if you are presenting various options for a new IT product, try to set out the pros and cons as a table, allowing a side-by-side comparison of costs, benefits, features, training requirements, and so on. Providing a short and easily digestible document can save everyone time as it allows you to drill down into what is important as you set out the options clearly for others and if you provide this before a short face-to-face meeting everyone is armed with the information they need to discuss the merits of each option quickly and reach a consensus.

Creating a Project Plan

The first thing we’d recommend you do when planning your project is to come up with a clearly defined goal that everyone can understand and buy into. Once you know what you need to achieve you can start to brainstorm the various activities you’ll need to break the project down into in order to achieve it.

For example, you felt absolutely inspired after watching a documentary about the Himalayas and decided that you must go within the next year and trek the Annapurna Circuit. It is something you’ve always wanted to do and you don’t want to put it off any longer. So where do you start?

Try brainstorming the main actions you think you’ll need to take to achieve your goal. This can be as simple as the spider diagram below which covers our first thoughts about actions (and possible issues) for our example.

Project Plan Example

Once you know exactly what you want your project to achieve, and have an idea of the main actions necessary to reach that end point, you then need to start to work backwards. With the end date in mind, you then start to work out when each action needs to be taken so that you meet that date, some actions rely upon others and so need to be placed in order, others can be taken at any point. To continue with our example, actions you’d want to take to get to trek the Annapurna Circuit include:

  • Research trek providers for price, quality, availability
  • Book trek
  • Book flights (allow one day before trek starts and two days after)
  • Book additional transport (to and from airport)
  • Book airport parking
  • Book time off work
  • Pay off balance of flights and trek
  • Book kennel for the dog
  • Buy equipment
  • Increase fitness levels
  • See doctor for any travel medication/advice
  • Pack

These obviously aren’t listed in the correct order, unless you have a really flexible and easy going boss, you’d probably need to book time off work before you went ahead and booked your holiday. One of the easiest ways to set out these actions in a logical order to set out your plan and start thinking about timings is to create a Gantt chart for your Project Plan. A Gantt Chart shows activities against time, so that you can see at a glance when an action needs to happen and how long it should take.

Microsoft Excel does have a few examples among their templates, (see screen shot below for one I found when I searched for a “project plan”), which you can then adapt to suit your purposes. Otherwise, you can draw up your own simple version as I have done in my example which continues below.

Gantt Project Plan Example

An easy way to get started is to begin listing your actions and assigning rough dates to them. So, in the image below, you can see that I have listed my actions and have blocked out when the action should be taking place on a simple monthly basis. These actions still aren’t in order, but laying them out like this allows me to see what needs to happen earlier on in the project. I can then move the actions into a logical order so that the project plan flows through each action in turn to reach the end goal.

Note: when you begin, you may not know the exact dates actions will take place, some actions are dependent upon others. For example, “Pay off balance of flights and trek” is listed below without a date assigned. Until you have researched options and booked the flight and trek you will not know when this action needs to take place as every tour operator will have their own policies regarding deposits.

Project Plan Example 1

You’ll notice, on my next screenshot, that I have added additional actions as they have occurred to me. This is a vital part of the process as it is often hard to visualise every aspect of the project at initial conception, when you start to work through and put your actions in order, any additional tasks that will need to be included should start occurring to you.

The plan has also evolved to include due dates for each action, along with a column to show whether it has been completed. This includes a colour coded key to make it easier to see at a glance what the situation is for each action, whether it is complete, still a work in progress, or overdue. Adding a column for notes is useful too, as it allows you to explain any overdue actions to everyone who has sight of the project plan.

Project Plan Example 2

What this plan does not have yet, is a space to assign actions to others. Most projects will not be completed in isolation, you’ll have a team of people helping you deliver the project. It is always best to include a column detailing who is responsible for each action so that everyone is clear about their role and responsibility to deliver on time. Under a column titled “Responsible” I have listed the person responsible for ensuring that action is completed – “Me” along with others who are involved – e.g. “Manager” in booking time off, and “Doctor” in receiving travel medication/advice.

Project Plan Example 4

Depending on how far you want to drill down into the details when planning, you can choose to include each of the tasks that sits under the main actions you have identified, for example, to book time off work you will need to:

  • Consult your team’s diary for the dates you want to book leave
  • Contact your manager with potential dates for leave request
  • Agree dates with your manager
  • Have leave signed off

You can choose to present this additional information in various ways, whether by including all the actions and tasks on the same plan, (as in the below screenshot example, with the tasks mentioned above highlighted using grey colour/italic text), you could have a Project Plan that only includes headline actions, or maintain a headline sheet with high-level actions only to make it easier to feedback progress to Project Sponsors that is supplemented by a more detailed Project Plan with all tasks outlined for the benefit of the Project Manager.

Project Plan Example 5

As we have hopefully demonstrated, putting together a Project Plan does not have to be complicated. You don’t have to buy in any expensive tools and technology unless you feel it would be of benefit to you. The example plan here was created from scratch in very little time using only Microsoft Excel.

You can make the plans more or less complex depending on your needs. This example is clearly a simple one, but projects plans can include costs, risks, overspill time allocated to each action and so on. However, we do recommend that you aim for simplicity. The biggest document isn’t always the best. If your intended audience don’t read or understand the plan because it is too detailed, or too complicated, then it has failed.

On a final note, your plan will constantly evolve. The planning process should be continuous throughout your project. Many things can happen to force you to change your approach and no plan could survive in its original form from the start to the finish of the project without being amended. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

Contact us at Active Outcomes if you’d like to know a bit more about project planning.




Brief Guide: Planning a Charity Fundraising Event

Charities are under immense pressure to raise funds and ensure they can keep up the good work. We’ve noticed that an increasing number of charities are being assisted in their fundraising efforts by enthusiastic volunteers who throw themselves into organising events but may not have all the background knowledge about charity finance and governance regulations. This isn’t a bad thing, far from it. For us, it’s always great to see the passion that people have for charities and their generosity in giving up their time to help your organisation raise the funds you need to continue to help your service users.

So, if you’re ready to get started planning your event – here’s a brief introduction to the things we think you need to consider when planning a fundraising event to keep things safe and legal.

1.    You need clearly defined goals at the beginning.

Money isn’t everything. You need to set out some defined goals you want to achieve in your fundraising events and communicate these clearly with the people tasked with planning and running an event. After all, if your fundraising team are unaware of regulations and accidentally break fundraising rules, the reputational damage can far outweigh the benefit of any monies raised. Think of the bad publicity and how much a single negative news story could undermine all your hard work.

Sitting down and having this discussion about goals at an early stage can make a huge difference to the end result. Your proposed event might be better aimed at raising awareness than money, for example, or it might simply be a way of giving back to the community rather than asking for donations from them. 

2.       Make sure everyone is on the same page.

You want anyone who is involved in running an event for you to understand your mission and vision and to be able to explain these clearly to any member of the public they interact with on your behalf. If they are asking people for money they need to be able to explain how it will be used and for whose benefit. You might have specific information that needs to be shared in a certain way, make sure that your volunteers know exactly how to do this before the event gets underway.

You also need everyone involved in the planning to understand the type of events you want to be associated with, any activities that are especially appropriate (or inappropriate) for your group to be part of, and as mentioned previously, the desired end goal.

3.       Size matters.

Who is coming to your event? You need to think about the potential audience, how best to reach them to advertise an event, where best to offer the event and how big it will be.

Remember, you need to balance risk and reward, a bigger event may have the potential to raise substantial sums of money, but on the other hand, nobody wants to lose money and there are never any guarantees that you’ll generate the level of interest needed to make a success of an expensive big-ticket event. Obviously, the bigger the event, the longer you’ll need to prepare and promote in advance – you might even need time to recruit additional volunteers to steward and so on.

We suggest you think about:

·      Target Audience: Who are you going to invite? How will you let them know about the event?

·       Activities: What activities will you include? Will this appeal to a broad range of people? Is your event going to be family friendly, and if so, how will you cater for all ages of visitor?

·       Facilities: How many people are you aiming to see at your event? Can your chosen activity be accommodated? What venues can accommodate this group – think about catering and access requirements? Is your venue flexible if you have smaller/larger than anticipated numbers?

·       Admission: Will you charge an entrance fee? How would you ticket the event, in advance, on the door, or a combination of the two? Will you monitor numbers even if the event is not ticketed? Remember – advance tickets, even for free events, can help you gauge the level of interest in your event and plan accordingly.


4.       Venues and access.

There are a few things you might want to keep in mind when looking at booking potential venues, even if they are allowing you free use of their facilities.

·       Access: Is the venue accessible to all? Can accommodations be made for people who might find the building hard to access and will these be advertised in advance? Do people need transporting to the site? Can you provide details of public transport, parking and so on for attendees to make their own way there?

·       Equipment: Will you need to hire any equipment? When and where will it be delivered? Is someone available to receive it and set it up then? Do you know how to use it safely? Will you require additional transport to move any equipment from elsewhere?

·       Timings: Have you booked the venue for a sufficient amount of time to allow for setting-up and clearing away after the event too? Will you need additional volunteers to help ease this process if not?

·       Performers: Check what they expect you to provide and how long they will need to get ready either side of their show.

·       Weather: In Britain this is a given, but it is worth stating that you cannot trust the weather to be the same from one minute to the next. What impact will the weather have on an event (especially an outdoor one) and can you provide any shelter at the venue?


5.       Share the work.

This applies mainly to larger events as you may want to form a working group to manage all the various aspects of organisation. Planning all the dates and deadlines in advance as a group and agreeing to share responsibilities means that you are less likely to find that one or two people will be burdened with more than they can manage. Small groups could look at individual aspects of planning, for example marketing, safety, licensing and so on – however, if you do have separate groups, you’ll need a designated core contact to oversee all the various aspects to ensure that they tie in together.

6.       Risk assessments.

We strongly recommend you carry out a risk assessment to ensure the safety and security of everyone attending your event. Don’t worry – this is not a complicated process! You only need to think about some practical and common-sense issues that might arise and how you’ll prevent or deal with them. To learn more about drafting a simple risk assessment see our blog post here which offers a worked example and get in touch if you’d like an easy to use template that you can download and adapt. Bear in mind as part of your assessment that certain size events may require a First Aider to be on site – you are best to check this with your local authority.

7.       Boosting attendance.

Avoid clashing with other events happening locally – reach out to other groups, community and voluntary support agencies and the local council for more information before you set a date. This is also a great opportunity to ask them to get involved and/or share their expertise, they may know of a more suitable venue or another event you can piggy-back onto, it is always worth asking.

Plan well in advance and allow for longer lead-in times to advertise the event. If you are waiting on confirmation of details for the event (e.g. performers, activities, catering options etc) you can still start promoting an event. The main details you need to get across as early as possible are:

·         Date and time

·         Venue

·         Purpose

·         Organisation(s) involved

·         Price for admission

·         Mention that more information will follow and how to keep in touch for more details

If you can produce publicity materials that act as a “Save the Date” you are at least ensuring that you are marking out that date well in advance, any additional details can be added later. You can also use this early stage promotion as an opportunity to appeal for people who want to be involved in running the event too.

Don’t be afraid to get in touch with local press contacts and let them know about the event well in advance. They might be willing to appeal for assistants on your behalf or to cover the event on the day to review the activity. Even if they cannot attend the event, submit a press release before and after telling them about the event and how it was received. Include images if possible, and try and make sure that the press release is as well written as possible – make the journalists job easier and they will be more likely to include your information. Some members of the press may be willing to get involved in other ways too, for example, a local radio personality might be willing to act as an auctioneer at an event.

8.       Permission and licences.

While many activities can be included legally in your fundraising event, certain ones will require specific permissions or licenses, and these include public collections and certain types of raffles which many members of the public assume can be held as and when without any regulation. Each event will have different requirements and we recommend you look at the rules for the activities you are planning with both your local council’s licensing team who will be able to advise on what you might need to apply for and with the Gambling Commission if you intend to run a raffle (especially if you plan to sell tickets in advance of the event).

For larger events, you’ll also need to consider the impact the event will have on the local community – residents may want the noise to be kept to a minimum after a certain hour and businesses may have access requirements. 

9.       Insurance

Public Liability Insurance is the main cover you’ll need to consider if your event involves members of the public. Check with your venue what coverage they provide (if any) as part of their event package. It is an additional cost to take into account, but the alternative financial penalties can be far worse.

10.   Refreshments.

Offering food and drink as part of an event can generate a lot of revenue, however, if you plan to offer food or drink for sale to raise funds you’ll want to keep things above board. Food safety rules apply whether you sell the food or not. If you’re booking food with the venue, or an outside catering company, you’ll need to check they have food hygiene and environmental health certificates and Public Liability Insurance of their own. If you’re planning to prepare and sell food yourself to raise funds, check out the latest advice from The Food Standards Agency here.

Alcohol has rules and regulations of its own. Your venue may already be licensed to sell or serve alcohol, in which case you’re covered. If not, you will need to contact your local authority to ask about how to apply for a Temporary Event Notice to do so.

We hope this helps you get started planning your fundraising event. As always, Active Outcomes are happy to chat about this, so get in touch with us if you need any advice. For more information about what we’ve discussed you might also want to take a look at the links to other websites we’ve included below.

Good luck!