How to Write a Successful Project Plan in 5 Easy Steps

If you want a project to come in on time and on budget, you’re going to need a plan.

June 8, 2022
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If you want a project to come in on time and on budget, you’re going to need a plan. Things will go a lot more smoothly if you take a step back and take the time to get your ducks in a row before you dive in.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be complicated. Read on for our easy five-step process for creating an effective project plan.

What is a project plan?

A project plan – also known as a project management plan – is a document that outlines a project’s:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Deadlines and key milestones 
  • Budget
  • Stakeholders and project team

Your project plan not only defines what success looks like for your project and how you’re going to get there. It’s also what you’ll use to manage your project through its life cycle and what everyone involved will reference to stay on track. 

Why should you make a project plan?

Don’t think you need a project plan? Did you know:

  • Only 43% of projects are completed on-budget – and only 29% on time?
  • 11.4% of resources are wasted due to poor project management?
  • Only 48% of people believe their organization manages projects effectively?
  • Organizations that don’t bake project management into their strategies see their outright project failure rate increase by a factor of two-thirds.

On the flip side, 77% of high-performing teams use project management software.

A project management timeline makes it more likely to hit your goals on time and within budget, and the most effective organizations know that.

How do you write a simple project plan?

Project plans can get very complicated, very fast. But you’ll get the best results by keeping things simple. Assembly has a set of workflows that can make project management a breeze.

Here’s how to write a simple project plan in five easy steps:

  1. Lay the foundations 

The first step in any successful project plan is to talk to the key stakeholders about what they want to achieve with the project and what people and resources you’re going to be able to call on to make it happen.

You’ll also want to define who’s heading up the project, what kind of things they’ll need to sign off on, and who's going to be responsible for which aspects of the project.  

More often than not, a project will shoot over deadline and budget if you don’t take the time to review exactly what resources you have to work with at this stage. Take the time to lay these foundations and you can save yourself some serious headaches down the line.

A Project Feed Template is a great way to make sure everyone gets the information they need and no one is left out. Interested in getting started? Book a demo today.

  1. Draw up a blueprint

Once you’ve got a handle on all the key information, it’s time to draft a project outline. At this stage, you’re project plan should be a 10,000 ft view of:

  • Who’s going to be involved in the project, what role they’re going to play, and what their responsibilities are going to be
  • The budget for the project and how that’s going to be split
  • The rough stages the project will go through, the timelines associated with them, and the resources and people needed at each stage
  • What the sign-off process is going to be for deliverables (and the kind of things that will need approval)

You shouldn’t be aiming to create a detailed plan that covers for all possible contingencies here. In fact, one of the most effective things you can include in your project blueprint is a list of the assumptions you’ve made in it. If any are incorrect, stakeholders can correct you on those before you launch a plan that’s bound to fail.

Once you’ve drawn up a rough, top-level draft of your project plan, it’s time to take that to the key stakeholders to review and give feedback on. Then you can adjust and repeat. This will hold your project up – but also ensure you don’t launch a project plan that was doomed to failure from the off.

  1. Set a schedule

Once your project blueprint has been signed off, it’s time to formalize your plan and commit to a project schedule. 

This might be the most important step in the entire project planning process. Set deadlines that are just in reach of your team and they’re likely to stretch to meet them. Set deadlines that are too generous or – more likely – too ambitious and you won’t get the best from your team.

Three-point estimating is a simple way to get an accurate timeline for your project. Here’s how it works:

Ask a team member with direct experience with the kind of project you’re about to embark on to give you three estimates of how long each stage will take:

  1. The optimistic (o) estimate = the best-case outcome 
  2. The most likely (m) estimate = their best guess of what the outcome will be
  3. The pessimistic (p) estimate = the worst-case estimate

Then for an accurate estimate for each stage and the project as a whole, simply perform the sum: (o + 4m + p ) / 6

This will give you a much more realistic timeline to work to than taking the usual approach to project planning and just using the most likely estimate on its own. And the more accurate your deadlines, the more likely you are to get your team’s best work.

  1. Get buy-in

If stakeholders and your internal team don’t think your project plan is well-conceived, achievable, or worth pursuing, then it’s not going to get far off the ground. 

Which is why, no matter how well-thought-out your project plan is or how accurate your schedule is, you should pause at this point to make sure you have buy-in from across the business. 

If you meet resistance from either your higher-ups or your reports at this stage, be sure to clear the air about it before you start executing your project, or you could find your plan going out the window very fast. 

  1. Execute and adjust

Last but not least, it’s time to put your plan into action. 

All the work you’ve put into putting together a comprehensive project plan is going to ensure your project runs as smoothly as possible. But it’s impossible to account for everything. 

So, don’t treat your project plan as gospel. Instead, get your team’s input on how things are going along the way with Team Retrospectives. You can create and answer those to refine your project plan in real time. 

Assembly’s Task Management feed, Meetings Notes Flow, and Notebook will also all help you keep the project on track and your team on the same page. 

And we created the Project Feed Flow to make it easy to connect with crucial teammates, stay on top of the latest project developments, and make essential changes to your project plan.

Stick to this simple five-step plan – and use the tools at your disposal – and your projects are sure to go as smoothly as possible. Start for FREE today or book time to chat.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Assembly SOC 2 compliant?

Yes, at Assembly, security is a top priority. Each quarter, we have ongoing security work that is everyone’s responsibility. While we maintain a strong security posture, it was important for us to prove to our customers that we do everything we claim to do. This led us to pursue a SOC 2 Type II report that would provide evidence of our compliance with industry gold-standard security practice.

What's the ROI for employee recognition?

There is study after study showing that employee recognition leads to increased engagement. This in return creates an environment where employees are happier and more motivated which increase productivity and reduces voluntary turnover significantly. In order to filled critical roles, companies tend to spend nearly twice the value of an annual salary. Assembly is an investment in your employees that supports your bottom line.

Does Assembly offer longer-term contracts?

Yes, we will offer contracts for companies with longer-term agreements to help larger customers have more certainty around future costs.

The minimum agreement term is a 12-month subscription.

Does Assembly offer onboarding support?

We do and for FREE! Any new customer needing further support to get started with Assembly to ensure you're set up for success can request custom onboarding support. Improving your employee experience is about much more than just using our amazing software; it’s about transforming your business to create a workplace that people love. That’s much easier to do with the personal support and advice from our passionate people experts.

Is there a free version of Assembly?

Yes. We offer a completely free plan for up to 50 team members. This plan is intended for teams or organizations that are looking to get started with an employee engagement tool. Keep in mind, this plan is limited in features.

All customers can open an Assembly account for free and get started without a credit card. Then you can change plans as necessary.

How much do rewards cost?

At the time of redemption (when your employees exchange their points for a paid reward) you'll pay face value. If a reward is a $10 Amazon gift card, your cost will be $10. All paid rewards are billed for on a monthly basis.

The good news is that you don't have to pay for rewards upfront because we only charge you when points are redeemed, not when they're earned.

Does Assembly offer discounts?

We offer discounts or educational or charitable organizations. In order to secure a discount, you'll first need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

For all other organizations, we are willing to consider longer-term agreements in exchange for discounts. To set up annual plans or longer, you will need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

How do I cancel my plan if needed?

If you're on a month to month plan, you can go here and cancel anytime. If you're having concerns or need help setting up your account for success, you can always book a demo with a customer support specialist.

If you're on a longer-term custom plan, you'll need to reach out to your customer support specialist to cancel your account or email us at

What customizations are available?

Great question! You can customize your core values to match your organization's to boost and track alignment. You can change your currency from the 🏆 emoji (our default) to any emoji of your choice. You can swap our logo for your own. You can also set up company culture rewards such as, "Lunch with the CEO," "Buy a book on us," and so much more!

Who can give or receive recognition?

While we recommend a peer to peer set up where anyone in your organization can give or receive recognition, you can set up Assembly however you want. If you need to limit the people who can give or receive recognition, that's perfectly fine and can be done from your Admin, here.

What integrations are available?

Assembly connects to the tools your employees use every day to offer an easy, seamless experience with minimal change management.  

Assembly has integrations with HCM/HRIS systems like ADP, Google, Office 365, and Slack. We also integrate with communication tools like Slack and Teams so you and your employees can access Assembly wherever they work now.

What's your average adoption rate?

That depends on the company's permissions set up. That said, over 90% of the employees on Assembly's platform are recognized on a monthly basis. That means nearly every employee across all of our customers are receiving regular recognition from their peers, managers, or leadership. We're extremely proud of this.

Must rewards be set up to use Assembly?

They are not required. You can use Assembly without having rewards set up. However, we don't recommend it if you intend to have a high adoption and usage rate. You can always keep the costs down by offering internal culture rewards that are fulfilled by you internally.

Are points required to use Assembly?

No, you can remove allowances from anyone or everyone. It's up to you but we do recommend using points whether they're worth a real dollar value or not. Companies that use points have a much higher engagement rate even if those points don't exchange for real dollars.

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