What is a Project Management Plan? An In-Depth Analysis.

What is a Project Management Plan?

Before we get into more detail about what the plan is, it’s important to know where it originated from. The Project Management Institute (PMI) created and updates a guide for project managers. It helps to standardize the terminology and processes in regard to project management. This document is referred to as the Project Management Body of Knowledge – or the PMBOK Guide. 

According to the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK Guide, a Project Management Plan is, “The document that describes how the project will be executed, monitored and closed.”

Basically, a project management plan (also referred to as a project plan) is an outline, which defines and describes how a project will be managed from start to finish.  Another way to think of it is as a formal blueprint for executing the project. It defines each element and how it will be “constructed.” 

Depending on the size, a project management plan could end up being massive for large, complex projects. That’s why the plan is often broken down into subsidiary management plans, each with a specific purpose. These could be created to manage a variety of areas such as scope, schedule, and costs. 

They may be included within the project management plan, or they may be stand-alone documents that are included as appendixes.  Whether or not to separate the documents will depend on the size of the project and how much detail is included in the smaller plans. 

The project management plan, and its subsidiary plans are formal documents, which must be approved by all key stakeholders prior to starting the project.  Whether they are embedded in the plan or appear as an appendix, it will be understood that subsidiary plans are implicitly included when we refer to the project management plan or project plan.  

It is important to note that the project management plan cannot be changed without going through the formal change control process defined in the plan.

What Is the Difference Between a Project Plan and a Project Management Plan?

There is no difference, as these two terms are often used interchangeably.  The PMBOK Guide does not distinguish a project plan from a project management plan.  So, if you’re managing your projects according to PMI’s PMBOK Guide there is no difference.  Rather, a project plan is an informal shortening of the name of the project management plan for ease of speaking and writing.

Wikipedia demonstrates that both are indeed the same as they have merged the project management plan and project plan into one page.  They redirect the “Project management plan” to the “Project plan” page as a merging of the two terms into a single entry.

What is the Main Purpose of a Project Management Plan?

The main purpose of the project management plan is to serve as a guide for the trajectory of the project.  It includes how all aspects of a project will be managed, including important things such as risk, cost, schedule, and scope.  

Having a formal document approved by the project sponsor, allows the project manager to proceed with the project knowing everyone will be on the same page when it comes to expectations and processes.  The project plan will serve as a reference for everyone involved in the project, from team members to stakeholders.

What’s Included in a Project Management Plan?

The project plan should include an introductionproject management approachscope of workmilestonesschedule baselinework breakdown structure, along with a series of subsidiary management plans

The subsidiary management plans are considered a part of the larger plan, even if they’re stand-alone documents.  Below is a detailed list of what’s included in a project management plan:

  1. Introduction. This section acts as an executive summary by providing an overview of the project, including its purpose, deliverables, and benefits. Details will be covered in subsequent sections. (Think of this as the view from 10,000 feet.)

  2. Project Management Approach. This is the overall outline for how the project will be managed. In general terms, identify the roles of the various teams and their authority. If there a specific individual that must give authorization for important items such as additional funding, name them. State which elements of the organization are providing resources for the project and any limitations that are known. 

  3. Project Scope. You should start by looking at the scope statement from the project charter. However, it’s important to use a more detail. You not only want to dictate what work will be done, but also, what work is not covered under the scope of work. By being very clear about what is—and is not—included in the project, you will help avoid any confusion down the line.

  4. Milestone List. Create a list with the projected milestones and their completion dates. You’ll also want to include an introductory paragraph that provides a brief highlight of the most important milestones and the process for dealing with a change of delivery dates.

  5. Schedule Baseline and Work Breakdown Structure. This section covers the work breakdown structure (WBS), the WBS dictionary and scheduling. The WBS outlines the work packages that will be completed, and the WBS dictionary refers to their description. The schedule baseline provides the timing and framework for when tasks will be completed.

    Pay particular attention to the Work Breakdown Structure Template for this one. The WBS and the schedule can be created in Microsoft Project and then exported from the MS Project file.

  6. Change Management Plan. This is where you describe the process for any changes that may need to be made. Changes should not be made lightly. The impacts should be clearly stated when seeking approval.

    Many companies have change control boards (CCBs), which review proposed changes and give a ruling. This standardizes the process so everyone “knows the drill” and it can be used for most projects if change is necessary.  

    If your project is complex, you may need a more detailed plan. If so, you may find our Change Management Plan Template helpful. 

  7. Communications Management Plan. How will you communicate schedule delays? Change in resources? Scope of work? Who will be responsible for communicating needs? How will information be communicated? Who will receive the messages and make sure you get answers? If you develop a good communication plan, you can often avoid many common project management problems.

    A large or complex project may need the communications management plan to be spelled out in great detail. As such, it should be a separate entity or a part of the appendix. In that case, use our Communications Management Plan Template to create yours.

  8. Cost Management Plan. Adhering to a budget is critical for every project. This part of the plan details the project costs and how they will be measured, reported, and controlled. It will identify who is responsible for managing costs and who can authorize changes to the budget. It also details how reports will be formulated, how often, and to whom they will be given.

    If your plan requires detailed instructions and guidance, consider using our Cost Management Plan Template.

  9. Procurement Management Plan. The steps involved in procurement for the project should be clearly defined. The project manager will work with key players and the purchasing (contracts) department to ensure that this part of the process runs smoothly from start to finish.

    For large projects or those with complex procurement requirements, this part of the plan can be a stand-alone piece. Use the Procurement Management Plan Template to create a detailed document.

  10. Scope Management Plan. This segment of the plan is very important as it outlines what work is included in this project. If not clearly defined, it can result in problems such as mission creep, delays, unnecessary work, and budget overruns. It will be important to include who is responsible for scope management. How is it defined, measured, verified, process for change, and who accepts the final deliverable?

    The Scope Management Plan Template can be used to create an appendix for the greater management plan.

  11. Schedule Management Plan. Detailed scheduling is important to ensure that the project goals are met and that the project finishes on time. It also facilitates the allocation of resources and “keeps the trains running on time.” This section should talk about the tool used for creating and maintaining the schedule, who is responsible for it, as well as listing important events and milestones.

    If your project involves a formalized scheduling style or is large in scope, the Schedule Management Plan Template may be just what you need.

  12. Quality Management Plan. This section details how you will ensure that the deliverables meet the established standard for quality. Who will be responsible for quality control, quality assurance and quality monitoring?

    If you have a large or complex project, use our Quality Management Plan Template to create a separate document.

  13. Risk Management Plan. This segment talks about how you will identify and manage risks that might affect the project. You will only need a paragraph or two to summarize your approach.

    If you have numerous items to cover, consider using our Risk Management Plan Template.

  14. Risk Register. This is another piece you can use in regard to risk management. Risk Register.

  15. Staffing Management Plan. This is where you describe your plans for staffing the project. List the key staff positions and where in the organization they will come from. Also identify which organizational structure (matrix or projectized) you will use. 

  16. Resource Calendar. The resource calendar documents the key resources (human) that you will need for the duration of the project. When will you need them and for how long each month. For instance, you may need certain staff for two weeks out of the month for six months. The calendar will require the approval of the project sponsor and the functional managers (whose staff is affected) before the project begins.

  17. Cost Baseline. This section reflects the baseline cost for the project. It provides the basis for tracking, reporting, and managing the costs.

  18. Quality Baseline. This segment shows the quality baseline for the project. It clearly defines the quality expectations that results can be measured against.

Depending on the size and complexity of the project, your project plan may not include everything on this list.  

What Is a Subsidiary Management Plan?

Now we’re going to take a closer look at those subsidiary management plans. As mentioned before, they are detailed documents that typically focus on one topic at a time. They can be integrated into the overall plan or appear as a separate document in the appendix.

As a project manager, you will need to consider the size and scope of each subsidiary management plan based on the risk associated with that specific area. For example, if cost management is vital to the success of the project, the cost management plan will likely be larger and more complex.  Therefore, it should be included as a separate appendix to the project plan. 

However, if there is minimal cost risk associated with the project, the cost management plan will be less detailed and can be included as a section within the main project plan.

Subsidiary management plans are a critical part of the project management plan. They ensure that all aspects of a project are effectively managed. Writing detailed subsidiary management plans helps to ensure that a successful project can be completed on time, on budget, and within scope.

What Documents are Included in a Project Management Plan?

In addition to the plans previously discussed, the project plan will include a number of other documents. Below is a list of common documents often included in a project plan and a link to their corresponding template.

Keep in mind, each project is unique, and you may not need to use all of these. 

  • Project charter. The project charter outlines the scope, objectives, and stakeholders of the project, and is typically created at the beginning of the project planning process.
  • Work breakdown structure (WBS).The work breakdown structure fragments the project into smaller, more manageable components (called work packages) and outlines the dependencies between them. It is often used to help plan the project schedule and allocate resources.
  • Risk Register. This document is configured like a chart to make it easy to list the identified risks associated with the project and the strategies to be used for mitigation of the risks. It is typically updated and reviewed throughout the project.
  • Lessons learned document. This document outlines what went well and what did not during the course of the project. The formal report is created at the end, but “lessons learned” should be captured throughout the lifecycle of the project. The final document should be shared with other managers dealing with similar projects. 
  • Schedule. This document outlines the project timeline, including the start and end dates, major milestones, and any dependencies or constraints that may impact the schedule. It may be presented in the form of a Gantt chart or other visual representation.
  • Training plan. This template outlines the developmental needs of the project team. It includes information such as who will provide training, where, and when. It may also include methods and materials that will be used.  
  • Configuration management planThis plan describes how changes to the project will be handled and who is on the configuration management team, as well as who has the authority to sign off on solutions. The document may also include information about the configuration management tools and techniques to be used.
  • Status reportThis report is prepared for high level management. It does not have to contain a great deal of granular detail, rather, it is an overview. Is the project on time? Is it on budget? That sort of thing. However, be sure to highlight any challenges they should be made aware of. 
  • Issue log. This document records issues that arise during the lifecycle of the project. It communicates the issues to the team and should be reviewed regularly to ensure the issues are being resolved in a timely manner.
  • Test plan. This document outlines the testing strategies and procedures that will be used to ensure that the project’s deliverables meet their specified requirements.
  • System Design Document. This document is required for every project. It is a high-level description of why this document has been created. It should include detailed descriptions of the architecture and system components. 
  • Security Policy. This document explains the type and level of security measures that will be used to protect the project’s informational technology resources. 
  • Scope StatementThis document defines the scope of the project including the deliverables so that team members and stakeholders will all be on the same page. It also clarifies any exclusions or limitations of the project.
  • Quality ChecklistThis document provides a checklist to help ensure the quality of the project. It is a way to evaluate the quality of the project’s deliverables.
  • Performance Report. It is the job of the project manager to keep stakeholders briefed about the progress of the project. It may cover topics such as work accomplished so far, current challenges and issues that have been resolved.  
  • Milestone List. This document outlines the major milestones and key events that will occur during the project. It is a good way to determine if your project is on schedule. And it is a useful way to reflect progress for team members and stakeholders.
  • Quality Metrics. This document defines the specific metrics that will be used to measure the quality of the work performed within the project.
  • IT Charging Policy. This document specifies how charges within the project will be calculated. 
  • Issues Identification and Tracking DocumentThis document allows the manager and team members to capture any issues that may come up during the project. The manager can then assign staff to deal with the issues and track the progress to resolution.
  • Change Request Form. Changes take place during the course of every project. Using a standard form for each change helps to make the process more uniform and manageable. 
  • Change log. This document is used by the project team to log and track changes made to the project, including the date, description, and impact of each change. This log should be updated as new changes are added.
  • Business Process DocumentThis document outlines the business processes and procedures that will be used to support the project.
  • Basis of Estimate.  Estimating cost is an important component of any project. Therefore, the more detail the better, as well as any known constraints which apply to costs.  
  • Assumption log. The project and team manager use this document to list and track the assumptions made about the project. This includes any risks or uncertainties. It is used to supplement the risk register but should never be used in place of it.
  • Assessment documentThis document captures all aspects of an assessment of a project. It helps to outline the results of an assessment or evaluation of a project, including any recommendations or suggestions for improvement.
  • Activity list. This is an itemized list to plan each activity of your project for better results. Use short descriptions for each item and include who is assigned to it. Things run more smoothly when everyone knows what they are responsible for.
  • IT strategy. This document outlines the overall IT strategy for the project, including the technologies and approaches that will be used to support the project.
  • Statement of work (SOW). This document sets the boundaries for the work to be done during the project—what is covered and what is not. It also includes the resources, budget, and timeline to be used. 
  • Request for proposal (RFP). This document is used when an organization needs to solicit proposals from vendors or contractors outside the company. Each RFP is unique and should include details such as bidder qualification requirements, requirements and expectations for the project, timelines, and guidelines. 

What is a Project Management Plan Format?

A project plan format is a standard way of preparing the essential documents for a project plan, and the easiest way to do that is by using a template. Typically, a project plan template includes basic elements such as a cover page, table of contents, sections, and appendixes. Additionally, it may include items such as spreadsheets, schedules, and charts.

How to Write a Project Management Plan

It is the responsibility of the project manager to create the plan. On small projects, you may write the entire plan yourself, but on most projects, your team will help to complete this task. 

We’ve already discussed the elements found in a project plan. You know the information you need to include—and there’s a lot—so, how do you get started?

The first step is to gather all the relevant documents and materials related to the project. This includes the project charter, as well as any business case or feasibility studies that have been performed to determine the viability of the project. 

You want to have a clear understanding of the project’s scope and project objectives. It’s also important to be aware of any constraints or limitations. Gathering all the necessary documents and materials will be important in getting off to a good start.

The next step in developing your project management plan is to use a template. Using a template will save you a lot of time. You won’t have to think about what comes next at each step of the way; you will simply follow the template’s lead. This also helps to ensure you leave no stone unturned. 

Project Management Docs has a complete set of templates, including templates for subsidiary plans, free for download

Start Writing Your Project Plan

Now that you’ve downloaded your templates, you can start working on the detailed project plan itself.  Start by creating a draft version of the project management plan and all the subsidiary management plans.  This gets the plan to about 50% completion and helps you to identify what areas you need to work on as you progress through the writing of the document.

The next step is to work on the project schedule and the work breakdown structure (WBS).  These two sections form the core of your project plan. Most of the remaining parts of your plan will be built around this core. 

Your attention should next go to the risk management plan.  Risk management is an important aspect of project management, so you should spend sufficient time developing this.

Now, most of the core components of the project management plan are completed. It’s time to go back to the beginning and finalize all the sections.

Have the project team review the project management plan before presenting it to the stakeholders.  

The final step in this process is acceptance by the project sponsor. The sponsor must review and approve the plan before you can begin work on the project.

Sample Project Management Plan

Sometimes it can be confusing as to exactly how to handle certain topics. How do you begin to put some of these operations into words? Project Management Docs understands this; our project managers have been there and have felt your pain.  

Having a sample of writing in each section to use as a guide and for clarification can be incredibly helpful in getting started. It will jumpstart the process for you. 

Simply download our free project management plan template. Read through the sample material in each section and edit it to fit the needs of your project.  This is such an easy way to create a project management plan—it’s almost as if you have someone else writing it for you.

Project Plans Made Easier

Project Management Docs has a complete line of project plan templates, including templates for supplemental and supporting documents. Rest assured you are in good hands using our templates. All of them are written by PMP-certified project managers with years of hands-on project management experience. And it’s all just a download away!