What to include in your project plan

 |  In: Project management

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario. A project lands in the studio in a flurry of high-priority emails. It’s briefed in and the team leap into action. Six weeks later, it’s still hanging around, seemingly no closer to sign off, and everyone is fed up. Something’s gone wrong – and whatever it is, it could probably have been avoided with a proper project plan.

We get it. Things move fast in agency land and it’s easy for things to get missed when the deadline is tight or the team’s ready and raring to go. But we don’t need to tell you that embarking on a new project without a clear plan can be a big waste of time and effort.

So what does good agency project planning look like? Here are the seven fundamentals of creative agency project planning, from detailing the scope of work to setting realistic timeframes.

How to write a creative project plan in 7 steps

1. Outline the purpose and goals

This is what’s commonly known as the discovery phase in agency project management – it’s all about understanding what you're trying to achieve and how you're going to achieve it.

And remember that while it’s the client’s job to create the brief, you should still draw on your own experience and expertise to help make the brief as strong as possible. Think about being a strategic advisor, rather than a supplier.

Check out the Agency Works webinar: Get better briefing

2. List the deliverables

Next you want to list your deliverables – the outputs your team will deliver as part of the project. Use specific, measurable terms so that you and your client have a shared understanding of what a successful outcome looks like. This is all about managing client expectations and making sure there’s no room for misinterpretation.

To avoid tricky conversations, not to mention the dreaded scope creep, be upfront about what’s included in the budget and what isn’t, as well as what’s achievable in the timeframe. You should also be really clear about the difference between a change and an amend – a common issue in creative agencies. An amend may involve minor adjustments, but a change can affect thought process, timelines and budget. Establish and document a process for dealing with both.

3. Break them down into tasks and estimate timings

Once you’ve got a clear understanding of those phases, you can break them down into tasks and activities and then plan how many hours each one will take.

Your timings need to be realistic and achievable, so allow plenty of creative thinking time, take the complexity of each task into account and add in some contingency for delays, unforeseen issues or changes to project scope. Remember to allow time for both internal reviews by client directors and your client teams.

How to improve your agency's estimating and job costing

With Synergist, you can set up a project from scratch, copy a previous job or use a predefined job template if you want consistent project estimating and planning across your teams.

Check out the Agency Works webinar: The 'good' behind great estimating

4. Define dependencies and risks

Next, think about what's needed to move each task forward. Do they depend on a previous task being done? Maybe some information from a client, or maybe a review? And the risks – what could stop it from progressing? If things don’t go according to plan, or the client isn’t happy with part of the work, will you have some extra time and budget as a buffer?

Creative projects involve a lot of variables and moving parts, so good creative project management means being one step ahead.

5. Plan a (realistic) timeline

This is one of the fundamentals of creative agency project management. Overcommitting is bad news for everyone – it puts pressure on your team, will impact the quality of the work and, eventually, undermine your credibility as an agency.

When planning your timeline, don’t start with a deadline and retrofit the timings to it. Instead, work from your start date then add in each phase and task to arrive at a realistic end date. If the client wants it sooner, share your timeline with them and make it clear they’ll need to reduce their review time or the deliverables to make it work.

6. Allocate resources

Before you share your timeline with your client, make sure you have right people available at the right time. Book their time in and avoid delays by checking for and factoring in any upcoming holidays or out-of-office days.

Synergist allows you to make tentative or draft bookings for both opportunities and confirmed jobs in the resource schedule, so you can provisionally book the time and avoid resourcing issues later down the line.

7. Get sign off

Finally, we’d always recommend sharing your creative project plan with the client, who can then circulate it among their shareholders for sign off. Just as everyone needs to be in clear agreement on the project brief, it makes sense to share your methodology for delivering the work. Being this open right from the beginning will help you avoid misunderstandings later on, as well as encourage better communication and collaboration throughout the project.

One final piece of advice to leave you with: plan to plan. Meaning, make sure you allow yourself the time to plan your project properly. Only then can you kick off your project with clear objectives, defined timelines and milestones and all resources and approval plans in place.