Planning your first project with Tom’s Planner
With Tom’s Planner, you have found a great tool for creating project plans easily. But how do you actually plan a project? How do you know what tasks to include and how long they are going to take? If you’ve never planned a project before and need some quick help, this article is right for you. We’ll walk you through the entire process of planning a project.Breaking your project down into manageable parts
For the first step, all you need is a paper sheet or a blank spreadsheet. You have to break down the big, abstract project goal into smaller chunks. These are the activities your team needs to complete to reach the project goal. Begin with listing down those tasks. Let’s say you’re in charge of building a school. You could break down the project into four general phases:
- Site selection
- Interior design, furniture, and equipment
- Building design
- Interior layout
- Create a list of 3 possible sites
- Soil Evaluation
- Electrical wiring
- Heating, ventilation, AC
Also, Tom’s Planner has a template section where you can find ready-to-use templates for common project types. In case you’re in charge of a large and complex project, you might want to create a work breakdown structure (WBS) first.
A WBS is a visual, hierarchical model that shows all the parts a project has to deliver or take care of. Tacticalprojectmanager.com has a great article on how to create work breakdown structures in case you want to learn more about it. Estimate task effort and duration With your list of tasks ready, you now need to estimate the required effort for each activity. For example, you want to know how many weeks the builder would take to create the foundation, build the framing, and the walls. With this information, you can create a working time schedule for your project.
Estimating effort is one of the main challenges in project management. You will never be 100% accurate, but you should get as close as possible. Here are three ways to get good estimations:
- Consult experts: your subject matter experts will know best how long they need for their work.
- Look for reference projects: Talk to people who have done similar projects and ask them how much time they needed for each step.
- Do the math: For tasks comprising several blocks, it may be helpful to make estimations on a sub-task level and then sum up to get the total effort: If it takes a builder 15 minutes to finish one square foot of the flooring, then for the entire 400 square foot floor it will take him 15 minutes x 400 = 6000 minutes = 10 hours to floor the entire room.
The challenging part of projects is that every task is linked to other work. If one task gets delayed, subsequent tasks will face a delay as well. In your attempt to understand what tasks need to be performed, you should also get a feel for the dependencies. Did you see any dependencies in our sample project? Well, you obviously can’t set up any walls before the foundation is ready. So the foundation has to be before any other construction work. Also, the electrical setup must come before the installation of air conditioning and heating systems. Other activities can be scheduled in parallel. For example, the design work by the architect can be done at the same time when civil engineers inspect potential sites and carry out soil tests.
Backward and forward scheduling: which way is best for you?
One general point you need to decide upon is whether you want to plan your project backward or forward. Backward scheduling means the end date is given, and you arrange one activity next to another in backward order. Forward scheduling means you start at some start date, and you find out how long the project will take.
Add sufficient buffer
Planning a project is easy. Execution is the hard part, specifically keeping tasks on schedule. Very often, things don’t turn out the way they were planned. Common reasons are:
- Work takes longer than expected
- Technical issues pop up
- Team members get sick
- New requirements come up (taking up extra time to implement)
Creating the project plan with Tom’s Planner
Now it’s time to create the actual Gantt chart for our project. Take your list of project activities and open a new sheet in Tom’s Planner.
Step 1: Prepare your timeline
First, we’ll enable the weekly view because we’ll be scheduling work on a per-week basis instead of daily. This has the advantage that we don’t have to modify our plan if tasks get shifted from one day to another.
Step 2: Enter the project phases
Next, let’s enter the project phases. All you have to do is click on the orange bars and enter the phase name. The result should look like this:
Step 3: Enter the project activities
The following step is to enter the project activities, which have to be assigned to the right phase. Here’s what you should see:
Step 4: Draw the activity bars
So far, we haven’t visualized the project yet. That is what we’ll do now. For each activity, we will draw a bar that represents the activity's duration. Before you draw the bars, you have to scroll the time view to the right period. In our example, we’ll just do forward planning, which means we start from today’s date and schedule activities one after another. This is what our project plan now looks like:
We have added buffer between some of the activitiesStep 5: Give your plan the final touch
You might want to check out these two features to make your schedule perfect. Add milestones Milestones are useful to highlight major accomplishments in your project. With Tom’s Planner, you can enter milestones either by adding a colored (e.g., red) time block or by adding an icon from the library:
Adding a milestone as a time block:
Adding a milestone as an icon:
This way both activities will be connected with each other, and you can move them forward or backward while maintaining the desired sequence.
Now you have created your first project schedule. Congratulations!
Finally, we want to share a few more tips on project scheduling.
- Availability of resources: This is obvious. You can’t schedule work on a day or week when your team member in charge is on holiday or busy with other work. The same goes for resources like machines or tools that may not be available every day.
- Bank holidays: As much as we enjoy bank holidays, they can complicate project planning. An activity that would normally be completed in 5 work days may have to be spread across two weeks just because of a bank holiday in between.
- Events on the corporate calendar: Every company has its own calendar with company-specific events. These can be trade shows, business forecasting workshops but also recurring activities like monthly closing in accounting. Some of your activities may conflict with these events, so it’s better to check your company’s calendar and plan your activities around company-specific events.
Click on invite others:
Next, enter the email addresses of the team members you want the share the plan with. Using read-only mode is the right option when you don’t want anyone else to carry out modifications:
Click on send invitation, and your colleagues will receive a link via email where they can access the project plan from.
We hope this tutorial has been helpful for you and wish you much success with your project! Thank you for using Tom’s Planner.
This article is written by Adrian Neumeyer from tacticalprojectmanager.com. If you have some spare time take a look at the rest of his blog. It’s good. He has hands-on advice and is down to earth, just like Tom’s Planner.