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Creating a project plan – structure, example & timeline

Creating a project plan – structure, example & timeline
May 2023

No matter if you're planning an event, developing an app, or rocking a marketing campaign – teaming up for projects has become an essential part of our lives.

One of the magic ingredients for project success: conjuring up and bringing to life a project plan. ✨

In this post, you'll get the lowdown on the basics of crafting a project plan, along with a bunch of hands-on examples to help you whip that project plan into shape. Let's dive in and sprinkle some planning stardust! πŸš€

Project planning in awork with a detailed timeline
Project plans provide structure, timelines and clear responsibilities.

What is a project plan?

The project plan bundles all the plans, tasks, and timelines essential for the successful execution of a project. The most critical aspect of a project plan is a clear, understandable structure – especially for more complex endeavors. The project plan is created by the PM (Project Manager) at the start of the project and then consistently updated.

πŸ‘‰ This is one of the key responsibilities of project leadership and can be quite time-consuming, especially for larger projects.


What does a project plan look like? The Structure

[.toc-name]The project plan structure[.toc-name]

Let's dive into the structure of a project. A distinctive characteristic of the structure is that all elements are organized hierarchically, forming a sort of tree structure. The simple breakdown when building a project: Projects consist of sub-projects, which in turn contain work packages with individual sub-tasks.

Work Breakdown Structure Plan with different project phases and workpackages
The simplest way to structure project work is the "Work breakdown structure" (WBS).

The technical term for this simplest way of structuring project work is the "Work Breakdown Structure" or WBS. In this approach, projects are broken down into sub-projects, which in turn include work packages with individual sub-tasks. This is often the initial step in project planning and is initially independent of time, budgets, etc.

Consider the following questions:

  • What project phases exist?
  • Which task packages are included in each project phase?
  • Which tasks are part of the different packages?
  • Into what sub-tasks are these tasks divided?

This way, you break down your project into smaller and smaller parts, allowing you to know precisely what needs to be done when and in what order.

WBS Planning in awork's tasklists
In Β awork, you can easily represent the WBS structure using lists, tasks, subtasks, and checklists. This gives you a perfect overview of your projects and their structure.

Project > Task Lists > Tasks > Subtasks > Checklists

[.b-button-primary] Discover our WBS template [.b-button-primary]

[.b-important-block]Write down all your ideas in the form of a task list or mind map. Then bring order to the chaos by dividing the tasks into different lists and/or arranging them on a timeline (Gantt chart), for example.[.b-important-block]

[$tag]πŸ’‘ Tip 1[$tag]

[.b-important-block] Structure the project using milestones and dependencies. These provide important insights into key milestones and show which tasks are influenced by the completion of other tasks.[.b-important-block]

[$tag]πŸ’‘ Tip 2[$tag]

Step by step to the project plan

[.toc-name]6 planning steps[.toc-name]

To prepare a project plan, we can use the classic W questions, which you may already know from project management, as a guide. If you follow these step-by-step, nothing will stand in the way of successfully setting up a project! 🀩

The 6 questions of project management: Where? Why? What? Who? When? How much?

1. Where are we in the project? – the initial situation

The goal of this question is to clarify the initial situation and bring all participants up to the same page.

Consider the following:

  • What's the current situation?
  • How did we get here?
  • What characterizes the problem we aim to solve?

These considerations come right before the actual project definition, creating context to develop it more quickly and effectively. It's also helpful to determine whether similar projects were planned and executed in the past. If so, you might think about adopting certain processes or templates.

[.b-important-block] You don't always have to reinvent the wheel! Before creating a project plan, check if you can reuse existing elements. In awork, you simply create templates from created projects, which you can call up and refill again and again.[.b-important-block]

[$tag]πŸ’‘ Tip[$tag]

2. Why is this project being undertaken?

In project management lingo, the answer to this question is often referred to as the "success outlook". In essence: What will improve when the project is successfully completed? This should not be confused with the planned project goal or outcome, which specifies what will actually be produced. This is covered in the next step.

Defining the "why" of a project is relevant because projects are more successful when their benefits are clearly communicated. This also motivates team members during challenging project phases. So, it's crucial to precisely understand why you want to carry out this project. πŸ™

Consider the following:

  • What's the project's vision?
  • What's the long-term benefit of implementing the project?
  • What's the value of our project results?

3. What do we aim to achieve in this project?

Once you've established the "why" of project execution, it's time to focus on the project goal. This should accurately and preferably measurably describe what should be produced within the scope of the project.

There are various methods for defining goals. However, especially for beginners, less is often more. A project goal can simply be the tangible outcome. 🎯

Consider the following:

  • What do we want to produce in this project?
  • What are we doing in this project?
  • What are the result objects?

Here's a simple example of a project goal and its success outlook (the preceding point):

  • Project: Website Relaunch
  • Project Goal: The finished website with the following 10 subpages is live.
  • Success Outlook: Improved conversion rate in marketing and sales.

If you already have more experience in project management, consider using the S.M.A.R.T. principle for goal-setting. Formulate your goal as follows:

  • Specific: Focus on a specific area that you aim to achieve with this goal.
  • Measurable: Use quantitative and qualitative indicators to measure goal achievement.
  • Attractive: How can you motivate your team with this project goal? What added value does the desired outcome bring?
  • Realistic: Set ambitious goals but remain realistic.
  • Timely: Give your team a realistic deadline and plan enough buffer to address potential delays.

[.b-important-block] Communicate project goals across the team. This not only avoids conflicts and helps manage difficulties better but also fosters the necessary focus for all project participants. [.b-important-block]

[$tag]πŸ’‘ Tip[$tag]

4. Who is involved in this project?

In this step, it's important to consider not only your own team members but also external stakeholders, if applicable. All participants together form the "project cosmos". πŸͺ

Some project roles are present in every project, whether it's a client project or internal team effort. Sometimes, several of these roles are carried out by the same person – the larger the project, the more likely these roles will be handled by separate individuals:

  • Sponsors are the creators of the project. Their responsibility is to define a clear project goal and approve the final project results.
  • Contractors align with sponsors on the project's content and framework data. They serve as the team's point of contact and assist in resolving questions.
  • Project management takes care of the operational project leadership, including task and time planning, maintaining the project plan in a narrow sense, and risk management.
  • The team ultimately handles the substantive tasks of the project.
Team roles in a project cosmos
These project roles exist in every project.

In every project, it's crucial to define exactly how collaboration among the participants will take place. Prior discussions should cover the intended workflows and communication methods, as well as the tools to be used for these purposes.

Consider the following questions:

  • Do we need regular meetings?
  • Which tools do we use for organization, communication, and documentation?
  • What's the workflow for feedback and decision-making?
  • What aspects of collaboration are particularly important to us?

[.b-related-article]The best project management software: You should know these 7 tools[.b-related-article]

5. By when should the project goal be achieved?

The project's deadline – the date by which the project goal should be accomplished – is set by the client. This could either be an external party or someone from the team if it's an internal project. Regardless of whether you're collaborating with internal or external clients, make sure to allocate enough buffer time for possible delays.

6. How much can the project cost?

Last but certainly not least: Calculate how much the planned project resources can cost. This includes both internal resources, such as personnel costs, and budget for external resources like agencies, tools, freelancers, or material expenses. If you have a client for the project, they often provide the project's cost limits. This informs your internal cost planning. πŸ’Έ

Consider the following questions:

  • What budget items are present in the project?
  • How should the budget be distributed?
  • What are the total costs resulting from this?
  • Optional: Does the budget fall within the predetermined range?
Strategic PM triangle: time, cost, quality
The strategic PM triangle can help determine time, cost and quality.

Throughout the project, it's essential to continuously check whether you're still within the budget framework and time allocation. Similarly, at the project's conclusion, it's vital to perform a comparison to determine whether you were under or over budget. From the outcomes, you can then learn for future projects to enhance your ability to estimate costs more accurately. This applies not only to expenses but also to planned versus actual time investments.

How to create a project plan: an example

[.toc-name]Project plan example[.toc-name]

We can illustrate the structure of a project plan using the following project plan example. Imagine you're tasked with redesigning a company website for a client. πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»

Creating a project plan – example:

  • For the project "Website Redesign," there are sub-projects such as "Website Design," "Website Content," and "Technical Implementation."
  • Under the sub-project "Website Design," you have work packages like "Corporate Branding," "Graphics," and "Animations."
  • The work package "Graphics" includes tasks such as "Design Mockups" and "Optimize Graphics."

[.b-important-block] In awork, you can assign planned effort to each task. During task execution, your team can track time spent, allowing you to compare planned vs. actual time used. This is especially useful for estimating future time requirements more accurately. [.b-important-block]

[$tag]πŸ’‘ Tip[$tag]

The most frequently awork project templates

Once you've created a planning that suits you, you can also save it as a project template or task template – for example, using the templates in awork. These will make kicking off future projects a breeze!

[.b-button-primary] Template annual planning [.b-button-primary] [.b-button-primary] Template campaign planning [.b-button-primary]

[.b-button-primary] Template team meeting [.b-button-primary] [.b-button-primary] Template WBS [.b-button-primary]


Creating a project timeline via gantt chart, including milestones

[.toc-name]Timeline & milestones[.toc-name]

Let's stick with the website redesign project example. What's the current state of your project plan?

  1. So far, you've only outlined the structure of the existing project planning elements, and now you need to add a time dimension. Setting deadlines will help ensure you complete your project on time.
  2. How do we achieve this? By using a Gantt chart to visualize the project timeline. The chart displays the duration of each work package as bars. These bars are placed on a horizontal timeline, defining the start and end of each task.
  3. To meet deadlines, it's crucial that your team's necessary resources are available. They should be involved in the process as early and transparently as possible. Distribute work packages and tasks among the team members. An important aspect here is to estimate task durations as accurately as possible.

πŸ€“ The major advantage of the Gantt chart: It's much more effective at visualizing tasks that span a long period, dependencies, and milestones compared to the traditional list or calendar format.

Example of the awork timeline with dependencies
With the awork timeline your team is always informed about upcoming deadlines. You can keep track of important milestones and dependencies.

Milestones are especially useful for time management and progress tracking. They serve as fixed dates in the project plan by which specific tasks must be completed. This aids in monitoring the project's progress and ensuring it stays on course. Moreover, reaching a milestone, which represents a measurable interim outcome, can be highly motivating for the team. πŸŽ‰

Dependencies indicate which tasks need to be completed before others and which tasks might only begin after certain other tasks have been finished. Visualizing dependencies in the project plan helps provide a better understanding of how delays or changes can impact other parts of the project.

In the Gantt chart, thanks to this visual planning, you can also allocate responsibilities. It's immediately evident who has how many tasks in each project phase. This also helps in identifying bottlenecks and potential project risks before they materialize.

[.b-important-block] In awork, you can additionally see your team members' cross-project capacity. The workload overview displays overbookings or idle periods instantly, allowing you to adjust your plans accordingly.[.b-important-block]

[$tag]πŸ’‘ Tip[$tag]

[.b-button-primary] Discover capacity planning [.b-button-primary]

Creating a project plan in awork

[.toc-name]Project plan in awork[.toc-name]

Having familiarized yourself with creating and structuring a project plan, let's now put this knowledge into practice using the project management tool awork. Here's how you can create your own project plan step by step:

Example of awork task lists with different status
Fill your lists with tasks, subtasks and checklists. Set their status and add editors.


  1. Hierarchical input of project plan contents: In your awork project, begin by creating a list for each sub-project. Then add the relevant tasks and subtasks, and you can equip them with checklists if needed.
  1. Task information: Add all possible information for each individual task and subtask: timings, responsibilities, priority markers, planned effort, descriptions, checklists – the more, the better. πŸ˜‰
  1. Visual Scheduling of your Project: Switch from the list view to the timeline view. This displays all the tasks in your project over time – like a Gantt chart, but even better. Tasks for which you've already set start and end dates will be automatically displayed in the timeline. Tasks without scheduling can be simply dragged and dropped from the list on the right side of the screen to the appropriate position.
  1. Assigning responsibilities: The timeline view is also perfect for assigning your team to their respective tasks. To ensure that nobody is overbooked, take a look at the workload overview in the planner.
  1. Dependencies and milestones: Define them to highlight priorities and important milestones. Dependencies clarify which tasks your team should address first.

[.b-important-block] The project plan is all set. But then spontaneous requests come in that disrupt everything? Simply assign them to team members who have some available time in their schedules. You can quickly identify those available slots using the awork planner.[.b-important-block]

[$tag]πŸ’ͺ Pro Tip [$tag]

With the awork planer you have the full overview of your team's capacities - for new projects and spontaneous requests.


Creating a project plan doesn't have to be complicated. By focusing on the following three points when building a project, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble and rock your projects with well-structured plans!

  1. Take your time to address the 6 questions (Where? Why? What? Who? By when? How much?).
  2. Input all project elements in an organized and complete manner – preferably in a project management tool like awork. Integrate a timeline and define milestones.
  3. Ensure the plan stays up-to-date as work progresses.

Steer clear of the old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet approach. Updating information there is not fun, error-prone, and takes up unnecessary time. πŸ™…

The smart alternative: A project management software like awork provides intelligent features that support you in creating your project plan. And with awork, you're not just managing projects; we firmly believe that the future of work is joyful, and we're convinced that modern software is the foundation for that.

[.b-button-primary] Curious? Try awork for free! [.b-button-primary]


Frequently Asked: Why is a project plan beneficial?

A project plan consolidates all the plans and tasks needed to execute your project. It helps you simplify the complexity of your endeavor, saving you a lot of time in project management. πŸ’ͺ

A project plan is an essential tool for successful project execution. It aids in structuring and organizing your project, efficient time and resource management, communication with all stakeholders, and identifying and addressing risks. If you're interested in even more project planning magic, take a look in our project planning hub and discover use cases, articles and practical templates.

About the author
Talent Acquisition Lead
The bear-strong Panda update is here, bringing one of the most frequently requested features to life: a new task level, or more precisely, real subtasks.

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