A well-run project is all about planning, planning, planning. Here are 10 tips to refine your project planning process.

10 Tips to Refine Your Project Planning Process

If you’re building a business with plans to grow and scale, projects are bound to play a big role in your work. Understanding what makes a project planning process succeed and fail is a huge part of mastering the skill.

While it would be easy for me to just focus on project planning tips, if you want to ensure a successful project, it’s important to dig into some other factors that impact a project’s outcome as well.

Let’s face it, sometimes projects don’t work out. Failed projects can be a result of a number of things, but often, when taken as a whole, the lack of proper planning in the initial stages pops up again and again as the culprit.

Whether it’s due to excitement, lack of time, or sheer forgetfulness, skipping the project planning process severely reduces the likelihood of a project’s success. But even knowing this, the urge to skip the planning phase of new projects still pops up from time to time.

So why is it so tempting to skip it when all project planning tips urge us to make it a critical step of the process?

Let’s dig in a little deeper.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

To start, unrealistic deadlines are a common thing with clients who fail to plan. If you’re constantly setting unrealistic deadlines for projects, it becomes difficult to plan properly because there simply isn’t time. Planning can also show how unrealistic those deadlines are, so we may unconsciously avoid it when we don’t want to admit we’re in over our heads.

Shame over failed plans is also another common reason we skip planning. We’ve all had projects fall apart or plans go awry, but if we hold on to those and blame ourselves, it can easily lead to avoiding any future planning. Who wants to do things that they feel they’re bad at?

Here’s the thing: Even failed plans can be helpful in the long run. We learn so much from failure and struggle if we’re open to it. Some of the best project planning tips stem from the mistakes and failures of past projects that helped us see what didn’t work.

It’s also important to note that not all failed plans are truly failures. As we dig into a project, we often have to adjust and change based on factors we never could have foreseen. This can result in a plan that’s drastically different from what we started with — but that doesn’t make it a failure. Whether it’s a change to the plan or even a truly failed one, it’s important to learn what we can from it, but not let it hold us back.

Lastly, planning is also a skill that not everyone is good at, and that’s ok! So many of my clients spend far too much time beating themselves up over not excelling at planning as they grow their businesses. They scratch their heads and waste time trying to do something they just don’t understand.

But, like with so many things in business, finding the support you need for planning will only help you grow your business more effectively.

Rather than continuing to dread planning, ask for help from an expert! For instance, I’m a total planning nerd, and a well-crafted project planning process makes me so excited that my clients often marvel at what I can create for them once they have the idea to run with. It also takes me far less time to produce a viable project plan since it’s a skill I practice and am good at.

That said, the project planning process is definitely something you can get better at if you want to!

From Idea to Execution

The first step to an effective project planning process is breaking the whole into more manageable pieces.

Start with a brain dump.
Take some time to write down ALL the moving pieces that will go into the project. Don’t worry about when they need to be done or who will do them at this stage — just focus on writing down all the different steps, pieces, stages, etc. that need to happen before the project is done.

Break it into stages.
Once you have the massive list of tasks, start organizing it into stages. For instance, if you’re launching something, you’ll likely have a few basic stages to complete. There’s the launch prep, the pre-launch content, the sales content, and then the delivery content. Focus on one stage at a time, and organize the tasks by when they need to be completed.

Assign to team members.
Remember, you can’t (and likely don’t want to) do it all yourself. This is an essential project planning tip that cannot be stressed enough.

Be sure to take the time to delegate what tasks you can to team members and consider if the remaining tasks might be better served by hiring some temporary (or long term!) help.

Assign due dates.
Consider when you’re looking to finish the overall project, and stagger your due dates so you’re being realistic about how much you and your team members can get done at any given stage. Remember our earlier problem with unrealistic deadlines?

Get to work.
Focus on one task at a time to reduce overwhelm. It’s so easy to think about all the things that need to be finished before the project is done but that usually isn’t helpful. Instead, focus on the tasks you need to do today or in the next 2-3 days so you don’t get overwhelmed and can keep your momentum.

The best project planning process in the world won’t help if you’re overwhelmed and burned out.

How to Plan Like a Pro

Project planning also requires the time and space to properly execute it. This is another biggie when it comes to creating a solid project planning process!

Set aside focused time.
Planning is not something you can do while you multi-task, so setting aside time to devote to focused planning is best. I like to set aside 90 minutes to two hours. This gives you a solid chunk to work with but also keeps the container small enough that you still feel a bit of pressure to be efficient.

Be realistic about your planning goals.
I find many people set themselves up to fail by being overly ambitious about how much they can accomplish in a single session. It isn’t likely that you can plan an entire year of content in detail during one session.

It may be possible to figure out a basic plan — and even all the topics for a year — but outlining all that content in one sitting probably isn’t going to happen. Set realistic expectations for what you want to figure out.

It’s ok to be ambitious but don’t go too crazy!

Set up your environment for success.
Be sure to take the time to pick the right location. You may want to remove yourself from your usual workspace distractions by going to a coffee shop, a library, or even outside.

Turn off any notifications, chimes, or messaging so you can stay focused.

I like to let my team know I’ll be offline for a bit. I also let my husband know he’s on point for any school or babysitter messages, so I don’t have to worry about the kiddos!

Pick your medium wisely.
As a very tactile person, I need to do all my planning with paper and pencils. If I try to use a computer to plan, it isn’t going to work. I also like to have lots of fun extras, like colored pencils, markers, stickers, highlighters, and Post-its to help with any planning session.

Take your workstyle preferences into consideration when deciding what tools you want to use for planning as this sets you up for success before you even start.

Consider whether a project management software is the ultimate place to store your plans once they’re complete.

Now you can use all of these project planning tips to help ensure you’ll be able to get down to the nuts and bolts of planning straight away!

Making the Magic Happen

Last but not least, here’s the best of my project planning process tips:

Once you get to work, the true magic happens. The space between the planning and the craziness of the execution often unfolds in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

The perfect mix of planning + craziness = magic for your business.

Whenever I examine how my clients make everything happen, I realize it comes down to strategy, planning, and preparation, mixed with a bit of passion and (let’s be honest) craziness. 🙂 But this is the mix I find works the best in my clients’ businesses as well as in my own.

We all set out to blaze our own path in some way when we start our businesses. We all have the drive and the passion inside to do the work that needs to be done. Yes, sometimes it would be far easier to throw our hands in the air and go make smoothies all day. But instead, we keep coming back to nurture our dreams day in and day out.

So what does it take to do this successfully so you can thrive?

*A willingness to continue to learn and grow in a number of areas, including developing subject area knowledge, expertise, and personal development.

*The ability to figure things out — whether entirely on our own or by outsourcing to the right people.

*The strength to stay the course when things take longer than we’d planned.

*The audacity to do things our own way even when it feels like everything is telling us to throw in the towel.

*The gratitude to embrace the joy of the things that are going right, because sometimes that’s the scariest outcome of all.

Now, maybe that’s not what you expect from traditional project planning tips, but to me, that’s the whole point of project planning in the first place.

These are just a few of the amazing things my clients and I have accomplished in this last year.

  • Selling out a retreat in 24 hours at a higher price than they ever imagined possible.
  • Launching a new group program, and filling it to capacity — plus one extra person — when they were worried the price was too high for their audience.
  • Executing a location-based photoshoot experience they’d been dreaming of for years.
  • Continuing to serve their membership community of hundreds of people day-in and day-out even when it’s hard.
  • Taking a scary leap in how they packaged their courses to better serve their customers and execute a nearly 6-figure launch for the first time ever.
  • Expanding their team to better serve their clients, and improving their own quality of life.

And there’s no reason YOU can’t do the same.

When I write this all down, I’m simply awed by what I get to be a part of in my business. It’s even more inspiring that I get to do it from thousands of miles away from my team and my clients most of the time.

So take some time to refine your project planning process, and make these tips your own! Be sure to comment below what works for you, too.

A well-run project is all about planning, planning, planning. Here are 10 tips to refine your project planning process.