The Five Basic Requirements of a Good Project Plan

All 5 of these basic requirements are important, but accuracy is crucial. Here's why.

by Watts S. Humphrey - For substantial projects, management's first step is to assemble a planning and proposal team and produce an overall plan. Without a clear and convincing plan, they will not be able to get funding, hire the staff, and arrange for all the facilities, supplies, and other support needed to do the work. Nobody wants to pay for an undefined job, and few people will work on a project that has unclear objectives. Because an accurate plan is the essential first step in creating a successful project, planning is an important part of every project.

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The five basic requirements for a plan are that it be accessible, clear, specific, precise, and accurate.

Is it Accessible?

To be accessible, a plan must provide the needed information so that you can find it. It must be in the proper format, and it must not be cluttered with extraneous material. Although having complete plans is important, voluminous plans are unwieldy. You need to know what is in the plan and where it is. You should be able to quickly find the original schedule and all subsequent revisions. Data should be clear and, to be most convenient, should be in a prescribed order and in a known, consistent, and nonredundant format.

Is It Clear?

If data are not complete and unmistakably clear, they cannot be used with confidence. If they cannot be used with confidence, there is no point in gathering them at all.

Is It Specific?

A specific plan identifies what will be done, when, by whom, and at what costs. If these items are not clear, the plan is not specific.

Is It Precise?

Precision is a matter of relating the unit of measure to the total magnitude of the measurement. If, for example, you analyzed a project that took 14 programmer years, management would not be interested in units of minutes, hours, or probably even days. In fact, programmer weeks would probably be the finest level of detail they could usefully consider.

Is It Accurate?

Although the other four points are all important, accuracy is crucial. A principal concern of the planning process is producing plans with predictable accuracy. Do not be too concerned about the errors in each small task plan as long as they appear to be random. That is, you want to have about as many overestimates as underestimates. As you work on larger projects or participate on development teams, the small-scale errors will balance each other out and the combined total will be more accurate.


This tip is excerpted from Reflections on Management: How to Manage Your Software Projects, Your Teams, Your Boss, and Yourself, authored by Watts S. Humphrey, with William R. Thomas, published by Addison-Wesley Professional, April 2010, ISBN 032171153X, Copyright 2010 Pearson Education, Inc. For a complete table of contents please visit:

For more project management tips, see:
IT management: How to create and lead a committed team
Project management: Scrapping a doomed project
Four things project managers can learn from base coaches
Prioritizing IT projects

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