Project Plan Checklist: 15 steps to the perfect schedule

This 15 point checklist ensures that your project plan is workable and realistic. It is fast and easy to use, and FREE to download in Word and PDF.

We have explained each check further down this page. Scroll down for more detail on each checkpoint.

Why you need to carry out these planning checks

Does this plan include all major project tasks?

To be realistic all major project tasks must be included in your plan. If you have produced a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) each work package from the WBS should be in the plan. If your project includes deliverables from suppliers or requires input from other departments, partners or businesses you need to include these in your plan. Learn more about Work Breakdown Structures

Is the Plan drawn in enough detail to generate to-do lists?

Project with plans that are too high level won't be delivered. The project plan should be of a sufficient detail that to-do lists can be generated for each resource/person in the project team. Don't be tempted to avoid detail and don't be pressured to simplify your plan. If senior managers are looking for an 'at a glance' overview of the plan you can produce separate high level time lines. Professional Project Scheduling software, like Microsoft Project, include built in reports that you can use for management briefings.

Are all tasks placed in their logical chronological sequence?

In the first stage of project planning you identify what you need to do and in the second stage you work out what order you need to do it in. Traditionally the output of this stage has been a precedence or work-flow diagram. In my experience most project managers skip the workflow diagram, which can be complex to draw for large projects, and layout the tasks in chronological order in their scheduling software.

IMPORTANT NOTE - Microsoft project allows you to create links that flow 'up and down' the project plan. In other words, task 4 can have a finish to start link to task 2 and task 7. Although project allows this I strongly recommend that you only link 'downwards' otherwise your schedule will be difficult to follow.

Is the Critical Path clear?

The Critical Path is the shortest path through the project. [Every task on the critical path must be completed] If you can't view the critical path you can't be sure that the project end date is realistic. It is essential that you have a good understanding of the critical path and that you understand how your project scheduling software calculates it. Fixing task start or end dates is a common scheduling mistake which will break critical path calculations, and linking summary tasks can also be problematic. Find out more at Top 10 Microsoft Project Mistakes.

Have interdependencies been respected?

On every project there will be tasks that are dependent in some way on another task. These task dependencies must be respected otherwise the project plan may not be achievable. Imagine a simple project to build a brick wall. The wall will not be built if the cement has not been ordered. There four task dependency types:
  • Finish to Start
  • Start to Finish
  • Start to Start
  • Finish to Finish
The 4 Task Dependency Types in Project Scheduling

Defining the dependencies between tasks helps you determine which tasks start when, as well as when the project might finish.

Is the plan easy to understand and is it visually effective?

I strongly recommend creating your plan using project management software that presents the schedule against a calendar in what is known as a Gantt Chart View'. This is a tried and tested method of presentation widely used across the project management profession. To Do lists with dates are not sufficient for planning and not easy to see across time. Flow diagrams can get very complicated and unwieldy. A Gantt Chart type view which is provided with project management like Microsoft Project provides an 'at a glance view' of a project schedule. Read more on Gantt Charts. Read more how to read Microsoft Project Plans.

Is the plan flexible and easy to adapt to take account of changes to project requirements or strategy?

During every single project something will change, so you need to be able to update your schedule and immediately see the impact on the project end date. Professional Project scheduling software like Microsoft Project and Primavera P6 allow you to make updates easily and complete complex calculations to work out the new critical path and end date for you.

Are the project milestones shown?

In project planning, milestones are key deadlines or deliverables. They are important in tracking progress and assessing the impact of any delays. Milestones are typically marked on project schedules as a diamond shape. Read more on Project Milestones.

Are all the duration estimates feasible and achievable?

Each task on the schedule will have an estimated duration, which ideally will have been estimated by a subject matter expert.

In the early stages of scheduling some tasks will have a default duration. In Microsoft Project this is shown as "1 day?". Watch out for these default durations in schedules that are in the late stages of planning. They should be replaced with feasible and realistic durations as soon as possible.

Have key subject matter experts and supervisors participated in the plan and accepted it as their commitment?

Schedules created by project managers from their desks are unlikely to be unrealistic. Project managers are rarely if ever experts in all technical aspects of the projects they manage.

Creating the project plan should be a team effort with subject matter expert involvement from the start. This will ensure that the plan captures the all of the work required, that the work is scheduled in the right order and that the tasks have sensible durations.

Can the plan be used to check day-to-day project progress?

Project Schedules should provide enough information to answer the question 'where are we now' and 'where should we be now'? It should be possible to see percentage complete on a day to day basis and be possible to see who is doing what on any given day.

Tasks with long durations may need to be broken down to a great level of detail to achieve this. Look out for tasks that can't be assigned to a single point of contact. For example, 'build the office block', would need to be broken down so that supervisors can identify what tasks should be happening when and what resources are needed.

Does the plan take account of our resource availability?

If the person needed to do a task is not available the task won't get done. To be realistic the plan must take into account resource availability. For example: existing and forecast bookings on other work, training, annual leave and public holidays.

Have the resource needs of other projects been considered?

Realistic schedules have to consider other projects. Projects don't take place in a vacuum and will often feed into or be dependent on other project and programs.

Subject matter experts will often be shared across a number of projects with clashes between project priorities frequently happening. Even if the project budget allows for full-time resources for the duration of the project. Attempts to book resources solidly (for x days or months) rarely work.

Will the plan satisfy all stakeholders' expectations?

Plans should take into account the needs of the project's stakeholders. For example, team managers need to be happy with the demands that will be placed on their team. Otherwise subtle and not so subtle ways of undermining the plan will be found. Senior managers need to be confident that the plan will deliver on the project outcomes and is achievable.

Has the planner avoided linking summary tasks?

If possible you should avoid linking summary task in MS Project. The PMI explain in their Practice Standard for Scheduling that linking summary tasks makes:
  • the schedule logic hard to follow
  • logic errors more likely, artifically extending the plan
  • bench time more likely
  • circular logic warning messages more likely
This article describes what summary tasks are and explains in detail the problems with linking between summary activities.

Download this Project Plan Checklist

Project Plan check list download in PDF

Project Plan check list download in Word (docx)

Project Plan check list download in Word (doc)

Project Plan check list download in OpenDocument Text (odt)

Sources and further reading

This checklist is from Dennis Lock's excellent Project Management, Ninth Edition.
Lock, D. (2007) Project Management, Ninth Edition, Aldershot: Gower Publishing Ltd.