how to plan a project

I have been working on projects for a while. I was a researcher (Technician, PhD, PDRA) so initially these were bioscience projects. Now I am a Project Officer in R&IS and manage and co-ordinate institutional projects that support research and researchers. I could tell you more, but won’t, the point is I gained transferable skills from my time doing research and I recently used this to write a ‘project planning check list’ to help me plan new projects. I share it below. My role has given me the opportunity to talk to many academics and thanks to Professor Matthew Flinders I discovered a process for leveraging written work called Triple Writing which I wrote about previously on the Think Ahead blog. This works best for academic work and in a nut shell is the practice of writing a piece aimed at practitioners and a lay article based on each of your academic publications. I recommend you read Prof. Flinders paper, Tyranny of Relevance and the Art of Translation, even if only to better understand why you might want to re-purpose your work. Inspired by this I have re-purposed my own work for a new audience. Easy for me, I didn’t have to change it. This project plan is skewed towards working with people and systems, but if you change a few words here and there it can easily be repurposed for a research project. The Basics Answer these questions: What is the aim of this project? Why are we doing it? What is the desired outcome? Beyond the Basics Now the broader detail. Consider What? How? Who? Where? When? Write a short introduction, the project aims, the plan including the anticipated outcomes/outputs, information about who will be involved (directly and indirectly; aka stakeholders), when it will happen and finally what the risks are. Keep it focused and concise. The following checklist is not exhaustive but it does cover important general considerations. It is unlikely that all points will have to be written into the project plan but it is worth giving them thought. Resources

  • Who are the stakeholders?
    • Whose input do we need?
    • Whose input would be helpful?
  • Whose buy-in do you need?
  • How can you get it?
  • Has anything like this been done before? What were the outcomes?
  • What resources do we have?
  • What resources might we need?


  • Who’s accountable for this project’s success?
  • Lines of communication
  • Methods of reporting
  • What people do we need?
  • What skills are required?


  • What is the timing?
  • Are there deadlines?
  • What might affect timing?
  • Who’s going to do the work?


  • How will we monitor our progress?
  • How will we know if we’re on course?
  • What data do we need, when?
  • What reports, to whom, when?


  • What could stop the project succeeding?
  • What can we do to minimise these risks?

Executive issues Even if the project is small scale, if it is worth doing it will be important to a wider plan:

  • How does this relate to the strategic plan? (Could be a University Strategy, Group research, career plan etc)
  • How does it relate to other work priorities, directions, goals?

Off Piste… If you are still enthusiastic and you have the time/energy you can think of these things too:

  • Who would have concern about the success of this project?
  • What would they say, ask, or input, that you haven’t yet?
  • What’s the worst idea you can imagine about doing this project?
  • What is the best idea you can imagine about this project?
  • What the worst that could happen?
  • How would we deal with that?
  • What’s the best that could happen?
  • What will we do if this happens?
  • What will I learn from it, what opportunities are there for professional development?

Final important points Seek help to improve your project plan. Be prepared to change/refine your plans over time. If it is hard to write, start by stating the obvious. There are tons of project planning resources on the internet if this doesn’t fit the bill. So there you have it. A check list for project planning and an example of re-purposing a document for a new use. @MichaelTrikic ORCID

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