The Best Office 365 Collaboration Tools For Project Management [2019]
June 17, 2021

How to plan a project

By Brian McHale

Here at Project Central, we operate our projects under three key phases:

  • Plan a project
  • Manage a project
  • Manage across multiple projects.


Today we’re going to be talking about phase one: Plan a Project.

Proper planning is the backbone of any project. You can think of this article as your personal introduction to planning a project.

Planning can seem overwhelming at first, but once you’ve got the hand of it, the benefits are huge.

We’ll be walking you through our three key planning steps.

These steps are there to ensure that your projects are well thought through, realistic, and efficient.

We’ll start off by selecting our project environments, before initiating and fully planning our projects for liftoff.

Simplify project planning with Project Central

Plan, schedule, and manage your team and tasks using Lists, Gantt charts, checklists, and more!

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Step 1: Select your project environment

Step one is to choose your project environment.

Now, in the good old days, this meant making sure that your favorite office meeting room was booked.

And whilst you might still want to do this, today we’re talking about environments of the virtual persuasion.

There are tons of project management and team communication tools available today.

These tools allow businesses to collaborate on projects with greater flexibility and efficiency.

Thanks to the rise of cloud technologies, it’s now possible to seamlessly manage projects from… well… just about anywhere.


Access your project environment

Before you plan a project it’s important to have the right tools ready to use.

Every project is unique, so pick a project management tool that works for you. This is going to be the foundation for team collaboration throughout the entire project lifecycle.

The best tool for you might not be the hot new software with the biggest marketing budget.

So don’t be seduced by the latest software craze. Instead, shop around before making a final decision.

Things to consider when picking a new software tool include, the size of your business, any integrations you may need, security, and user experience.

Take Project Central, for example. Project Central is built on Microsoft Azure and integrates directly with your Microsoft 365 environment.

With Project Central, it’s so easy to collaborate with your team thanks to no-fuss interfaces and reporting.


Verify security

It’s really important to prioritize security when choosing a collaboration tool for your organization.

So, make sure to check all of the security features and admin controls before signing on the dotted line.

Ideally, you’ll want a tool with robust end-to-end encryption on communications as well as multifactor authentication for added assurance.


Check user experience

The success of your team’s collaboration will rely heavily on the user experience provided by your management and collaboration tool.

You’ll want something that’s easy to navigate with an intuitive dashboard and features.

More importantly, with more and more of us using multiple devices in the workplace (or working remotely altogether) it’s super important that your management/ collaboration tool can be accessed from multiple devices without a hitch.

For teams already using Microsoft 365 to manage their documents, Project Central is a simple, online project management tool that will fully integrate with your existing setup.

It’s easy to plan and structure fully customizable projects from start to finish.

You’ll be able to add tasks to help organize your team and organizing those all-important timings.

Simplify project planning with Project Central

Plan, schedule, and manage your team and tasks using Lists, Gantt charts, checklists, and more!

Microsoft 365 Pillar Page Image 2

Step 2: Initiate your project

Now that you’ve got your tools at the ready, it’s time to initiate your project.

But what actually goes into a project initiation?

This is the second phase of the project management lifecycle.

And a super important one at that.

This is when you’ll make those formative decisions that are going to drive your project to success and establish your project’s direction and resource requirements.

During this initiation stage you’re going to create, initiate, and invite team members to your new project.

Let’s dive in.


Create your project

It’s time to create your project! In your project management tool, create a fresh new project by following the template supplied by your organization.

Download Project Central’s free project template here.

Depending on the nature of the project you’re in charge of, you may also need to create a business case.

A business case is a document that lays out your project’s goals and demonstrates how those goals are relevant and in alignment with your company’s ethos.

This is a critical document when it comes to securing funding.

For example, if you’re running a project that aims to implement a new healthcare technology, then your business case should prove to your investors why this new technology implementation is a worthwhile investment.

How does it contribute to your organization’s goals and objectives?

Why is this technology an asset?


Initiate your project

Once you’ve creating the bare bones of your project in your project management tool, it’s time to get things moving.

Now you can start adding all the details.

Give your project an appropriate name, set those all-important objectives and start to outline a timescale (don’t worry you can add more detail later).


Invite team members

Now you can start inviting your core team members.

Anybody who is significant to the project should be included and given access to your project plan.

Create your team and start to assign them roles and responsibilities.

With Project Central you can also connect your project management portal to your existing Office 365 file libraries.

That means you and your team members will be able to save time and work more efficiently without any annoying data silos.

You’ll all be able to access and edit relevant Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files natively, and in real time.


Set permissions

When planning a new project, it’s super important to set some permissions.

Permissions are settings that allow or deny project or individual document access to certain individuals.

This is especially important if your project is dealing in sensitive or confidential information.

Make sure that only permitted parties are able to access those restricted files and documents.

You’ll want to set permissions for your entire project as well as individual components of it.

Depending on the project management tool that you’re currently using you should typically be able to set project permissions on the basis of:

  • Individual users
  • Groups
  • Departments
  • Project roles
  • Issue roles e.g., project lead
  • Custom user assignment
  • Allow all users.


If you’re using Microsoft 365, site collection administrators can customize and change individual permissions across their organization to ensure granular access control.


Step 3: Plan your project

You’ve made it to the final stage.


It’s time to fully plan your project.

This is where you’ll lay out the project structure, add specific tasks, setup a schedule, and upload any relevant files.

Once you’ve completed this stage all that’s left is to get cracking!


Layout your project structure

There’s nothing worse than a poorly planned project.

When the foundation isn’t there, problems are bound to follow.

It’s really important to structure your project in detail.

This will ensure that everyone stays on track and has a dedicated resource to check-in with along the way.

Make sure to include all project phases, sections, and overall objectives in your project plan.


Add tasks

Adding individual tasks to your project plan means that you and your teammates will know exactly what they need to be getting on with in actionable terms each day.

Sometimes looking at a project in its entirety can make it seem like an impossible task.

Breaking your project down into actionable chunks will drive progress and reduce project standstills.

Add all the tasks needed to deliver your project into your project management tool and assign any relevant dates and times as necessary.

Even if you’re not 100% sure how long something will take, it’s a good idea to set a rough timeline.

You can always make adjustments as and when needed during the project.

Your management tool should allow you to make adjustments to your scheduling without too much bother.

In fact, with Project Central, this is super easy.

Project Central users have access to a dedicated tasks board where they can visualize their entire project across intuitive, drag-and-drop columns.

Need to move something around or extend a task deadline?

No problem.


Setup your schedule

Once you’ve organized all your project tasks, you can start scheduling them.

Move the tasks around until you reach an achievable schedule.

Ensure that you leave some contingency time for any hiccups along the way.

A great way to schedule your projects is to use a Gantt Chart.

On a Gannt Chart you can view all of your project tasks across your entire project timeline and adjust the length of time each task needs for completion accordingly.


Upload files

Last but not least, once your project outline is complete, you can start uploading all the necessary resources.

Choose a place to store all of the project deliverables and any other files associated with your project.

That could be instructional manuals, resource booklets, research, or any relevant data.

Instead of having to manually upload individual documents, with Project Central you can connect to your SharePoint Online document library instantly.

You’ll be able to search your SPO library directly from Project Central, where you’ll be able to edit and share files with your team members without any fuss.

You can even attach any relevant documents to the individual tasks on your project timeline for even more amazing time savings.

Imagine having everything you need to complete a task right there, ready and waiting.


Plan away

With a solid plan at the ready, you’ll be primed for project management success.

Whether you’re a first-time project manager or you’re often asked to take the lead on your company’s projects, a project plan is an absolute must.

Remember to plan with purpose.

By following these three stages, you’ll be sure to organize your project for maximum efficiency and optimum results.

To help you get started, we’ve prepared a simple project planning template that will guide you through everything we’ve discussed as you plan your own project.


Get Started With Project Central

Sign-up for your free 14-day trial and see how Project Central can help your teams to plan, manage, and collaborate with Microsoft 365.

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