Do You Really Want a Detailed Project Plan?


Do You Really Want a Detailed Project Plan?

Feb 11, 2016By Bill McLaughlin

We are frequently asked by clients and prospective clients to provide a detailed project plan. It seems that “detailed” has become the de facto standard for quality when it comes to project planning.

It’s hard to find a parallel in other aspects of our lives.

  • If you are having a conversation at a party, you don’t need or want people to provide a detailed account of their day, their job, or their opinions on a particular topic.
  • If you make a plan to meet someone at a specific time of the day, you don’t care to know everything that person is doing leading up to your meeting.
  • If you are paying workers to install new lighting in your kitchen, you don’t need to know how they will connect to the circuit breaker, what gauge of wiring will be used or where supplies will be purchased. It’s not relevant, and it’s not very interesting.

A detailed plan makes sense for certain projects and industries. Building a spaceship for NASA or developing medical technologies that have life or death consequences require a “detailed” plan. But in comparison to these high-stakes initiatives, higher education marketing and communications projects are not as complex and the teams are smaller.

What should a project plan for a higher ed marketing project include?

Instead of “details,” I bet what most people really mean is: “Please articulate your approach and provide an easy-to-read project plan with key milestone dates and an overarching schedule.”

A good project plan is detailed enough to work for the team and the project manager who are responsible for completing the work. 

  • It needs to clarify who is assigned to what tasks or deliverables.
  • It needs to define the interrelationships between tasks or work streams, particularly when multiple people or teams are involved.
  • Most importantly, when managed well, a good plan will keep the project on schedule at both the micro and macro levels.

It’s equally important to effectively communicate the plan to your clients or stakeholders. For this purpose, I strongly prefer a simple milestone report or a summary-level Gannt chart. Clients or stakeholders should be focused on the milestones that are important to them, and that are key to staying on schedule. Synthesizing detailed information into a clear and concise summary will make it easier to keep everyone on the same page and minimize confusion.


  • Bill McLaughlin Chief Operating and Financial Officer, Head of Project Delivery I've spent my career in project-based organizations large and small. I enjoy projects because I like variety, creative thinking and problem solving. At the core I'm a consultant, trying to find the best way forward for each unique client or situation. I don't always implement content management systems, but when I do, I prefer Drupal.