Creating a Work Plan

Before beginning a project, it’s a good idea to construct a work plan that details the progress of the project from start to finish. Creating and distributing this plan will ensure that all team members and stakeholders are on the same page regarding the project’s schedule and deliverables.

A work plan includes:

  • a list of itemized tasks, as detailed and specific as possible.
  • a list of individual responsibilities. Assign each task to someone.
  • a time element, including length of time per task and a reasonable deadline.
  • an account of how tasks depend upon one another for completion.
  • a deliverables/outcome element.

Step One:

  • List every major objective, and include all the individual steps to get to it.
  • The first time you do a digital humanities project, treat everything as a task that must be assigned to someone. Include every task in the formal work plan.

Step Two:

  • For every task, list who is responsible, by team and/or by person.

Step Three:

  • For every task, list the deliverable.
  • Determine the task’s success criteria.  How do you know when the task is completed, and who is responsible for determining this? Upon completion, where does the deliverable go, physically or digitally? (Think through storage issues.)

Step Four:

  • For every task, list the amount of time required from start to finish.
  • Consider how the tasks depend on each other’s completion (i.e., their dependencies). This will also help you think about staff allocation, which in turn helps you think about time allocation and therefore resource/financial allocation. (Don’t forget to account for wait times, such as opening expense accounts, processing paperwork, or awaiting equipment delivery. In addition, take into account “closing” activities, like submitting finalized forms and wrapping up loose ends.)

Common Time Measurements

How do you measure time? It depends on the project’s overall duration and complexity. A single year project will most likely be written by the month. (Also, be aware that it’s unlikely anyone will get anything done Dec 15-Jan 15, as well as the first and last 2 weeks of the academic semester. Take into account national and religious holidays, as well as other time zones.)

Budgeting Your Time

  • Assume you’re working on a 40-hour week.
  • It may be easier to estimate the percentage of someone’s time, rather than the exact amount of time, that the task will take.
  • Budget not only your own time, but also that of your team.
  • Remember, it is unlikely that all team members will be contributing 100% of their work week to the project.

How do you figure out how long something should take?

  • Figure out what other tasks this task is dependent on.
  • Determine how complex it is.
  • Ask how many people are engaged in the project/task.
  • Is it something that someone has done before? Can you ask for input?

Ways to Build a Work Plan

  • The plan that works best depends on the nature of the project and how you like to organize your work.
  • Some possibilities:

-Word document
-Excel Spreadsheet
-Microsoft Project
-Tree chart: good for showing task dependencies and relationships
-Gantt Chart (typically recommended by books on project management): shows time, with objectives and deliverables, broken out by task. Good for assigning tasks, labor, and person-power.
-Network diagram: maps the longest path through the tasks and dependencies to determine timeline.

  • Figure out what organizing principles works best for you, your project, and your team.
  • Try to make sure you don’t have any bottlenecks, where everyone is waiting on one person to finish something. Find something else to move on with while you wait.

Ways to Improve Your Work Plan

  • Color code types of work: by person completing task, by objective, by type of task (e.g., all coding tasks are purple, project management is red), or by who is in charge of making supervisory decisions
  • Create modules: identify teams and types of work that are interdependent, to designate portions of the project that you can hand off to those teams and allow them to sort out their day to day goals to achieve the overall objective you’ve assigned to them.
  • Identify dependencies.

Work Plan in Practice, by Project Role:

  • Overall project responsibility: project coordinator/manager (PM) and principal investigator (PI).
  • Administrative tasks: generally PM, who keeps paperwork done, and keeps in contact with all other project heads to make sure things are operating appropriately.
  • Technical tasks: lead programmer, who delegates technical work.
  • Website tasks: web developer.
  • Content tasks: typically PI, with holistic and intellectual vision. May delegate specialized tasks if necessary.
  • Financial Tasks: business manager, who assists you in handling financial documents and record keeping, as well as hiring (as in graduate lab assistants).

Common Errors in Work Plans:

  • making them too broad.
  • making them too specific (so they are constantly changing).
  • underestimating the value of a communications plan.

Goal of work plan: Don’t overwhelm yourself or team members, but also don’t leave project members wondering what’s going to be happening or whose responsibility a task is. Remember to be realistic: it doesn’t help to write fiction.


From: Building Your First Work Plan