Cardsmith

How Project Managers Organize Their Project Plans with Sticky Notes

In case you didn’t already know: Cardsmith was inspired by sticky notes. Our team has long used post it notes as a way to brainstorm, organize information, and more, but we needed to create online sticky notes. No more writing everything down and then having to type it all out, one by one. No more whiteboard or bulletin board, precariously covered with little flapping bits of paper, taking up valuable real estate on the walls of our offices or homes. Now, we can do everything we loved doing with sticky notes, but we do every bit of it virtually. 

There are so many project management tools out there, and yet, it can be difficult to come by one you actually like! Especially when it comes to one that works for a variety of projects and processes. I have always been a fan of Kanban style boards, but their limitations frustrate me. What if I want to be able to do more? And that’s where the power of combining online sticky notes with project management strategy comes in. 

We’ve spoken before about the different ways you can utilize digital sticky notes for project management purposes. What we’re focusing on today, though, is how to use online sticky notes to organize all the information project managers compile to create a comprehensive project plan.

Full disclosure: My project management experience is almost entirely working with web developers on web development and design projects. I am a certified DPM by Louder Than Ten, where I apprenticed while working for an awesome web development firm, and so I’ve oriented this exercise toward project managers working with web dev teams. 

That said, please feel free to switch it up and use it for whatever project you are working on! We’ve shared project management insight for a variety of projects, including wedding planning, party planning, and even orchestrating the construction of a pizza oven, so the options are limitless!) 

What is a project plan? 

Well, it is what it sounds like! A project plan maps out every element of a project, from the budget, to the timeline, to who is involved, and what steps need to be taken to get it done. When executed successfully, a project plan ensures that no tasks go undone, no risks remain unmitigated, and that communication between everyone involved the project is clear, calm, and constructive. 

While it depends on the structure of the team, the project plan is usually put together by a project manager. A project manager works with their entire team to make sure no aspect of the project goes overlooked, and uses their expertise to assess any risks that may impede their team’s success. The project plan is crucial to making sure that deadlines are met and deliverables are delivered (ideally on time).

How to Organize Your Project Plan with Sticky Notes 

Cardsmith’s flexibility and similarity to sticky notes is fantastic for project plan prep. Cardsmith allows project managers to keep every piece of their project plan organized and easy to access. Similar to sticky notes on a whiteboard, the Cardsmith board I created for project plan preparation has a ton of flexibility, allowing me to move things around as needed. It also allows me to keep a lot of disparate types of information in one place while providing a high level view of the most important details. 

Using Sticky Notes for Project Plan Preparation

Here you can see the high level view of my project plan prep board: 

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I’ve separated this into a couple of different sections, with color-coded notes (or, as we call them, cards) that have some distinct markings to help give information to the viewer. I’ll walk you through each piece of the board, and why it’s crucial for project managers to include these in their project plans.

As you can see, I have my project plan prep board in grid view. 

 I broke down my columns accordingly: 

  • People
  • Fundamentals
  • Timeline
  • Assorted

My columns are organized into two rows, marked as such: 

  • Project/Us
  • Client

Crucial Project Plan Details: Who is involved and what is the project?  

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The ‘People’ column includes all of the information we need about everyone involved in the project, both on our hypothetical team and on the client side. Knowing who the stakeholders are and which members of your team are assigned to each project is crucial. Having your people organized in a Project Plan Prep board makes it easy for anyone in management to pop in and see who exactly is involved in your project. 

Project Overviews and Objectives

In the ‘Project/Us’ column, I’ve created a few sticky notes to represent information that is crucial to managing the project. Every project plan should include a ‘Project Plan Overview,’ which summarizes the overall project, as well as a separate space that breaks down the project objectives more granularly. 

These are the obvious parts of a project plan: every single one should include an overview and a specific breakdown of the project objectives/goals. The project overview and project goals inform the rest of the project, and they’re the very first place you should start.

One of the best parts about online sticky notes, as opposed to ones in person, is that we can fit much more information into our selected sticky. While the project plan overview or project goals may be extensive, we can still fit them on their own cards. 

Cardsmith pro-tip: Ideally, every company will have a roadmap already outlined before embarking on any project–no matter which side of the project they’re on. A company roadmap will help refine the kind of projects your company takes on (ensuring that they are not only keeping your lights on, but helping you work toward your bigger goals). A company roadmap will help your clients ensure the projects they’re hiring you for will have clear project objectives.

Detailing the stakeholders and team members

In the ‘Client’ row, you’ll notice there’s a space for a client brief as well. Knowing who the client is, in a broad sense, helps refine the project plan and the project goals. 

You’ll notice that when it comes to the team breakdown, there’s a difference between the ‘Project/Us’ row and the ‘Client’ row:  

I’ve created three separate cards for our primary stakeholders on the client side, and marked them with a number that represents who is the primary contact on the project, as well as who is an important stakeholder that will need to be looped in to high-level communications. This allows anyone looking at this board to immediately know who we go to first if we have questions for the client. It also lets us know who will need to be roped into weekly updates and invites for presentations. 

For my fake internal team, I created one card for everyone we’re assigning to the project. As project managers are intimately familiar with the people already on their team, one card to cover it will do. 

It may seem redundant to list your own team members here, but I promise: it’s not. You absolutely want it in your project plan, as it ensures your client is familiar with every person on the team. Even as you direct them to one singular point of contact (usually the project manager), familiarizing your clients with the members of your team and who is working on their project builds trust. Plus, putting it all in one card allows you to copy and paste the info into the final project plan form quickly and easily.

Project Plan Fundamentals: Scope, Budget, and Communication 

If you’re creating a project plan, you already know that the scope is one of the most important things to outline. Without defining the scope of a project clearly, it’s too easy for things to go off the rails. 

While it is fantastic to dream big while you’re brainstorming, when project managers get down to plotting out the details of the project, scope, and budget are defining factors that bring those big dreams back down to Earth.

Project managers ask questions like,“What needs to get done to create a minimum viable product (MVP)? What can our team actually do based on the budget constraints of the client? Do specific aspects of the project need to be done in a specific order, and what does that mean for the timeline of the deliverables?”

These questions, when combined with the scope and the budget information, help project managers define the shape of the project in a more tangible way.

Scoping out the project phases

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As you can see, I used Cardsmith connectors and labels to indicate which aspect of scope comes first, and then what the team will tackle next. 

You may notice that I set up a sticky note for potential future phases. As any project manager knows, there are always additional items that come up during the course of the project.

Sometimes the development team stumbles across a cool, innovative addition to what they’re already working on. Other times, the client comes in with questions about additional features. Sometimes these can be worked into the project scope, budget, and timeline as is, but many times, they can’t! And that’s where that sticky note comes in: it’s a place to save all the wishlist items. 

Project management pro-tip: Wishlist items may seem irrelevant, but documenting them and taking them seriously (when appropriate) lets the client know that the team they hired is paying attention. It’s yet another trust-builder!

Your client will recognize that your team cares enough to take notes and is tuned in to what they want and need. Plus, if you keep track of it, your team can estimate and pitch it to the client, which potentially means more work for your company. That’s a win for everyone.

Keep a Dedicated Sticky Note Just for the Budget

As we all know, the budget is crucial. It defines your clients’ financial expectations and has a heavy influence on the scope of your project. As I mentioned before, the benefit to online sticky notes is that they leave you much more room for more information. 

For this hypothetical project, I want all of the budget breakdown in one place. I can separate each line item into separate text sections if desired, but still keep it all in one easy-to-access location for reference when I put together the full project plan. 

Using Online Sticky Notes to Make Communication as Clear as Possible 

When you’re working with clients, it’s vital to make sure all communication pathways are outlined clearly. It’s too easy for information to get lost, which is one common catalyst for clients losing faith–in the team they’re working with and in the project.

Clients are like a temporary team you are collaborating with — not just working for. The success of your project depends on the buy-in of your team — and your client. Building a relationship founded in transparency and trust is absolutely essential to your project’s best iteration.

Each organization works with their own communication tools and structure, and which tools are used and how they are used varies greatly. In the ‘Communication Tools’ card, project managers can outline which tools their team is using and for what purposes. 

In our example here, some of the tools our hypothetical team is using: 

  • Slack: For quick questions, day to day communication, and a summary of weekly updates 
  • Google Hangouts: For a thirty minute weekly meeting with the client that covers the weekly updates verbally, as well as offers the opportunity to answer any questions from the primary stakeholders. Also for deliverable presentations from our team. 
  • Google Calendar: For scheduling meetings/presentations 
  • Google Drive: For sharing documents and content for review
  • Invision: For design presentations.
  • Cardsmith: For sprint planning, shared with the client to offer a view of what is getting done and when, and tracking deliverables and client approval on said deliverables

Outlining a Project Plan Timeline

When managing a project, a comprehensive timeline for your project is non-negotiable. 

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In our demo here,  I broke the timeline down into three cards. In the ‘Project/Us’ row, I have a card for noteworthy meetings (including presentations) and a card for our team’s deliverables. In the ‘Client’ row, I have a card for the client’s deadlines. 

While things will change throughout the course of the project, outlining all of the crucial meetings and deliverable dates in advance ensures that conflicts will not continuously interfere with delivery or updates. 

You may be wondering what the client’s deadlines could possibly be. As I said above, buy-in from your client is crucial to keeping the project moving. Consider outlining the client deadlines part of your Project Kit.

If you want to keep the project on timeline and get the project done quickly, your client needs to turn around feedback on deliverables, any relevant content data, and approval on deliverables on time. Their commitment to their deadlines is just as vital as yours, and outlining those clearly is crucial.

While these will all need to be moved to something like Google Calendar (or, if you’re using a traditional project management software, there), keeping the deadlines on my Project Plan Prep board allows project managers to guarantee that they aren’t missing any crucial dates.

You can also always use Cardsmith for tracking your timeline, too. Here’s a timeline broken down into a weekly plan, for example:

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Managing Risks, Wins, and Assumptions

Why are project risks part of a high-quality project plan? 

Every project manager is responsible for assessing the risks of a project, anda key part of successful project management is communicating those risks to your team and the clients. 

There are a few risks that are generally applicable to every project, like: 

  • Extended review periods
  • Delays in feedback
  • Misaligned or undefined project goals
  • Adding features or functionality
  • Feedback from new voices 

But there will also be risks that are specific to each project you work on, too. 

You want your clients to work alongside you to mitigate the impact of these risks. This requires sharing them openly, stating expectations, and communicating what you see as potential problems before they happen.

While some risks may seem like common sense (of course delaying feedback is a risk to the project), presenting the risks to your client upfront ensures that you’re on the same page. Putting all of the risks together in one sticky note makes team review simple and straightforward. Your team can help you identify any additional risks you may have missed, too.

Cardsmith Pro-tip: When you use a Cardsmith board like this, you can duplicate the board for future projects with just a click or two. No more setting up a whole new system from scratch, because this function allows you to automatically include the basics that apply to every project.

Project wins are for everyone — and a crucial aspect of any project plan. 

Project wins are things you need to go well to keep the project healthy and both your team and the client happy. Not only does it reframe some of the potential liabilities as a positive, but it creates a collaborative dynamic between your team and your clients. These are the things you’re doing together to make sure the project is a success. 

Project wins may look something like:

  • Keep all written communication the appropriate tools, with the appropriate people
  • Specifying your team’s work hours and encouraging communication to happen during those times only
  • Communicating in advance about any office holidays or extended unavailability of relevant stakeholders and team members 

Everyone has assumptions…

And the best way to manage them is to outline them clearly, and communicate what they are upfront. 

When you’re managing a project, some assumptions may be: 

  • A specific person is the primary point of contact 
  • The client will be providing the research that informs the content created by your team
  • The budget has been approved 
  • Invoices will be paid on time
  • The length of the project timeline 

Project management isn’t easy, but online sticky notes and a solid project plan can help.

We’ve covered just about everything a project manager needs to create a comprehensive project plan using digital sticky notes. So, what’s the point? 

This may be the sort of thing you could do with a whiteboard and your collection of Post it notes, but compiling your project plan information using digital sticky notes has a few distinct advantages: 

Project managers can collaborate with their team remotely.

We’ve recently talked about the massive shift to remote work, and more than ever, we all need online tools that enable easy distributed team collaboration. 

By utilizing a digital whiteboard and desktop Post it notes to prep your project, you can easily collaborate with your fellow team members on your project plan.

When you’re ready to move to the final stage of fine tuning the project plan for presentation (whether your move it to its own mini-site, a PDF document, or a feature-heavy project management software), you’ll feel confident that you haven’t missed a single necessary piece.

Online sticky notes have more text space than your average Post it. 

The standard sticky note is only 3×3 inches, which is great for jotting down a quick idea. We have nothing but love for the average sticky note–that’s why we exist. But that tiny bit of space is a major constraint when you need to expand, though, or create a task list, or add more detail.

When you use online sticky notes, you’ll never run out of space.

A virtual space has more flexibility for adding links and images.

The adaptability of a virtual space is unparalleled. With Cardsmith, your virtual sticky notes can include links (especially helpful when roping in things like Google Docs) or images as needed.

You can use Cardsmith to prep your project plan, but we also have a variety of template boards to help you organize projects, refine your company’s roadmap, or even manage your own personal goals! Can your day-to-day Post it note keep you that organized? I don’t think so. 

Project plans just became a little easier with Cardsmith

With all my sticky notes in a row, my project manager brain is overjoyed. I’m ready to collect all of the information I need and burn through all of the tasks on my list for this perfect project plan. All I needed was a few digital sticky notes and a virtual whiteboard to make it unbelievably easy to accomplish. 

Have a question about project management or how to use Cardsmith? Tweet us @gocardsmith.

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