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How to write a project plan

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Research project planning can be overwhelming – but breaking it down into a project plan and work plan makes it manageable.

project plan

For any research project, planning is absolutely critical for success. Whether you are writing a proposal to secure funds or proceeding with grant funds, proper project planning is needed, especially for projects involving collaboration between several partners. This may seem daunting, but with the right breakdown – and the right people leading the planning – it can be easy to ensure all the necessary aspects of the proposal or the project are covered sufficiently and, perhaps most importantly, completed on time.

When taking on a research project or proposal, one of two things should be developed: a project plan or a work plan. While these terms can be used more or less interchangeably, they can also be separated by small differences: the project plan is a kind of overarching, high-level structure that covers the broader scope, while the work plan is a kind of detailed strategy to ensure all aspects are addressed according to the call text or project requirements. Research projects and proposals can include either of these plans, as long as all the main areas are accounted for and adequately addressed.

Below are the key things to include while writing a project plan or a work plan for any Horizon Europe or other EU-funded research project.

Steps to write a project plan

With a project plan, before doing anything else, start by defining the main steps that are needed to complete the project or proposal. This includes getting all collaborators onboard and determining deadlines for deliverables or key actions, such as finalizing reports to the funding agency.

Once you have all the steps written out, it is best to describe work packages and tasks that need to be completed for each step. These should be done precisely but concisely. Ensure that you only plan your tasks after you have listed all of them to confirm they are all accounted for and assigned appropriately.

Next, after the main steps and assigned work has been written out, define milestones for key moments in the project or proposal. This is different than determining deadlines – milestones are set by the project planner to assess progress and ensure the timeline is on track.

Lastly, check the consistency of your work plan and be realistic with timelines, deadlines, and milestones. You want to set yourself up for success, and creating a consistent, realistic plan will help you to achieve this.

Steps to writing a work plan

Work plans tend to be a bit more detailed and more sequential; therefore, this section on how to write a work plan will follow these parameters with a numbered list. There are five main steps to writing a work plan, and they are:

1. Set project goals and objectives

This is especially critical for Horizon Europe projects, as the project goal must be aligned with the mission of the programme and the specific call texts for which it falls under. Setting the main goal and objectives is the first step and must be done, thoroughly and correctly, before anything else.

2. Identify project deliverables

In a work plan, listing the project deliverables is essential. One way to do this that will help make this easier is to list the final deliverables first and start working backwards. Thinking about the end results that the project needs to accomplish is often more apparent and listing the steps to get there in reverse tends to work quite well – much like figuring out a maze from the end point to the start.

3. Create work packages (WPs)

Projects and even proposals regularly consist of tens of tasks and subtasks, especially collaborative Horizon Europe projects. Most, if not all, of these tasks tend to be interconnected or depend upon the success or completion of other tasks, which is why all good work plans (and all Horizon Europe projects mandatorily) utilize work packages (WPs) for organizing and assigning tasks.

WPs divide tasks and other project work into smaller, more manageable “packages” or parts. These usually consist of high-level tasks relating to different parts of the project to help plan, track, and more effectively manage a proposal or project.

The main benefits of using WPs include a clearer understanding of the costs and time needed for each part of the project, a clearer view of which team members are assigned to which work, and ready-made checkpoints that help measure project progress as it unfolds.

4. Develop a project timeline or schedule

Using the WPs defined in the work plan, develop a timeline with these smaller parts in mind. Work with team members in charge of each WP to identify which tasks rely on others to proceed and build out a realistic schedule that takes into account possible unforeseen delays.

For Horizon Europe projects, the most widely used tool to develop a schedule is a Gantt chart. This is the best way to visualise complex hierarchical schedules and are components of all Horizon Europe proposals and projects.

5. Plan milestones

Milestones are essential to ensuring key objectives or portions of a proposal or project are realized. These are critical for not only working towards as a goal, but also as opportunities to look back and review progress with regard to the overall objective of the proposal or project.

Milestones need to be measurable, much like key performance indicators (KPIs) that help track and verify progress. The best way to do this is to make sure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

How to get help on your work plan research proposal

Linq Consulting specializes in all areas of creating and managing successful proposals and projects, with dedicated project planning specialists that have experience with multi-million Euro collaborative funding applications. Our team of expert researchers, writers, and project managers can help with all aspects of not only writing a work plan, but also carrying it through and implementing it for Horizon Europe proposals or project management.

For more information on how we can help, get in touch with us at

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @linq-consulting and connect with us on LinkedIn as well.

Further reading on project plans and work plans:


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