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10 top tips for creating timing plans: Break it down

So far in this series we’ve looked at different aspects of the project or timing plan that need to be defined and established before you get started on pulling together a timing plan. In the last article we discussed the important of establishing a planning horizon and not planning beyond it. But when you’ve established how far ahead it’s viable and realistic to plan for, where do you go from there? In this article we’ll explore beginning to develop a project plan and the importance of taking tasks and breaking them down into as many sub-tasks as possible to enable easy, accurate and detailed estimation.

You’re eating an elephant

One bite at a time. It’s the same with a project. In order to estimate an entire project,  you need to break it down. With the workflow established, the planning horizon defined, the high level planning needs to start to become more detailed – it needs to be broken down into as many small sub-tasks as possible.

The temptation is to only detail the high level tasks and not go into level 2 or level 3 sub-tasks. To be honest, it’s much quicker. But the devil is in the detail. When you’re trying to accurately estimate how long a stage of the project is going to take, it’s important to split the tasks into as many constituent parts as possible. This means taking a task and defining all the sub-tasks that make the sum of that task, and for those tasks, doing the same, so that each sub-sub-task can be assigned a specific timescale.

The importance of creating sub-tasks

When you begin splitting bigger tasks into sub-tasks it can help you work out and remember all the things that are going to need to happen with a project phase. Take a task, for example ‘Design of web pages’. Break it into as many sub-tasks as you can; look & feel development, master template development, other template development, page design roll-out  and page asset roll-out  When you’re clear on the sub-tasks, go and work out the timings of each part to work out the total for the whole project.

Easy estimating

Creating the sub-tasks also makes it much easier for people to estimate against. Estimating against a small, clearly defined sub-task is much easier to do than a large and vague task which could be approached in different ways. It also makes it much easier for clients to understand and enables a higher degree of tracking to baseline throughout a project.


The difference between breaking down a project into tasks that are a week long each, or breaking them down into tasks that are no less than half a day each will be massive by the time the project is complete. By breaking down the project into sub-tasks you’ll find that not only is estimating easier, it’s also much more accurate.

Remember approval cycles

Before you forget, remember to consider internal and external approval processes and consider the approval approach as a task with sub-tasks itself. For example, how many tiers of client approval are there – include each of them as sub tasks with defined review and approval cycles within each one.

What do you think?

What do you think we’re missing? What else is there to defining the idea that should PM’s be thinking about when creating timing plans? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any more tips – why not share them using the comments below?

10 top tips for creating timing and project plans

This 10 top tips blog series has been written as a guide for estimating and approaching creating cost estimates in the midst of it all. In this series of posts we’re looking at the following:

Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.