What Is a Checklist in Project Management?
A checklist is a tool that project managers use to stay organized. Checklists can help project managers keep track of project tasks, requirements, goals, and deadlines. You can always update checklists for later assignments or initiatives as needed.
Project managers create checklists with input from their team and project sponsors. A good checklist should be as brief as possible while still remaining comprehensive. It should also be easy to customize to meet the needs of any project. A checklist should include the major steps involved in a project or process, as well as important substeps that are necessary for successful project completion.
What Is a Project Checklist?
A project checklist is a list of the steps required to successfully complete a project. These steps focus on the planning and setup phases. Using a checklist helps teams prepare sufficiently for future project work.
Project sponsors usually create a general project checklist for use in all of an organization’s endeavors. Project managers then adapt the checklist to individual projects. A project checklist should include both the general elements needed to complete a project and the specific elements needed to complete the project at hand.
Why Do You Need a Project Checklist?
Project checklists provide many benefits. Project managers can use them to improve task management, risk management, and more. From keeping track of project approvals to making solid project plans, we’ve created a list of the major benefits of project checklists.
These are some benefits of using checklists in project management:
- Task Management: Checklists make it easier for project managers and their teams to manage tasks by providing a simple organizational framework. Checklists make it easy to create and assign tasks and to mark them as completed.
- Project Planning: Planning a project is simpler when you use a project checklist. A checklist helps ensure that all necessary project elements are present and accounted for before you move on to the next steps.
- Risk Management: Using project checklists is an easy form of risk management. A checklist can provide security by ensuring that teams complete process steps in the correct order. Using checklists also helps prevent the risk of missing or incomplete work.
- Resource Management: Creating a work breakdown structure (WBS) and checklist helps project managers visualize the resources needed at each step in the process.
- Project Approval: A project checklist can help inform your project charter and project plan. Both charters and plans are valuable tools that provide sponsors with the insight and visibility they need to approve projects with confidence.
How Do You Make a Project Checklist?
The first step in creating a project checklist is to understand the project. Identify its goals and the problems it will solve. You might also use or adapt old project checklists for use in future projects.
We’ve outlined a series of tasks and factors to consider when creating a checklist:
- Research the Project: Identify the need for your project and the problems it will solve. Determine how it will solve those problems, what are its goals, and how you will measure its success. This will help inform what you choose to include on your project checklist.
- Get to Know Your Stakeholders: Learn who will be on the team and who is responsible for project results. Identify their strengths and their current project commitments. Find out who is the project sponsor and what are their needs and priorities. This will help you plot your project’s roadmap and assign tasks.
- Start Planning the Project: Plan initial project details with a project charter, and then finalize them in a project plan. Create a work breakdown structure (WBS) to help plan process workflows, assign tasks, and manage resources. Develop a schedule, budget, and communication plan. These elements will all likely become steps on your checklist.
- Use Information from Past Projects: Past projects can become a template for future endeavors. Take a look at your most successful projects, and try to re-create their success. Identify the planning tools that were used, and integrate them into your current plans. Make a note of anything you would do differently next time, and then add those processes to your next checklist.
- Identify Possible Risks: Many risks are related to missing or incomplete project steps. Identifying the potential risks of your project can help you locate areas where you should pay better attention to detail. Describe these checklist items clearly and ensure that you account for them.
- Consider Visibility: Determine early on how often and with whom you will need to share project updates. Consider using online dashboards to consolidate this information, and make your checklists and updates accessible to everyone who needs them.
Project Management Checklist
A project management checklist includes all of the steps required for successful project completion. This includes conducting research, forming a team, identifying goals, and planning and executing your project.
A project management checklist is sometimes called a project management plan, project execution checklist, project implementation checklist, checklist of project processes, or simply a project checklist. The exact items on your checklist might vary based on your industry, the type of project, or your company’s history and expectations.
We’ve outlined 12 basic steps for any project management checklist that you can adapt to suit the needs of your project:
- Perform Project Research: Research should always be the first step in your project checklist. Reference similar completed projects for an estimated schedule and budget. Put this information into a project charter to present to your sponsor for approval. Consider roadblocks you might encounter and additional resources you might need. Use the lessons learned from previous projects to inform your strategies.
- Assemble Your Team: Define your stakeholders, and assign specific roles to your team members. Set expectations for deadlines and reporting, and begin to lay out who will be responsible for what.
- Define Your Scope and Goals: Decide on the goals of your project, what is required to achieve them, and the specific problems they will solve. Determine how you will measure project success and what is in and out of scope for your project.
- Review Your Budget: Confirm the budget you have available for your project. Next, start to categorize and add up your costs. Include all of the costs required to complete the project, including labor, materials, equipment, and any additional resources you might need. Consider using a project budget template to help keep your budget updated and organized throughout your project’s lifecycle.
- Estimate Your Schedule: Outline a schedule for the project. Start with major milestones, and fill in smaller details as your plan comes together. By creating a draft schedule early in the planning process, you make it easier to adjust as the planning progresses. The draft also provides a great jumping-off point for creating your finalized schedule.
- Create a Work Breakdown Structure: Once you’ve covered the basics, create a work breakdown structure (WBS) to define your project workflow. Identify the critical path, and create task lists for each project step and phase.
- Finalize a Formal Project Plan: Your project plan should include a project overview, finalized budget, project schedule with deadlines and deliverables, list of potential risks, risk mitigation strategy, and communication plan. Read our guide to writing a project plan for tips and templates that will help you create a thorough plan of your own.
- Define Your Success Measurements: Determine how you will measure your project’s success. This will depend heavily on the type of project you are undertaking. For example, the measure of success for a sales or production project might involve the total number of items sold or produced, but other projects might focus on throwing a successful event, developing a better version of an app, or improving an existing process. Read this guide on measuring project success to learn more.
- Employ Your Risk Management Plan: Adapt the strategies outlined in your company’s risk management plan to the specific types of risks you might encounter in your project. If you do not yet have a risk management plan, create one using any of these customizable risk management plan templates.
- Create and Share Project Information: Create a centralized repository or dashboard for storing project information, and keep it updated throughout the project’s lifecycle. Hold a project kickoff meeting to go over project information, and let stakeholders know where they can find updates. Use project management software to create shareable dashboards and visual aids for scheduling and budget information. Gantt charts and pie charts make complicated project information easier to digest.
- Execute Your Plan and Monitor Progress: Once you finish planning and kick off your project, it is time for your team to execute their assignments. As the project manager, it is your job to keep the project on track by assigning and overseeing tasks, sending regular updates to stakeholders, and holding meetings based on your communication plan. It is also important to keep project status information updated and accessible at all times and to take steps to mitigate and avoid risks.
- Confirm Completion and Close the Project: When your project is complete, the last step is to hand it off or close it down. Hand off any necessary contracts with vendors or clients to the people who will be responsible for them, or close out those contracts entirely. Gather information on the lessons learned during the project, and hold a lessons learned meeting to share your findings with the team and stakeholders. Prepare a project closure report, and finalize all project findings and deliverables with the sponsor. Finally, store that information for later reference before moving on to your next project.
Project Management Checklist Template
Use this downloadable project management checklist template to keep track of project planning and execution tasks. Document the time needed for each task in the template, and mark them as not started, in progress, or completed. We’ve populated a sample template with the 12 steps outlined above to get you started, but this template is completely customizable. Adapt it for your use on any type of project in any industry.
For more checklists, take a look at this list of free project checklist templates.
Additional Types of Project Management Checklists
Project managers might use additional types of project management checklists. These checklists are more specific than a generic project checklist. The most common types are used for project planning, program management, and project closeout.
Project Planning Checklist
A project planning checklist includes all steps needed to set up and plan a project. These checklists include everything between project inception and kickoff. Use them to ensure that your project plan satisfies all sponsor requirements.
Project planning checklists are also called project setup checklists, planning phase checklists, project development checklists, or pre-project checklists. Depending on your company, they can sometimes encompass project compliance elements as well.
We’ve outlined a generic project planning checklist in eight steps that you can adapt to any project:
- Research Your Project: Speak with your project sponsor to understand their expectations for the project. Reference past project information to determine what is feasible with the time and resources you will have available. Use the lessons learned from past projects to inform your project planning.
- Assemble Your Team: Identify your stakeholders, and assign roles to team members. Determine their strengths and current commitments to other projects as you make decisions.
- Estimate Requirements and Create a Project Charter: Put together a project charter with an estimated project budget and schedule. Your charter should also include preliminary risk management plans and an initial scope statement.
- Secure Sponsor Approval: Present your completed charter to your project sponsor for approval. Once they approve it, you can begin to solidify your plans.
- Finalize Budget, Schedule, and Resource Needs: Use the initial plans in your project charter to finalize a budget. Create a work breakdown structure, and use it to design a schedule with all relevant deliverables and deadlines. Begin assigning tasks to your team members based on their strengths and availability. Acquire any additional resources and equipment you will need to complete your project.
- Create a Formal Project Plan: Combine all of your planning and research into a formal project plan. Your project plan should include a budget, a schedule, a statement of scope, a communication plan, and risk management strategies. Your project plan will serve as an authoritative document for each project phase, so it should be as accurate as possible. Once it is complete, you should only deviate from it when absolutely necessary.
- Identify and Monitor Potential Risks: Risk mitigation starts before work on the project begins. Identify potential risks as early as possible, and let your team know what risks they will likely encounter. Keep an eye out for those risks, and pivot when necessary to mitigate their impact or avoid them entirely.
- Hold a Project Kickoff Meeting and Begin Execution: Hold a project kickoff meeting to present the plan to the team and stakeholders. A project kickoff should present the project’s goals, schedule, and roles and responsibilities, and they should encourage stakeholder buy-in. A successful kickoff meeting will be informative and exciting so that the team can hit the ground running.
Program Management Checklist
Program management checklists include the basic steps for managing a program or portfolio. They prioritize projects based on the goals of the organization as a whole. They also include steps for monitoring programs for continuous value.
We’ve outlined five basic steps for a general program management checklist:
- Define Program Goals: Establish the goals of your program. Speak to executives to determine the goals of the organization and how they relate to the goals of your program. Program goals might include the growth of a business department, an increase in sales, or an expansion of a business’s presence in a market.
- Organize Current Program Information: Gather information about any active projects within the program. Speak with project managers, and gain access to their status dashboards and reports. Project goals, scheduling information, budgets, and team compositions can be useful in determining the value of existing projects.
- Define Prioritization Criteria: Determine the prioritization criteria you will use to rank projects within the program. Prioritization criteria might include the total cost of the project, the ultimate benefits of project completion, or maintenance needs that the project addresses. Speak with executives to help determine the criteria that are most important to the company.
- Prioritize Projects Within the Program: Once you have determined your prioritization criteria, use a priority matrix or project prioritization template to rank the projects within your program by order of need and importance. As time goes on and new projects arise, you can update these criteria.
- Monitor and Report: Track the progress of projects within the program. Shift priorities as you add or complete projects. Create a regular reporting schedule to inform executives about the progress and status of program goals.
Project Closeout Checklist
A project closeout checklist includes the steps needed to finalize a completed project. It should include handing off project information, measuring the project’s success, preparing a project closure report, and archiving project data for later reference.
A project closeout checklist is also sometimes referred to as a project retrospective checklist or a post-mortem checklist.
We’ve outlined six steps to create a general checklist for closing out a project:
- Formally Hand Off Contracts and Documents: Some projects end when they are handed off to another team or department. If this is the case, create a formal system of ending your own project involvement and getting the next team up to speed. Make sure to include client or vendor contracts that the new team or department will still need. Close out any contracts that are no longer required.
- Measure Success Metrics: Review your project success metrics, and measure your project’s success based on that criteria. Conduct surveys to get team feedback on project processes. If clients are involved, get their input on the success of the project. Document all of this information for your project report.
- Identify and Review Lessons Learned: Call out and review the lessons you learned while undertaking this project with your team and stakeholders. Document this information in your report for future reference.
- Prepare a Project Closure Report: Assemble a project closure report that includes lessons learned, success findings, and basic project information. Describe the schedule you followed and your final budget, including any overages. Your report should present all project information, good and bad, for reference by future project managers.
- Formally Share Findings with Stakeholders and Sponsors: Hold a final meeting to share the results of your project with stakeholders and sponsors. Present a high-level overview of the project and what it accomplished or failed to accomplish. Use visual aids such as graphs and charts to represent data, and provide insight into what went well and what you would do differently next time.
- Archive Project Data: Collect your project data in a centrally accessible drive. Make sure to follow your company’s file naming conventions for easy searchability. Use this drive to reference past project data and to help conduct research for future projects.
Keep Your Projects Organized and Consistent with Smartsheet
From simple task management and project planning to complex resource and portfolio management, Smartsheet helps you improve collaboration and increase work velocity -- empowering you to get more done. The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed. When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.
From simple task management and project planning to complex resource and portfolio management, Smartsheet helps you improve collaboration and increase work velocity -- empowering you to get more done.
The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed.
When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.