I'm particular about two things: calling a prose plan a project plan and calling a Gantt chart (or yellow stickies) a schedule. One of my colleagues emailed me last week, explaining he'd spent a week developing a project plan and was hoping I could take a look at it. “Sure,” I said. “Send it along.”
He did. It was a Gantt chart for the next three months, with one- and two-week tasks. I called him and asked for a project plan, with release criteria. Did he have any? No. Had he checked with the people who were going to do the work to see if they could buy into the schedule? No, none of them were assigned yet. Dead silence on my end, trying to figure out how to ask the next question: Did he realize his schedule was already behind because 6 people were supposed to have already started?
I finally just asked the question, ignoring tact. He was quiet. I asked, “Why is this schedule so important to you?” “My manager wants the project done in three months.”
Managers can want anything they want. But wanting it doesn't make it happen. This is where it's critical to get started on working by chunk, so you can finish some work, and see where you're going (I use velocity charts).
If you're given a deadline, you don't need a long schedule. You need a short in-depth schedule, along with knowing what done means. You need to spend your time managing the project, not defining a schedule.
If you want to try some templates for a project plan, take a look at the Manage It! templates.