The work plan explains the “how” of your project and is critically assessed by the reviewers of your proposal. It is also the guide for implementing your project if it gets funded, so you had better design it very well! Here is a guide to the work plan preparation of your next Horizon Europe proposal.
Keep the work plan for (almost) the end of your proposal preparation
Although it takes some time to write it, the work plan should come almost last in your proposal preparation. The only thing to keep for after your work plan is the budget.
This is because you should carefully design your project objectives, concept and methodology first, and even most of your impact section before diving into the details of how you implement your project. Do not do the reverse, that is to start with the work packages and then defining your objectives and concept. This will cause you to fail at defining objectives and the concept properly.
Start by defining your main working steps
The work plan is a division of what you need to achieve in the project into major steps called work packages and smaller steps called tasks. You should define as many work packages as your project needs but at the same time, keep the number reasonable (between 4 and 8). Work packages should be fairly independent from one another, although there are still some links. The easiest approach to choose your work packages is to make them coherent with your project’s specific objectives (one work package for each specific objective).
Then, once you have defined your work packages, you can divide them in tasks. A work package should be made of several tasks. While work packages can last as long as the project, usually tasks are shorter intermediary achievements.
Make sure to avoid redundancy between work packages and tasks, that is to avoid the same thing being done twice.
Describe precisely but concisely the work packages and tasks
The work package description starts with its objectives. If you have followed our advice to align your work packages with your specific objectives, the work package objective is simply the achievement of a project’s specific objective. Then, you need to describe each task. The description should be operational, meaning it should explain what will be done and not why it will be done (this goes into the section 1 concept). This description should be consistent with your methodology as described in section 1.3.
Do not forget to define which partner gets the leadership of the task and describe the contribution of other partners. Having the contribution from several partners in each task is very important, since it demonstrates the collaborative value of your project. At the same time, do not involve all the partners in all the work packages since the aim is also to demonstrate the specificity of each partner’s skills and contribution.
Finally, each task needs to end with a deliverable. However, do not plan too many deliverables as they will become contractual obligations and having too many of them will consume a lot of project management resources. Describe succinctly what the deliverable will be and who is in charge in the deliverable list and add a deadline for its delivery.
In the past, the European Commission imposed a 2-page limit per work package description. This limit is not applied anymore but should be an indication of how long you should write your work package description.
Plan your tasks only once you have listed all of them
The planning of your tasks should come at the end of your work plan definition, because any given task might need some input from another task and this will define its planning. Planning requires both to define how long a task needs to be completed and when it can start based on the inputs from other tasks. Do not underestimate the timing of a task by fitting it with the absolute time you estimate for its completion, because you will not work full time on the task.
Check the consistency of your work plan
It is advised to keep your work plan as simple as possible, but in any case, you need to check its consistency. To do so, you can use a Gantt chart, which is a mandatory content in your proposal anyway. The Gantt chart is a graphical representation of your work plan timing. On the Y-axis, you list all your work packages and tasks, and, on the X-axis, you have the project duration expressed in months. You can draw for each task a line between its start date and end date. You can also position the deliverables at their deadlines. The way you can check your work plan consistency with a Gantt chart is by linking the tasks from an output (a deliverable) of one task to its input to another task (i.e. a deliverable from a task A is used in task B). You can thus easily see if a task starts not before or too long after it gets its inputs from another task.
Although you can draw a Gantt chart in Microsoft Excel, we advise you to use a dedicated software to save time and avoid mistakes. Such a software will automatically plan your tasks based on the inputs they get from other tasks.
The other mandatory graphical representation in your proposal is a PERT chart or equivalent. Contrary to the Gantt chart, the PERT chart does not show any timing of your work plan, but the links in terms of outputs/inputs between the work packages. It is a more high-level representation of your project work plan but it is also a great way to check if your work plan makes sense in terms of consistency with the project’s concept.
Define milestones for the key moments your project should be checked
In addition to work packages, tasks and deliverables, the Horizon Europe work plan also includes milestones. These are key moments in your project when the European Commission will be able to check that everything goes as planned. Therefore, choose some key events in your project where some major achievements should be completed to be checked. The simplest way to verify the accomplishment of a milestone is to link it to the submission of one or several deliverables. Note that milestones should work as go/no go gates, that is in case of the condition for the milestone is not met, there should be a contingency plan in place. Therefore, and also because milestones constitute as the deliverables contractual obligations for the consortium, do not plan too many milestones. Three or 4 for a 3-year project is a reasonable number.
A frequent mistake is to put much effort on designing the best ever work plan in the proposal phase while forgetting that it must be implemented if your proposal gets funding. To avoid this trap, always keep in mind your capacities as a consortium to implement what you promise while writing your work plan. This can even play at your advantage in the evaluation phase as some experienced reviewers will feel whether your work plan is realistic or not.
Go to section 4 and link the partners’ profiles with the work plan
Although it is not assessed in the evaluation, reviewers pay actually a careful attention to the profiles of the project’s partners in section 4. One important thing they look for is the demonstration that the partners can contribute properly to the project. To demonstrate that, make sure to include in your profile description the list of each partner’s contribution in terms of tasks and complete it with CVs, track record and a list of relevant equipment.
We hope you got a useful information about how to design your work plan. The next thing to do is to draft a budget. The work plan and the budget are linked since the work plan described why you need the budget. This is why you should carefully define your work plan and in the budgeting stage, the person-months of each partner for each task. Learn more in your article dedicated to Horizon Europe budgets.