6 steps for operations leaders to build a better annual plan

Julia Martins 참여자 얼굴 사진Julia Martins
2024년 1월 8일
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An effective annual plan is critical to keep your teams, departments, and company together, working toward the same goals. 

As an operations leader, you oversee how your organization runs its business. By reviewing how your company performed in the past year, you and your operations teams can identify which strategies worked—and which fell short—to build an effective annual plan designed to maximize the impact of every department.

Here’s what you need to know about building a successful annual plan.

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Annual plans drive clarity and accountability 

Annual planning gives your business a needed roadmap or template for the upcoming year. Seventy-five percent of successful companies have a formal and pre-established system to inform on and manage their strategy. It builds a connection between your employees’ goals and work, making it easier for them to generate results-based outcomes and maximize their teams’ impact.

With an annual plan, departments can start the year off with a strong understanding of the overall vision and how their work contributes to larger business goals. Without an overarching plan, it can be difficult to understand how a specific project or initiative moves the business forward. 

Clear goals establish benchmarks for project progress

Your annual plan shouldn’t be a set-it-and-forget-it goal. Rather, periodically check project progress against your annual plan so you can see how your operations teams are doing. Doing this throughout the year will not only give you a sense of how your teams are tracking towards their overall goals—it can also help you understand if they’re ahead or behind schedule, and adjust accordingly. 

If you notice that a specific initiative is not on track to meet the strategic goals outlined in your company’s annual plan, you can use this data to pivot and double down on—or divest from—specific initiatives. 

Establish concrete goals for a specific time period

The more specific your goal, the more concrete your action plan. Providing detailed and specific goals gives your employees a clear understanding of what work to prioritize and what deliverables they’re responsible for. 

Make sure your goals are measurable, as well. Clear KPIs and OKRs demonstrate how tangible work connects back to larger business goals. 

6 steps for annual business planning

The annual planning process often takes place near the end of the calendar year or at the end of your company’s fiscal year. As you get closer to annual planning time, consider these six steps of the annual planning process. 

1. Reflect on previous strategies—and develop new ones

Before your business can start planning for next year, ask yourself, your stakeholders, and your operations teams: How did we perform against the strategies laid out in last year’s annual plan?

No matter the answer, use these recent data points to steer your decision-making when building your next annual plan. That could mean doubling down on big programs or initiatives born in the last year—or going a different direction entirely. 

A well-built annual plan factors in reflection on what did and didn’t work—and improves off of it.

Connect everyone's work to company-wide goals

87% of workers with individual goals tied to company-wide goals say their business is well-prepared to meet customer expectations. Discover how Asana can transform the way your organization aligns work to goals.

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2. Transform your business’s greatest needs into goals

After reflecting on last year’s performance, hone in on the most significant growth and improvement opportunities. Use this for guidance as you construct company- and department-wide goals.

It helps to have a consistent framework for goals across the business, to accelerate the goal-setting process and ensure greater understanding of goals within all corners of the organization.

The exact goal framework you use will depend on your company, but a few good ones to consider are: 

3. Create an action plan to maximize impact

The next step is to create an action plan for your business to achieve the goals outlined in step three. Your action plan should outline the list of steps your teams need to take to accomplish their goals. Think of an action plan like the map you’ll use to arrive at your final destination. 

From there, delegate the work laid out in the action plan to specific teams and departments. Connecting the work that your operations teams complete to larger company goals makes it easier for each team to understand the impact their work has on the business.

4. Ensure the annual plan is everyone’s plan

Not everyone can be involved in building the annual plan for your company—but every team member should feel like their work is seen and accounted for in the plan. 

As the annual plan comes together, meet with leaders and employees across the business to ensure varying perspectives and priorities are factored into the final product. This step is critical for getting buy-in and generating excitement across the business. 

You don’t want to be in a position where you’re just telling everyone what the annual plan is—you want to bring every department along for the journey and get them excited about what they’re working toward in the coming year. Consider conducting a presentation to not only share the company plan and why this plan matters, but also to outline timelines and how departments will use it to achieve the company’s goals. 

Connect everyone's work to company-wide goals

87% of workers with individual goals tied to company-wide goals say their business is well-prepared to meet customer expectations. Discover how Asana can transform the way your organization aligns work to goals.

CTA banner image for a webinar by Asana, a collaborative work management platform

5. Execute your strategy, monitor metrics, and adjust as needed

At this point, your organization’s annual plan is completed, but nothing is ever fully set in stone. As the year progresses, make sure you’re continually monitoring success metrics and KPIs. If the results of your strategies are not behaving as you expected them to, it’s important to adjust so your business will still hit the goals outlined in your annual plan. 

6. Repeat again for next year 

At the end of the year, it’s time to start the process over again. Align with your strategic plan, look back at the past year’s results, and create another plan to achieve those business goals. 

What does a good annual plan include?

Effective annual plans should contain components that are essential for completing the work outlined in the plan itself, and context for why this plan will be effective. Here are a few examples of components you would find in an annual plan:

  • Reports of the previous year’s performance: Your company’s annual plan for the upcoming year should be based on the data from the previous year’s performance. This provides context for your teams as to what they’re capable of doing within one calendar year.

  • Budget estimates: A common KPI investors track is return on investment (ROI). Knowing how much money different teams are spending makes it easier for your organization to calculate ROI and adjust strategies. Providing budget estimations also gives departments the context they need for the amount of resources they have at their disposal for the year.

  • Clear and specific goals: Annual plans should use the SMART goal framework so that your company can easily measure progress and report back on it later. 

  • Important milestones: Your business can accomplish a lot of work within one year—but to do that, each department needs to know how they're doing. Milestones operate like checkpoints, giving teams and departments a sense of direction and an idea of how they're pacing against annual goals.

  • Project buffers and contingency plans: Unexpected things happen all the time, and it’s better to be prepared than caught off guard. Develop a contingency plan for how your organization will get back on track in the event of an unexpected roadblock. Also set aside some resource buffers, such as a small portion of your company’s budget, to accommodate for unexpected expenses.

Gear up for next year

After a year of hard work, it’s time to reflect back and plan for more great things in the future. While annual planning takes time, collaboration, and thoughtful strategy, the efforts show in the form of your business success. 

Connect everyone's work to company-wide goals

87% of workers with individual goals tied to company-wide goals say their business is well-prepared to meet customer expectations. Discover how Asana can transform the way your organization aligns work to goals.

CTA banner image for a webinar by Asana, a collaborative work management platform

Still have questions? We have answers. 

What is annual planning?

Annual planning is the act of developing a strategy for the upcoming year based on the learnings from the current year’s performance. This provides an opportunity for your operations teams to iterate on strategy from the past year and incorporate those learnings into your upcoming plans. 

In essence, your annual plan should contain: 

  • The goals your business needs to achieve

  • A strategy for how your organization will hit those goals

  • Clear tactics for what each department will work on

  • Any important milestones that benchmark progress

What’s the difference between annual planning and strategic planning? 

Strategic planning and annual planning are both important business planning methods that help set your team's strategy for the future. However, the scale of these planning strategies are different.

Strategic planning is the long-term strategy for your business. This encompasses a basic roadmap of how business should develop within three to five years. You will use your strategic planning process to inform your annual plan. 

Annual planning represents all of the goals and strategies that you want your business to achieve, similar to a strategic goal. The main difference here is that an annual plan only encompasses one calendar year, instead of a few years. If you think of it like a pie, annual planning is just one slice of the larger strategic plan pie.

When should your operations teams start annual planning?

Begin your annual planning process during Q4, so you can begin day one of Q1 with your plan in hand. If that’s not an option, do your annual planning as close to the start of the new year as possible. 

There are two benefits to planning earlier. First off, you’ll beat the end-of-year crunch, and avoid the stress that traditionally comes with the end of the year. Additionally, if you run an efficient annual planning process with your leadership team, your operations teams will still be free to execute on high-impact projects throughout Q4.

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