Learn how to do operational planning the right way

Zdjęcie współautora – Julia MartinsJulia Martins26 kwietnia 20216 min czytania
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You’ve created a strategic plan—now what? A strategic plan is a great way to map out your long-term strategy for the next three to five years, but you need additional planning documents to help you get there. 

Some of this planning will be developed yearly—things like your yearly objectives and key results, for example, will naturally grow as time goes on. But to make sure you’re staying on track and executing against your long-term goals, you need an operational plan. 

What is operational planning?

Operational planning is the process of turning your strategic plan into a detailed map that outlines exactly what action your team will take on a weekly, or sometimes even daily, basis. An operational plan will include action items and milestones that each team or department needs to complete in order to execute your strategic plan. 

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During the operational planning process, outline each team or person’s responsibilities for the next quarter, six months, or fiscal year. The level of detail and timeline you select for your operational plan should depend on how quickly your organization typically moves—if you’re a fast-paced team with an accelerated roadmap, consider creating an operational plan for the next quarter or half year. But if your organization tends to think more long-term, create an operational plan for the entire fiscal year.

Operational planning vs. strategic planning

A strategic plan is a business-level plan of your long-term strategy for the next three to five years. An operational plan is smaller in both scope and timeline. The goal of operational planning is to outline the daily actions you need to take to hit your strategic goals. 

Read: New to strategic planning? Start here.

Unlike a strategic plan, an operational plan should also focus on implementation. What daily and weekly actions does your team need to take in order to accomplish your longer-term strategic plan? What specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) do you need to track on a regular basis in order to ensure that your team is progressing towards your objectives? These details should be captured in your operational plan.

Who should create an operational plan?

To capture exactly who is doing what by when, an operational plan needs to be very detailed. For this reason, create an operational plan at a smaller scale than your strategic plan—both in terms of timeline and scope. Instead of trying to create an operational plan for your entire company, create one at the department or team level. At a larger company, you could even create an operational plan for a specific initiative—similar to a detailed work plan.

For example, create an operational plan to explain the daily tasks your IT department needs to do in order to support the company. Your IT department’s operational plan might include how frequently IT team members will check the IT requests project inbox, budgeting details for the program, how the IT team will onboard and equip new employees, and how frequently the team will meet. 

There are three levels to who should create an operational plan:

  • Scope: Your operational plan will capture the who, what, and when of each activity. It should be laser-focused on a team or initiative.

  • Timeline: Depending on how fast your organization moves, your operational plan should span a quarter, six months, or a fiscal year. 

  • Stakeholders: Make sure the people involved in operational planning are close to the work, so they can accurately project and predict what work should be included in the plan.

The benefits of operational planning

A strategic plan is a great way to proactively align your team around a shared purpose. By defining long-term goals, you can outline exactly where you want to go.

An operational plan helps you hit your strategic goals. According to our research, only 26% of knowledge workers have a very clear understanding of how their individual work relates to company goals. By creating a detail-oriented operational plan, you can define exactly what short-term goals you need to achieve in order to be on track towards your long-term objectives. It can help you think through the actions you’re currently taking or need to take in order to execute against your goals. 

In particular, an operational plan:

  • Clarifies exactly what your team will be doing on a weekly and daily basis.

  • Provides a comprehensive guide of the day-to-day operations your team members need to take in order to accomplish your long-term goals.

  • Sets a benchmark for daily expectations, so you can avoid getting off track.

5 steps to making an operational plan

During the operational planning process, you're not creating new plans or developing new goals. Rather, to create an operational plan, assess everything your team is currently working on and everything you need to do on a daily or weekly basis to hit your strategic goals. Here’s how:

1. Start with a strategic plan

If you haven’t already, create a strategic plan first. You need a long-term vision and goals before you can break down the day-to-day details. There are four steps to creating a strategic plan:

  1. Determine your position

  2. Develop your strategy

  3. Build your strategic plan

  4. Share, monitor, and manage your strategic plan

To learn more, read our article on strategic planning.

2. Narrow down your scope

In order to create a detail-oriented operational plan, you need to narrow the scope to a team, department, or focus area. The scope of your operational plan will depend on the size of your company.

For example, imagine you’re breaking down your strategic plan into action plans for various company departments. Your marketing team spans multiple functions—for example, design, product marketing, social media, content creation, and web promotion. To capture specific, daily functions within each team, you should create an operational action plan for each smaller team. 

3. Identify key stakeholders

Before creating an operational plan, decide who will be involved in the operational planning process. The team members creating the operational plan should be relatively close to the actions the plan describes. 

To continue our example, the design team’s operational plan should be created by the head of the design team and the team leads (depending on the size of the team). Once they’ve created their operational plan, the team should share the plan with the head of marketing for final approval.

4. Create the plan

Your operational plan explains the actions your team will take to achieve your goals within a set time frame. To create an operational plan, outline:

  • Your team’s objectives

  • The deliverables that will be achieved by the operational plan

  • Any desired outcomes or quality standards

  • Staffing and resource requirements, including your operating budget

  • How you will monitor and report on progress

If you’re struggling to figure out all the details that should be included in your operational plan, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What do we need to accomplish? This information should come from your strategic plan or yearly goals.

  2. What daily tasks do we need to complete in order to hit our goals? These can be daily tasks you’re currently doing or new work that needs to be kicked off.

  3. Who are the people responsible for those tasks? Make sure each task has one owner so there’s no confusion about who to go to for questions or updates.

  4. What are our metrics for success? If you haven’t already, make sure your goals follow the SMART framework

Przeczytaj: Twórz lepsze cele SMART korzystając z tych wskazówek i przykładów

To continue our example, here’s the framework the design team might use to create their operational plan:

Part of the strategic plan for the marketing team is to increase share of voice in the market—which means more eyes on marketing materials and increased engagement with potential customers. To support these goals, the design team will: 

  • Create additional promotional materials for the social team

  • Revamp the website home page to attract more potential customers

To accomplish these two goals in the next year, the design team will:

  • Hire two new team members to focus on social media engagement

  • Partner with the web development team within the marketing department to create an interactive home page

To track and report on their progress, the design team will use Asana as their central source of truth for key performance metrics, including:

  • What designs they are creating

  • The level of engagement they’re getting on social media

  • The progress of the website update

This is just the framework the design team would use to create their operational plan. Bring this plan to life within a work management tool like Asana to share clarity on all of the work the team needs to do to hit their goals. With work management, every task can be tracked in real-time from inception to completion.

5. Share and update your operational plan

Once you’ve created the plan, share it with key stakeholders so they understand your team’s most important goals and the daily tasks it will take to get there. Manage your plan and updates in a shared tool that captures real-time progress, like Asana.

Like any element of project planning, things will inevitably change. Actively monitor your operational plan and report on progress so key stakeholders and team members can stay updated on how you’re tracking against your goals. Report on progress monthly through written status updates

Przeczytaj: Jak napisać efektywny raport o statusie projektu

Get started with operational planning

An operational plan can help you ensure you’re making progress on long-term goals. But in order for this plan to be effective, make sure you’re tracking your work in a centrally-accessible tool. Siloed information and goals don’t help anyone—instead, track your action items and goals in a work management tool.

Try Asana for operations teams

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