What is a professional development plan (PDP)? 6 steps to create one

Team Asana contributor imageTeam AsanaNovember 9th, 20216 min read
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Summary

A professional development plan is an ever-changing document that assesses your current skill set, helps you set career goals, create strategies, and uncover resources that will help you reach them. Read on for examples of professional development goals and plans, and discover tools to help track your progress.

Times have changed. While our parents and grandparents typically picked one job and stuck with it until retirement, following a very straightforward career path, the modern knowledge worker is presented with a variety of new industries, jobs, and ways to prove ourselves.

This abundance of opportunities is amazing but can also be overwhelming. If you’re looking to streamline your career goals, a professional development plan, or PDP, is the tool you need.

A professional development plan is a document that outlines your current skills and knowledge, your goals, and the steps you need to take to achieve these goals.

We’re going to cover the six steps your PDP should include, examples of professional development goals and plans, and tools that will help you track your career development.

How to create a professional development plan in 6 steps

Your professional development plan is not a one-time project. Rather, it’s an ever-changing document that you update as your goals, surroundings, and priorities change. 

The visual below illustrates the lifecycle of your professional development plan.

Create a professional development plan

So let’s dive into the six steps you need to take to create your own professional development plan (PDP).

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Step 1: Assess yourself

Self assessment is the foundation of your PDP and a critical step you should take seriously whenever you update your PDP in the future. In this step, you’ll evaluate your personal and professional interests, any hopes, plans, and dreams you have for your career, as well as your current knowledge and skill set. 

You have to first identify where you stand with your current skills and knowledge of relevant topics so you can figure out what you need to improve or change to progress in your career.

Assessing yourself isn’t always easy. To jump-start this process, try using an assessment tool or personality test. Here are a few popular ones to try:

  • The Big Five

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

  • DISC personality

These tests can help you get a better understanding of who you are and what you want out of your life and career.

Step 2: Set your goals

Now that you’ve evaluated your current position and skills, it’s time to set your goals. To break up your main goals, you’ll want to set long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals

  • Long-term goals can be months or even years into the future.

  • Mid-term goals should range from a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

  • Short-term goals should range from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

Generally speaking, aim to set one long-term goal and then break the mid- and short-term goals up into manageable chunks. The number of short- and mid-term goals you set depends on how far into the future you’re planning and how many steps you need to complete to reach the finish line.

Setting more than one long-term goal only makes sense if they’re on different tracks. For example, you could set a long-term goal for your career, another one for your fitness, and a last one for your finances. While the progress you’re making in each of these aspects of your life may influence one another, these goals are different enough to require unique mid- and short-term goals. 

If you do set more than one long-term goal, consider the mental, emotional, and physical strain that multiple goals can have on you and adjust your schedule accordingly so you don’t burn out.

Whether you’re setting long-, mid-, or short-term goals, use the SMART goal technique to ensure that your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. We’ll cover some examples later on.

Read: How to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) to do the impossible

 

Step 3: Develop strategies

To reach your goals you need an action plan. To create one, ask yourself how you can advance your competencies, learn new skills, or get that promotion you’ve been eyeing. 

Take a look at your current skill set or position, as well as your goals, and write down what you need to do to reach them. Whether that’s going to a conference to broaden your knowledge, finding a mentor who can help you build meaningful connections within the organization, or signing up for a workshop to hone your skills—write down your action plan so you know which steps you’ll have to take to reach your goals. 

Step 4: Gather your resources

Once you’ve developed an action plan, think through the professional growth you need to succeed. Here are a few examples of resources that can be relevant to your professional development:

  • Seminars, webinars, or workshops that elevate your skill set

  • Learning and development resources that can advance your knowledge

  • Professional networks that connect you with new peers or mentors

  • Continuing education institutions that provide you with the degree you need for your promotion.

  • Social media platforms, like LinkedIn, where you can connect with your virtual team outside of work

List all the resources you can think of and then narrow them down to the ones that align best with your strategies and goals.

Step 5: Create a timeline

Creating a timeline and deadlines for your goals can be extremely helpful in sticking to them. It’s also the “T” of any SMART goal (time-bound). 

Depending on the type of goals you set for yourself, you may want to think in weekly, monthly, or quarterly increments. Try to find a happy balance between giving yourself enough time to achieve your goals but also challenging yourself.

If your main goal is tied to a specific date (for example, a new position that you want which needs to be filled by the beginning of the next year), your timeline will hold you accountable to your short- and mid-term goals so you don’t miss this career opportunity.

Step 6: Track your progress

With your timeline at hand and your SMART goals defined, it should be easy for you to track your progress and assess where you are. This brings us back to the beginning because your PDP isn’t a linear plan—it’s a lifecycle. 

Remember to keep your PDP alive by updating and adjusting it as you go. That’s the only way it can help you to continually improve yourself and grow in your career. You should also add your goals to a goal-setting software that allows you to track your progress and connect with others.

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Professional development goal examples

We already have an entire article on advancing your career with professional goals but let’s sum up some of the most important information regarding professional development goals.

Professional development goals are concrete objectives that you want to achieve during your career. They’re a combination of short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. Setting these goals should keep you motivated and ensure that you don’t get stuck on your career path.

Professional development goal examples

Here are a few examples of what these goals can look like:

Objective: Start a new job

  • Long-term: Get a good offer and quit your current job.

  • Mid-term: Apply for at least five positions that you’re really interested in.

  • Short-term: Find five job opportunities by the end of the week.

Objective: Get more involved in company activities

  • Long-term: Participate in and help organize at least one event by the end of the year.

  • Mid-term: Join a group or committee that sparks your interest.

  • Short-term: Find three opportunities that you’re interested in (e.g., a networking group, a charity committee, etc.) and contact them about getting involved by the end of the month.

Breaking your main objective up into manageable chunks will take some of the pressure off and allow you to approach your goal step by step. Plus, it’ll give you reasons to celebrate your smaller achievements along the way.

Professional development plan examples

Everyone’s professional development plan is going to look different. To give you a quick overview of what it can entail, here are a few brief examples of what you can write in your professional development plan:

Self assessment

  • Joined the company only six weeks ago

  • I feel welcomed by my team but I’m holding back on social interactions because I am intimidated by their closeness

Goals

  • Create a network of at least three people that I connect with outside of work by the end of the year.

Strategies

  • Speak up and get involved in meetings

  • Attend conferences, workshops, and after-work activities

  • Find a mentor

  • Connect with colleagues on LinkedIn

Read: 10 questions to ask before finding a mentor

Resources

  • Company networks and after-work activities

  • Mentor 1:1 meetings

Timeline

  • By next week: Add colleagues on LinkedIn and participate in at least one after-work activity

  • By next month: Secure a mentor and schedule bi-weekly meetings

  • By next quarter: Attend a conference or workshop with a colleague

  • By the end of the year: Have three or more colleagues that I feel comfortable hanging out with after or outside of work

When tracking these goals, you may realize that they were easier or harder to reach than you thought. That’s no problem! Simply adjust your goals or timeline and keep going. 

In this case, you may realize that making these connections doesn’t just help you feel more welcome and comfortable in the team but that your team considers you a natural leader. That could lead to a whole new development plan you can create to ensure you keep growing as a person.

Professional development plan vs. leadership development plan

Technically, a professional development plan doesn’t differ too much from a leadership development plan. Both require you to assess your current situation, set realistic goals, and track your progress.

However, if your goals are focused on improving your leadership skills or advancing into a leadership role at your organization, creating a leadership development plan will help you focus on the exact skills you’ll need to turn that plan into action. 

Professional development plan vs. leadership development plan

The first two steps remain the same: assess where you stand professionally and set your goals. After that, step three is to engage in leadership training and hone your leadership skills. During this step, you’ll also meet other leaders who can become your mentors and eventually your peers.

Step four of your leadership development plan is to build and interact with your network. To become a respected and successful leader, you’ll have to connect with like-minded people and seek out feedback whenever possible.

The last step is to learn or improve soft skills like effective communication, your emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution. All of these are critical to succeed in a leadership role and will distinguish a mediocre leader from a great one.

Help your team set trackable goals

Whether you’re working on your own PDP or helping out a teammate, the most important thing is that whatever goals you set are measurable and precise. This will allow you to track your progress and celebrate milestones.

With Asana’s goal tracking software, you can align your personal goals with those of your team or organization and always stay on top of your latest achievements.

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