Master the Art of Effective Operational Planning

Table of Contents

So, you’ve crafted a strategic plan—what’s next?

While a strategic plan is an excellent tool for outlining your long-term strategy over the next three to five years, it’s crucial to complement it with additional planning documents to ensure successful implementation.

Certain aspects of this planning process will evolve annually. For instance, your yearly objectives and key results will naturally expand as time progresses. However, to ensure that you remain aligned with your long-term objectives and effectively execute your plans, it’s essential to have an operational plan in place.

What is operational planning?

Operational planning involves transforming your strategic plan into a comprehensive roadmap that precisely outlines the actions your team will undertake on a weekly or even daily basis. It encompasses the identification of specific tasks and milestones that each team or department must accomplish to execute your strategic plan successfully.

During the operational planning process, it is essential to delineate the responsibilities of each team or individual for the upcoming quarter, six months, or fiscal year. The level of detail and timeframe chosen for the operational plan should align with the pace at which your organization typically operates. For instance, if your team is known for its fast-paced nature and accelerated roadmap, it may be prudent to create an operational plan for the next quarter or half year. Conversely, if your organization adopts a more long-term perspective, it would be advisable to develop an operational plan covering the entire fiscal year.

Operational planning vs. strategic planning

A strategic plan encompasses the long-term vision and strategy for a business over a period of three to five years. On the other hand, an operational plan has a narrower scope and shorter timeline. Its primary objective is to outline the daily actions required to achieve the strategic goals. 

In contrast to a strategic plan, an operational plan places emphasis on implementation. It delves into the specific daily and weekly actions that your team must undertake to accomplish the overarching strategic plan. Additionally, it identifies the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that need to be regularly monitored to ensure steady progress towards the objectives. These intricate details find their place within the operational plan.

Who should create an operational plan?

For an operational plan to effectively capture the specific responsibilities and timelines, a high level of detail is crucial. To achieve this, it is advisable to create an operational plan that is smaller in scale compared to the strategic plan, both in terms of timeline and scope. Instead of attempting to develop an operational plan for the entire company, it is more effective to create plans at the department or team level. In larger organizations, it may even be beneficial to create operational plans for specific initiatives, resembling detailed work plans.

For instance, consider creating an operational plan that outlines the daily tasks and activities required to support the company within the IT department. This IT operational plan could encompass various aspects such as the frequency of checking the IT requests project inbox, budgetary considerations for programs, procedures for onboarding and equipping new employees, and the frequency of team meetings.

There are three key considerations when developing an operational plan:

  • Scope: The operational plan should meticulously address the “who, what, and when” for each activity, focusing on a specific team or initiative. 
  • Timeline: Depending on the pace at which your organization operates, the operational plan should span a quarter, six months, or a fiscal year, aligning with the timeframe that best suits your operational needs. 
  • Stakeholders: It is important to involve individuals closely associated with the work in the operational planning process. This ensures accurate projections and predictions of the work that should be included in the plan. 

The benefits of operational planning

A strategic plan serves as an effective tool for proactively aligning your team around a shared purpose. It enables you to establish long-term goals and chart a clear path towards achieving them.

Complementing the strategic plan, an operational plan plays a crucial role in realizing your strategic goals. Research indicates that only 26% of knowledge workers have a thorough understanding of how their individual work contributes to company objectives. By developing a meticulous operational plan, you can precisely identify the short-term goals that must be accomplished to stay on course towards your long-term objectives. It facilitates a thoughtful evaluation of the actions you are currently undertaking or need to undertake to effectively execute your goals.

Specifically, an operational plan:

  • Clarifies the weekly and daily activities that your team will engage in. 
  • Provides a comprehensive guide outlining the day-to-day operations that team members must undertake to achieve the long-term goals. 
  • Establishes benchmarks for daily expectations, ensuring that you remain on track and avoid deviating from the intended course.

5 steps to making an operational plan

Creating an operational plan involves several key steps to ensure its effectiveness. Here are five essential steps to guide you in making an operational plan:

  • Define Objectives: Begin by clearly defining the objectives and goals you want to achieve through the operational plan. These objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals). Understand what outcomes you aim to accomplish and how they align with the broader strategic goals. 
  • Identify Key Activities: Identify the key activities necessary to accomplish the defined objectives. Break down the larger goals into smaller, actionable tasks and determine the sequence and dependencies among them. Consider the resources, timelines, and potential challenges associated with each activity. 
  • Assign Responsibilities: Determine the individuals or teams responsible for each activity. Clearly assign roles and responsibilities to ensure accountability and efficient execution. Ensure that each person understands their specific tasks, deadlines, and expectations. 
  • Set Timelines and Milestones: Establish realistic timelines and milestones for each activity. Define the start and end dates for tasks and identify important checkpoints or milestones to track progress. This helps you stay on track, measure performance, and identify any deviations that need to be addressed. 
  • Monitor and Review: Regularly monitor the progress of the operational plan and review its effectiveness. Track the completion of activities, assess the achievement of milestones, and analyze any variations from the desired outcomes. Adjust as needed, such as reallocating resources or modifying timelines, to ensure the plan remains aligned with the strategic objectives.

By following these steps, you can develop a comprehensive and actionable operational plan that supports the successful implementation of your strategic goals.

Get started with operational planning

To get started with operational planning, here are a few steps you can follow:

  • Review the Strategic Plan: Begin by reviewing your organization’s strategic plan. Understand the long-term goals and objectives outlined in the plan. This will provide the foundation for your operational planning efforts. 
  • Identify Key Goals and Priorities: Identify the key goals and priorities that need to be addressed in the operational plan. Determine the specific areas or aspects of your business that require focused attention and define the desired outcomes. 
  • Assess Resources: Evaluate the resources available to you, including human resources, financial resources, technology, and any other necessary assets. Understand the limitations and constraints within which you need to operate. 
  • Engage Stakeholders: Involve relevant stakeholders in the operational planning process. This may include department heads, team members, key decision-makers, and other individuals or groups who will be directly impacted by the operational plan. Seek their input, insights, and perspectives to ensure a comprehensive approach. 
  • Set Objectives and Key Results (OKRs): Define clear and measurable objectives for each area or aspect of your operational plan. Establish key results that will indicate progress and success. These objectives and key results should be aligned with the strategic goals of the organization. 
  • Develop Action Plans: Break down the objectives into actionable steps or tasks. Determine the specific actions that need to be taken, the resources required, and the timelines for completion. Assign responsibilities to individuals or teams for each task. 
  • Establish Metrics and Tracking: Define the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to track progress and measure success. Determine how you will monitor and evaluate the performance against these metrics using project management tool. 
  • Communicate and Align: Communicate the operational plan to all relevant stakeholders. Ensure that everyone understands the objectives, tasks, and responsibilities assigned to them. Align the operational plan with the overall strategic direction of the organization to foster coherence and synergy. 
  • Implement and Monitor: Execute the operational plan according to the defined timelines and tasks. Monitor progress regularly, track performance against established metrics, and adjust or improvements as needed. 
  • Review and Adapt: Periodically review the operational plan to assess its effectiveness and relevance. Adjust or adapt the plan based on changing circumstances, new opportunities, or emerging challenges. 

Remember, operational planning is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring and adjustment.

By following these steps, you can lay a solid foundation for effective operational planning and ensure that your organization remains focused and aligned towards achieving its strategic goals.