A Beginner's Guide to Operational Planning (2023)

A Beginner's Guide to Operational Planning (1)

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Good operational planning is the difference between achieving your vision as a business or missing it. This guide will help you do it right.

Operational planning isn't glamorous, but it's a must for any small business. Without a roadmap, you’ll get lost when you set out to accomplish a goal.

But where do you begin with an operational plan? It sounds complicated, and in some ways it is. But you don't need to be a business genius to draft one.

An operational plan is about understanding your vision, creating goals, and laying out the concrete steps to realize them. This handy guide will help you get it right.

Overview: What is operational planning?

Operational planning refers to the creation of an outline of what activities a department or organization will focus on in the coming months.

(Video) Operational Planning - how and why we do it

An operational plan is the "how" to any organization's long-term vision. It lays out how a department will accomplish a specific project that is part of a larger effort in the company's vision.

A strategic plan sets big, grand goals for a vision, with major tasks you must complete over time to get there, while an operational plan serves as the blueprint for how a department will complete each task.

Operational planning vs. strategic planning: What's the difference?

An operational plan differs from a strategic plan in that the latter is more about your organization's vision, while the operational planning dives into the nuts and bolts of how that's going to play out day to day.

A strategic plan looks at long-term goals five years into the future or more, while an operational plan looks at what you will work on for the next, say, six months to a year.

An operational plan is also more department-focused than the strategic plan, which concentrates on organization-wide goals. The time involved may vary; annual operational planning is common, but an organization may just draw up a plan for the next three or six months.

Benefits of operational planning

Organizations that don’t spend time on operational and project planning are often winging it, which means they run into obstacles along the way and fail to achieve overarching goals. Here are three main benefits to doing this planning correctly:

1. It makes success more likely

Setting ambitious goals is important as an organization, as it gives you something to drive toward. But you won’t realize those goals without a practical, realistic plan. Drafting an operational plan makes it more likely the organization will succeed.

2. It improves teamwork and collaboration

With an operational plan in place, everyone has a role and teammates aren’t stepping on each other's toes. The plan lays out who is responsible for what and sets expectations on how and when these tasks are achieved.

(Video) 5 Operational planning Steps and processes for developing operational plans

3. It boosts productivity

Everyone is more productive when they have proper guidance on what they should be doing. An operational plan provides that direction to your team.

They’ll know what’s expected of them and understand the deliverables. They'll just flat out be more motivated to do the work when they understand and believe in the vision.

Types of operational plans

You’ll likely use two types of operational plans: single-use and standing.

A single-use plan is an operational plan relates to a particular project, and it’s discarded once the project is complete. Use this when the project doesn't match another project or isn't likely to be used again later. You can customize it to fit the individual project.

A standing plan is an operational plan that’s used repeatedly. A department will use this for projects or tasks that crop up frequently. Having these plans in place means you won’t have to "reinvent the wheel" each time, but you will sacrifice some flexibility.

How to create an operations plan for your small business

An operations plan is straightforward, but devote sufficient time to draft one -- don't cut corners. These five basic steps can help you create your own:

Step 1: Examine your organization's vision

Any organizational project is a steppingstone to achieve a larger vision, so know and understand that vision before initiating any project. What is your organization trying to accomplish at a macro level?

Talk to leadership and find out what they consider important. Then think about how your project fits into that bigger picture.

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Quick tips:

  • Ask leadership what success looks like to them: Frequently, a department manager's idea of success looks different than organizational leadership’s idea. That's not surprising, because leadership’s focused on the big picture while a departmental vision is a bit narrower. Ask leadership what they think success looks like for your project so you’re not guessing.
  • Create a vision for your own department: After that conversation, draft a vision for your department that’s closely aligned with the organization’s vision -- like a localized version of it. As you draft it, constantly compare it to the organizational vision and make adjustments as necessary. This will ensure you have the proper focus before you begin the project.

Step 2: Define the goals and strategy

Now that you understand where your tasks fit into the big picture, figure out what the goals of this specific project should be. Then draft a strategy on how you'll get there as a department.

At this point in the operational planning process, draft a scope of work and identify stakeholders.

Quick tips:

  • Use project management software: Software can help you track the metrics you set in your goals to see if your team is meeting them. You can use other project management tools as well to help you during the project.
  • Use past projects as your guide: Examine an operating plan example from a previous project that’s similar to yours. What mistakes did they make you can learn from? What timeline did they work with and how successful were they in terms of sticking with it?

Step 3: Plan out activities

With vision, goals, operations strategy, and project scope handled, now you can get into actually planning the activities. You must be very specific, laying out what concrete plans to reach the end goal. Break these into small steps.

Quick tips:

  • Work backwards: Start with the goal, and then determine what the preceding step would look like. For example, if you set a goal "increase sales by 20%," the preceding step might be "pitch to 20% more leads," and the step before that might be "generate 20% more leads," and so on. Each larger step could have subsets to further break them up.
  • Identify resources: You must list all supplies, equipment, training, and other resources you will need to accomplish each task. Without these, you will fall behind.

Step 4: Assign roles and responsibilities

Next, assign roles and responsibilities to team members. Select and assign people to tasks based on their skills. Lay out communications strategies so you’re all on the same page. Be specific about team member reporting structures and deadlines you expect them to meet.

Quick tips:

(Video) Operational Plan

  • Consult with each member of your team: After you draw up the plan and assign responsibilities, meet with members of your team individually for a gut check. Did you miss anything? Did you put too much on their plate (or not enough)? Did you assign tasks appropriately? Should you reassign tasks based on your meetings with team members?
  • Reward successes: Motivate your team by offering them rewards if they meet critical milestones: maybe a bonus or a pay raise, or something more modest, such as a gift card.

Step 5: Monitor and adjust

Monitor progress and adjust as necessary to ensure everything is on track. Hold your team to the deadlines you set, and if you miss a deadline, adjust the plan to keep from getting off track. Draft work reports throughout the project so you can properly analyze team performance.

Quick tips:

  • Be flexible: A rigid project is doomed to failure, so bake in room for adjustments. Be willing to drop some less-important goals for more important ones, and be prepared to shuffle people into different roles at a moment's notice.
  • Have a post-project meeting: When you’ve finished with the project, meet with your team to talk over what went right and what could be improved. Keep a positive outlook and encourage honesty so you can identify opportunities to execute the next project even better.

Set aside time to do operational planning right

The bottom line is that an operational plan is not rocket science, but you've got to put in the work. A good operational plan will be mapped out in great detail, spelling out manpower, resources and specific steps you must take.

This isn’t something you can whip up in a half hour on your lunch break. Set aside hours or even days to do the legwork, meet with stakeholders and leadership, and draw up a strategy, with detailed action steps.

It may seem like a lot of effort, but it will pay off in the end when your department completes a praiseworthy project on time and on budget.

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What are the 7 things operational plan should contain? ›

Operational plans should contain:
  • clear objectives of them.
  • activities to be delivered.
  • quality standards.
  • desired outcomes.
  • staffing and resource requirements.
  • implementation timetables.
  • a process for monitoring progress.

What are 5 key elements of developing an operations plan? ›

Whatever operation needs a solid plan, there are five major components to focus on: Preparation, marketing, logistics, human resources (HR) and financial limits.

What are the 3 operational plans? ›

What are different types of Operational plans of a business? To fully understand how Operational Plans of a Business work and run, the first step is to look at the overall planning process within a business. There are 3 levels of planning which include the strategic plan, tactical plan and operational plan.

What are the four types of operational plan? ›

There are four phases of a proper organizational plan: strategic, tactical, operational, and contingency.

What are the 7 stages of the planning process? ›

How to Strategic Plan in 7 Steps
  • Step 1: Environmental Scan. ...
  • Step 2: Internal Analysis. ...
  • Step 3: Strategic Direction. ...
  • Step 4: Develop Goals and Objectives. ...
  • Step 5: Define Metrics, Set Timelines, and Track Progress. ...
  • Step 6: Write and Publish a Strategic Plan. ...
  • Step 7: Plan for Implementation and the Future.
26 Apr 2022

What are the 5 basic principles of operation management? ›

At the most fundamental level, management is a discipline that consists of a set of five general functions: planning, organizing, staffing, leading and controlling. These five functions are part of a body of practices and theories on how to be a successful manager.

What is a basic operational plan? ›

An operational plan is a plan that outlines the key objectives and goals of a company while also outlining how the company can achieve them. A clear and concise operational plan can help to ensure that projects stay on track and can help to improve day-to-day operations.

What are the 5 key goals of operations management? ›

The five key business performance objectives for any organization include quality, speed, dependability, flexibility, and cost. When it comes to business performance objectives you're likely aware that efficiency and productivity are crucial. But how do you successfully achieve these?

What are the six 6 Strategies in operations management? ›

Nurture all six, and success is much more likely.
  • Customers. Perhaps the most important strategy will revolve around your customers. ...
  • Partnering. ...
  • Operational Improvements. ...
  • New Product or Service Development / Innovation. ...
  • Technology & Information Management. ...
  • People and Talent.

What are the 4 factors which affect operational plan? ›

Ans : The various factors affecting an operational plan are:
  • Venture Nature.
  • Product/service type.
  • Operational scale.
  • Technology involved.

What are the two 2 methods used for operational plans? ›

There are two types of operational plans: standing plans and single-use plans. Standing plans are plans designed to be used again and again. Examples include policies, procedures, and regulations.

What is the main goal of operational planning? ›

It clarifies organizational goals. Operational planning helps leadership define responsibilities, daily tasks, and activities in detail. It also sets out how individual team members support overall department and organizational goals and defines outcomes for them to measure daily tasks against.

What are main points of operational plan? ›

An operational plan outlines the key objectives and goals of an organization and how to reach them. It is a well-crafted document that ensures team members know their responsibilities and have a clear understanding of what needs to be done.

What are the 8 elements of planning? ›

8 Key Elements of Strategic Planning Process | Business...
  • The Process Strategic: ...
  • The Process Is About Planning: ...
  • The Process Is Disciplined: ...
  • The Process is About Fundamentals: ...
  • The Process is About Decision-Making: ...
  • It Is The Long Range Plan: ...
  • Based On Operating Plan: ...
  • Strategic Management:

What are the six elements of planning? ›

Six Key Elements of a Successful Plan
  • Gather Information.
  • Set objectives of the plan.
  • Devise strategies to meet goals.
  • Implement your plan.
  • Monitor plan performance.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness/success of your plan.
23 Nov 2020

What are the six piece of planning? ›

Just like there are four main p's of marketing, there are 6 p's of planning, namely: purpose, philosophy, premise, policies, policies and priorities.

What are the 10 critical areas of operation management? ›

10 Strategic Decision Areas of Operations Management
  • Design of Goods and Services. ...
  • Quality Management. ...
  • Process and Capacity Design. ...
  • Location Strategy. ...
  • Layout Design and Strategy. ...
  • Human Resources and Job Design. ...
  • Supply Chain Management. ...
  • Inventory Management.
10 Oct 2022

What are the four 4 responsibilities of operation manager? ›

In most businesses, operations managers oversee the big picture of their organization. They are responsible for managing processes, purchasing, accounting, human resources, inventory, and IT.

What is simple operational plan template? ›

What Is an Operational Plan Template? An operational plan template is a form that captures key details about a work plan. An operational plan includes specific actions and resources needed to reach certain milestones. It is more detailed and specific than a strategic or business plan.

What are the 13 elements of operational design? ›

3 The 13 elements of operational design are objectives, military endstate, center of gravity, effects, culmination, lines of operation, lines of effort, decisive points, direct and indirect approach, operational reach, arranging operations, anticipation, and forces and functions.

What are the 6 operational objectives? ›

The key objectives for operations are outlined below.
Environmental targets
  • Use of energy.
  • Proportion of production materials that are recycled.
  • Compliance with waste disposal regulations / proportion of waste to landfill.
  • Supplies of raw materials from sustainable sources.
22 Mar 2021

What are the 3 roles of operations management? ›

Monitoring daily production of goods. Managing and controlling your inventory. Keeping tabs on team member performance and well being. Production planning.

What are the 3 important qualities in an operation role? ›

At its core, the skillset needed for operations managers includes thinking analytically, communicating effectively, and executing efficiently.

What are the four elements of planning? ›

The entire process of planning consists of many aspects. These basically include missions, objectives, policies, procedures, programmes, budgets and strategies.

What are the 3 elements of strategic planning? ›

During the strategic planning process, an organization performs three steps: Builds or modifies the foundational strategic vision and mission. Commits to goals that drive overall health. Develops a long-term plan to achieve the goals.

What are the 4 components of strategic planning? ›

The four most widely accepted key components of corporate strategy are visioning, objective setting, resource allocation, and prioritization.

What are the challenges of operational planning? ›

What are the 5 Current Challenges of Operations Management? There are multiple challenges that operations managers face on a daily basis; this blog highlights the following five: globalization, sustainability, ethical conduct, ineffective communication, and system design.

What are the barriers to operational planning? ›

The common barriers that inhibit successful planning are as follows: Inability to plan or inadequate planning. Managers are not born with the ability to plan. Some managers are not successful planners because they lack the background, education, and/or ability.

What three things does a operational planning tell a manager? ›

According to the book "Business Principles and Management," operational planning concerns three aspects of a company's work: how work will be performed, who will perform the work and what resources are required to complete work in each business area.

Who is responsible for operational planning? ›

The operational plan is produced by the chief executive and staff of the organisation. The purpose of the Operational Plan is to provide organisation personnel with a clear picture of their tasks and responsibilities in line with the goals and objectives contained within the Strategic Plan.

What are the benefits of operational planning? ›

A benefit of operational planning is that a company is able to analyze the effect of its operations on profit. Operational planning dissects a company's financial position, identifies weaknesses and develops ways to increase profits.

What are the 7 principles of planning? ›

Seven principles for strong planning
19 Oct 2009

What does the 5 P's of planning mean? ›

Mintzberg developed his 5 Ps of Strategy as five different definitions of (or approaches to) developing strategy. He first wrote about the 5 Ps of Strategy in 1987. Each of the 5 Ps is a different approach to strategy. They are Plan, Ploy, Pattern, Position, and Perspective.

What are the 6 steps in the planning process? ›

The six steps are:
  1. Step 1 - Identifying problems and opportunities.
  2. Step 2 - Inventorying and forecasting conditions.
  3. Step 3 - Formulating alternative plans.
  4. Step 4 - Evaluating alternative plans.
  5. Step 5 - Comparing alternative plans.
  6. Step 6 - Selecting a plan.

What are the 5 steps in the program planning process? ›

Steps in Program Planning
  1. Analyze The Situation.
  2. Identify Your Organization's Needs, Problems, Purpose and Goals.
  3. State Program Objectives and Solutions.
  4. Take Stock of Your Resources and Select Methods.
  5. Plan the Details.
  6. Do It!
  7. Evaluate.

What are the 5 P's of planning? ›

Each of the 5 Ps stands for a different approach to strategy:
  • Plan.
  • Ploy.
  • Pattern.
  • Position.
  • Perspective.

What are the basic six P's of planning? ›

Just like there are four main p's of marketing, there are 6 p's of planning, namely: purpose, philosophy, premise, policies, policies and priorities.

What are the four 4 major tasks that need to be performed in the planning phase? ›

The planning phase can include the following steps:
  • Deciding on milestones that lead up to goal completion.
  • Developing a schedule for tasks and milestones, including time estimates and potential time buffers.
  • Establishing change processes.
  • Determining how and how often to communicate with team members and stakeholders.
10 Aug 2022

What are the four processes of planning? ›

Planning, build-up, implementation, and closeout.

What are the 10 principles of planning? ›

Basic Principles of Planning:
  • Principle of Commitment: ...
  • Principle of the Limiting Factor: ...
  • Principle of Reflective Thinking: ...
  • Principle of Flexibility: ...
  • Principle of Contribution to Enterprise Objectives: ...
  • Principle of Efficiency: ...
  • Principle of Selection of Alternatives: ...
  • Principle of Planning Premises:


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