Operational Planning: How to Make an Operations Plan


Project success, specifically on a team level, happens after you put a solid operational plan in place. Without an operational plan, team members can lose sight of scheduling and tasks, budgets can skyrocket and pandemonium can ensue. So, to ensure that your project is well-executed, let’s dive in and discover how to make an effective operational plan.

What is Operational Planning?

Operational planning is what happens when a team or department draws from a company-wide strategic plan and puts it under a microscope. Operational strategy is future-oriented: it maps out department budgets and goals to propel the success of the strategic plan with specific, team-based activities for the next 1-3 years.

Operational plans work best when an entire department buys-in, assigning due dates for tasks, measuring goals for success, reporting on issues and collaborating effectively. They work even better when there’s communication across departments to ensure that the whole machine is running smoothly as each team reaches its benchmark.

What Are the Benefits of Operational Planning?

Every plan has a massive effect on all team members involved, and some of those can be to your company’s benefit or to their detriment. If it’s to their detriment, it’s best to find out as soon as possible so you can modify your operational plan and pivot with ease.

But that’s the whole point of operational planning: you get to see the effect of your operations on the business’s bottom line in real time, or at every benchmark, so you know exactly when to pivot. And with a plan that’s as custom to each department as an operational plan, you know exactly where things go wrong and why.

How to Make an Operational Plan

Since operational plans are built in an effort to allocate funds, resources and staff for each 1-3 year time period, all the steps that an operational plan needs to include should ultimately serve that effort.

Visualize the Operational Plan

As with any project plan, it’s best to start with the vision. The main features of an operational plan therein include tasks to achieve particular, clearly defined goals, plus the management of your staff to ensure they’re functioning at optimum levels. Identify your vision as it pertains to those levels, and then you can begin with the research phase.

You’re going to focus that vision on more pragmatic details of the project once it has started. Project management software can help with Gantt charts that give you a project schedule and a high-level view of progress and performance. ProjectManager helps you visualize your operational plan by providing fully-featured Gantt charts, so you can build clean timelines with clear task assignments. Start your operational plan off right with ProjectManager. Try it free today.

Gantt chart with operational plan
ProjectManager lets you manage plans, tasks, teams and resources in one place. Learn more

Research and Identify Goals

To start building out your operational plan, start by examining your goals. The goal of an operational plan is to address five main questions:

  1. What is the budget? Consider where it was last year versus this year.
  2. Where is the team now? Approach this from a budgetary perspective, a resources perspective and from a team member perspective.
  3. Where does our team want to be? Think about this time next year, in two years, in three years, etc..
  4. How do we get the team there?
  5. What benchmarks should we use to measure our progress? This can include product launch deadlines, number of manufactured goods, number of customer service cases closed, number of 5-star reviews received, number of customers acquired, revenue increased by a certain percentage and so on.

To answer these questions, you’ll need to interview your team members by asking them these questions, and then categorize their answers. Prioritize their responses into a quadrant: Easiest to execute —> to most difficult to execute, and most important to execute —> least important to execute. That’s when your goals will begin to take shape and come into focus.

Related: Free Project Plan Template

Assign Budget and People

Once you’ve mapped out your goals, it’s important to note that the budget for your operational plan comes from the yearly budget of your department. So, with that said, the budget is the top line to consider as you begin to assign tasks, resources and allocate budget for team members.

Get feedback at this stage, too, as you might have someone better suited for the role you’ve placed them in, or unnecessary stages you can cut from the process entirely.

Report on the Operational Plan

Once you’ve mapped out your operational plan—which should include clear objectives with deliverables, goals, timetables and staff necessary to achieve the plan—build out a process to report on all of it as the plan progresses.

Stakeholders, other department heads, and leadership will want to review your operational plan’s progress at each benchmark—whether that be monthly, quarterly or project-based—so be sure to report on all of your findings and ensure that leadership is still on board. Project dashboards can be an easy solution for quick and accurate updates.

ProjectManager’s dashboard for tracking operational plan

Adjust the Operational Plan as Needed

As with any well-planned project, you must always be ready to pivot. Hit a benchmark that delivered less than desirable results? With an operational plan, the activities are so drilled down that you can now know and understand exactly which part of the plan wasn’t performing to optimal levels. Make adjustments, involve team members as needed, get buy-in from stakeholders and continue to the next benchmark with your newly-refined operational plan.

Such adjustments can be easily done if you had the foresight to make your plan using project planning software. If you have to make adjustments on a static Excel sheet or Word doc, all of the changes can take hours to update.

Project planning software, on the other hand, is a dynamic tool that lets you plan projects, assign work, track progress and make changes with ease. ProjectManager keeps all of your resources housed in one online location, changes automatically update through the software, in real time. No matter what feature you’re using on our tool it will update throughout the software. For example, change the due date on the list view and it will sync up with the Gantt, kanban and calendar. Any updates automatically trigger email and in-app notifications to keep everyone on the same page.

ProjectManager's task lists are great operational planning tools
ProjectManager’ list view syncs with all its other tools to update everyone in our software. Learn more

Strategic Planning vs. Operational Planning

Operational planning is to strategic planning as a marketing team is to an organization—it’s a part of a whole.

Strategic planning encompasses those five questions listed above but exists on a company-wide level to work cross-functionally. Strategic planning is the company’s process of defining organizational goals, missions and values (including its long-term direction) to better understand the resources and budget it needs to allocate to ensure the plan’s efficacy. This can include defining which actions need to be taken to achieve those goals from a high level. It doesn’t drill down any further than that—teams will assign their own directions as part of the operational planning to make that higher-level strategic plan succeed.

Operational planning is therefore built to support that effort with clear objectives for each department. This includes defining the roles of each team member, the goals each team has to better support the strategic plan of the organization and the budget and resources it needs to make it happen. For example, the budget for your strategic plan comes from your strategic budget, while your operational budget comes from your team’s annual budget. As if that weren’t straightforward enough, everything you map out for your operational plan will make everyone’s roles for the next year crystal clear.

Who Manages the Operational Plan?

Typically, middle-management manages the operational plan, while the strategic plan is executed from the top, down. Additionally, its scope is narrow and can change on a yearly basis with the emphasis on mapping out routine activities.

Many middle-managers are best at mapping out and implementing the operational plan because it involves consideration of day-to-day activities, resources and tasks.

How ProjectManager Can Help with Operational Planning

Creating and implementing a high-quality operational plan is the best way to ensure that your organization starts out a project on the right foot. ProjectManager has award-winning project management tools to help you craft and execute such a plan.

Gantt charts are essential to create and monitor an operational plan effectively. ProjectManager helps you access your Gantt chart online so you can add benchmarks for operational performance reviews. You can also create tasks along with dependencies to make the operation a surefire success.

A screenshot of a gantt chart in ProjectManager

Whether you’re a team of IT system administrators, marketing experts, or engineers, ProjectManager includes robust planning and reporting tools. Plan in sprints, assign due dates, collaborate with team members and track everything with just the click of a button.

Plus, we have numerous ready-made project reports that can be generated instantly, including status reports, variance reports, timesheet reports and more.

project status report builder

Operational planning isn’t done in a silo, and it doesn’t work without the full weight of the team backing it up. Ensure that your department is successful at each benchmark. ProjectManager is an award-winning pm software dedicated to helping businesses smooth out their operational plans for a better year ahead. Sign up for our free 30-day trial today.

Related Posts

Deliver your projects
on time and under budget

Start planning your projects.

Start free trial