Operational planning translates your high level strategic plan into a more detailed plan of who will do what and when. Operational plans usually relate to the short to medium term, maybe one to three years, and may relate to your whole organisation, or a particular project or area of work.
Don't worry too much about the terminology
Business plans, annual plans, project plans, action plans and individual work plans are all different types of operational plan. Some of these terms are commonly used interchangeably and you might be familiar with other types of plan too. Don't worry too much about the terminology; the important thing is to develop plans to suit your organisation's needs.
A sound, evidence-based plan can:
- Improve your chances of gaining the funding you need, by demonstrating to funders and commissioners that you can deliver your overall aims within identified resources.
- Break down your aims into manageable chunks, allowing you to work out the step-by-step processes and actions that will enable you to achieve your desired outcomes. Achieving your overall aim can be much less daunting when broken down into manageable chunks.
- Get everyone pulling in the same direction, with a clear sense of their own role in achieving your organisation's overall aims. Understanding the importance of their particular tasks helps people to stay focused and fully engaged with the challenges they face.
- Help each team member to manage their own time and resources to best effect.
- Help your organisation to evolve and adapt, to stay on top of budgets and track your progress. This in turn enables organisations to build on strengths, address weaknesses and manage risk.
How to plan
Clarify your direction
The aims of your project or area of work should contribute to your organisation's overall strategy.
Plan your impact
Whether your operational plan covers your whole organisation or a specific project or stream of work, you'll need to be clear about the impact you are aiming to achieve for your users or cause.
Identify your objectives
You should then set some objectives, stating how you plan to bring these changes about. In other words, what services or products (outputs) do you plan to run to achieve your outcomes? Remember that objectives should usually be SMART:
Write the plan
Once you have established what work is needed, you can set out a timed programme of key tasks and activities and detail the financial and human resources needed to implement the plan. You should also describe how you will judge the success of the plan, and develop a system to check your progress. Find out more about monitoring and evaluation.
Adapting to change
Your plans shouldn't be a straitjacket with no room for manoeuvre. External and internal circumstances may well change within your planning timeframe, so you should build in regular review dates from the start. Your review should look at your progress against the plan and any external factors you need to react to, so you can revise the plan if necessary. Learn more about managing change.
Making the most of your plan
To be effective, operational plans should be owned, managed and drafted by the individuals and teams who will be implementing them. Team members will be much more supportive of ambitious plans if they have been involved in decisions about allocating resources and priorities.
Communicating your plan
In larger organisations, there is often a need for communication across different teams and departments, as plans created by one part of the organisation inevitably have implications for planning in other areas. Project managers and team leaders play an important part in making links between operational planning across the organisation.
If your operational plans are wide in scope, producing different versions for different audiences will help to engage people directly with what is most relevant to them. Team members will also need to translate the plan into individual work programmes.
Want to know more?
Download our Achieve More magazine, issue 8 which introduces operational planning.
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