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How to Build a Kickass Operations Plan in 5 Easy Steps (And Why You Need One)

By April Resnick

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Strategic planning: we've all done it, and we all know why it's important to outline your organization's strategy and establish a stable long-term vision. But the same teams who insist on strategic plans often miss the memo about operations plans.

What is an operations plan?

In short, it lays out the who, what, when, and how of your daily operations over the course of the next year. It is meant to define how human, financial, and physical resources will be allocated to achieve short-term goals that support your larger strategic objectives.

On a day-to-day basis, your operations plan will answer questions like:

Put simply, your operations plan is a manual for operating your organization – designed to ensure that you accomplish your goals. It’s a key piece of the puzzle for any goal-oriented team.

Take these steps to develop a strong operations plan:

1) Start with your strategic plan.

Ultimately, an operations plan is a tool for carrying out your strategic plan. It’s important, then, to make sure that you have a strong strategic plan already in place, and that everyone involved in your efforts understands it. Without a solid strategy in place, writing an operations plan will be like trying to plan a vacation without knowing where you’re going.

If you can’t identify how an element of your operations plan helps you achieve a specific strategic objective, then it shouldn’t be part of your plan.

2) Focus on your most important goals.

There’s a simple rule when it comes to operations plans – the more complex they are, the less likely it is that a team will follow them successfully.

In order to avoid writing a tangled tome of a plan, focus on the goals that truly matter. Before you even set down to create your operations plan, break your strategic plan down into one-year objectives. Then determine the key initiatives that will help you achieve those goals. They might be:

  • New organizational structures
  • Quality control measures
  • Faster delivery times
  • More employee time spent on professional development

…along with many other possibilities. Choose between three and five initiatives that will drive success in your long-term goals, and then identify metrics that will help you measure your progress. These key performance indicators (or KPIs) will be among your most powerful tools for success.

3) Use leading – not lagging – indicators.

Your KPIs will play an important role in your operations plan’s success – so it’s critical to choose the right ones. The most effective metrics are leading indicators: predictive measures that show you what to expect in the future and allow you to adjust course accordingly. By contrast, lagging indicators show you that your progress is falling short only after it’s too late. 

If your goal is to reach a certain sales threshold, for example, sales meetings or calls-per-week might be a strong leading indicator. Based on your past experience, you may be able to calculate how many calls it takes, on average, to complete a sale. This will allow you to use calls to determine whether you’re on track to meet sales goals. If you were to simply measure sales, however, you wouldn’t know where you stood relative to goals and projections until you were already there.

4) Don’t develop your KPIs in a vacuum. 

The KPIs you choose will guide the work of everyone in your organization for the next year. With this in mind, you should draw on a wide variety of perspectives within your team as you develop those KPIs.

If your organization is made up of 15 people or less, you may want to hold an annual planning session where everyone collaborates to craft the KPIs for the coming year. Larger organizations may wish to restrict participation to their leadership teams. In either case, the key is to include a range of perspectives in the planning process – but not so many that effective decision-making becomes difficult.

5) Communication is paramount.

At the beginning of the year, set aside time to share and discuss your KPIs with your entire organization. It’s essential for everyone to understand why you’ve chosen these specific metrics, why they matter, how they will help your organization achieve its goals, and what each individual’s role may be in working toward success.

The importance of buy-in and communication among your team is hard to overstate. Hold regular meetings – ideally weekly – to communicate organizational progress on your KPIs and discuss any issues that may have emerged. Whether through meetings, dashboards, or some other means, team members should be able to track their personal progress and performance on a weekly basis.

With a strong operations plan in place, your organization should have everything you need to tackle your priorities successfully – and ultimately achieve the goals that will drive your strategic vision.

An operations plan doesn’t necessarily include projects. It defines organizational structure, how different branches within a company run and what steps they’ll take to reach one-year goals that are in line with the strategic plan. Once the strategic and operations plans are in place, you can better develop project plans to help you achieve those specific goals.

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Photo by Max Ostrozhinskiy on Unsplash