Your team is only as effective as the plan they follow.

If you outline vague and impossible goals, provide inefficient resources, and leave assignments up to interpretation, you set them up for failure. And even a well-defined project plan is insufficient if you haven’t accounted for overarching company goals. Because success doesn’t come down to a single project — it’s something every employee works toward.

Operational plans are comprehensive enough to cover all the bases. They fill in any gaps to ensure teams know how to effectively action an employer’s strategic plan.

What’s an operational plan?

Operational plans are documents that define the more day-to-day details — like projects, timelines, and key performance indicators (KPIs) — necessary to achieve an employer’s strategic plan. Department managers often create operational plans for their team, referencing upper management’s strategic planning to connect everyday initiatives with the company’s broader goals and forecasted trajectory.

Conversely, top-level leaders typically outline strategic plans, focusing on long-term and company-wide objectives. They might define projected company growth over five years and how to accommodate it or potential future target audiences.

Operational plans then break down these high-level strategies into day-to-day goals a department or team must complete. This brings higher-level thinking down to earth so that, day after day, employees can slowly action more vague and idealistic long-term goals.

4 benefits of operational planning

Operational plans keep teams on track and make broader objectives more understandable and achievable. They also offer the following four benefits.

1. Improved productivity

It would be impossible to track employee performance without measuring progress toward an objective. Operational planning provides the ability to set objectives for departments to meet, giving you an overview of where your team wastes time, what you can improve to streamline processes, and more.

Any saved time always results in higher productivity levels. When you clearly define action items, timelines, and KPIs for team goals, you reduce miscommunications and conflicts — both of which waste everyone’s time. And if you house planning documents somewhere central, teammates know where to go for task-specific information to waste less time asking questions and searching for information.

2. Better resource management

A key part of operational planning is figuring out the resources your team needs to complete goals — both in the short and long run. Allocating these resources effectively can make or break a project’s outcome. If you don’t employ enough teammates to complete an app development project, you might extend the client’s deadline expectations, and they could drop out altogether. And if you choose cheap but unreliable vendors, you might experience supply delays down the road.

Operational plans prompt you to look critically at your assets and consider how to spread them out to meet every strategic deliverable. Consider the activities you must complete, who you need to work on these initiatives, and how much funding your department requires.

3. Team direction

Employees who don’t know what to work on and how to do so efficiently might waste time on the wrong tasks and using ineffective processes. Operational planning gives your team daily and more forward-thinking direction. You’ll both clarify their duties and deadlines as well as the most efficient and effective processes for completing them.

4. Increased accountability

Tying everyday work into broader company goals can make employees feel more connected to the company’s mission and accountable for doing great work that contributes to it. And since you’ve clearly outlined responsibilities and optimal ways of working, there’s no ambiguity regarding their tasks, which might also increase their accountability levels.

Key components of an operational plan

Remember that operational plans are most effective when used to complete larger strategic objectives. As such, here are a few key components every document should have:

  • Objectives: You’ll define smaller-scale objectives your team must complete, all of which directly tie into grander ones described in the strategic plan. If a general strategic target is to increase sales, a potential operational planning objective might be to design a 12-month marketing strategy.
  • A budget: Because strategic planning typically focuses on increasing a company’s overall revenue, you’ll want to create project budgets that are resourceful and show that, in the end, your project makes the company money. Create a budget that’s a bit flexible to account for hiccups and delays.
  • Timeline: Often, all department-specific operational plans will follow the same timeline as the strategic plan, with smaller project plans spanning shorter timelines. But if strategic goals are very grand and long-term, you might create several operational plans that start and stop after each other until you’ve covered every strategic goal.
  • KPIs: Define as many success indicators as necessary to keep your team motivated and easily track progress. This might be website visits, high customer ratings, or completed product launch deadlines.
  • A summary: Finally, summarize the plan’s content, highlighting how it connects to strategic planning goals. Be as concise as possible, providing teammates and external stakeholders with a brief overview they can refer to.

How to create an operational plan: 5 steps

Here’s a five-step guide to creating an effective operational plan. Work with other departmental leaders and, if possible, strategic planning professionals to ensure this plan aligns with team capabilities and the company’s long-term vision.

1. Review the strategic plan

Start by thoroughly reviewing the strategic plan, as you’ll need information like key objectives and timelines to create yours.

You might document answers to the following questions to ensure your plan aligns with this one:

  • What key objectives does the company hope to achieve, and in what time frame?
  • Where does the plan explicitly mention work our team would complete?
  • What resources does the plan mention are available?
  • What revenue goals does this document define?

2. Define your team’s goals

With this research in mind, list the more specific projects and tasks your team must complete to help upper management follow through with their strategy. If you’re a marketing department lead and a strategic goal is to increase revenue by 10%, you might define several marketing campaigns your team will undertake and how they’ll assist the company in achieving this monetary goal.

Your operational plan likely follows the strategic one’s timeline, but even if you decide to create several that add up to cover the entire strategic plan, clearly outline an overall timeline as well as those for unique projects within the plan.

3. Introduce KPIs

For every deliverable, define a couple ways to track progress and determine success. These should be relevant to strategic goals but more specific. For instance, if a broad company goal is to gain more website traffic, you’ll define more targeted KPIs related to this, like bounce and click rate improvements.

4. Create an executive summary

Summarize your operational plan’s content, defining the strategic goals your team is helping to achieve and how. Use a sentence or two to briefly touch on every section of your plan, remaining as concise as possible.

5. Formulate a hiring plan

Because both strategic and operational plans span long time frames and work toward complex objectives, you’ll likely need to hire employees as you action these plans to complete items. Work with the HR team to discuss your department’s hiring needs. They can then create a hiring plan with top-level management to ensure you have the employee resources you require.

Let Roadmunk by Tempo support your operational planning

Once strategic and operational plans are set, team leads need to define more specific project roadmaps. Roadmunk by Tempo lets you create a visual representation of high and low-level goals, timelines, and milestones. Then, use Timesheets by Tempo to find ways to work more efficiently and track employee progress toward accomplishing important company objectives.