The old way of planning no longer works in complex and unpredictable business environments, and companies are struggling to find their feet on shaky ground. As we’ve seen with many of our customers and strategies in Cascade, organizations can no longer count on executing three or even five-year strategic plans.
The new reality forces companies and their operations teams to adapt their operational plans more frequently and within shorter time frames if they want to reap benefits faster than their competitors. Organizations need to work on their strategic instinct and fast adaptability.
And that requires big changes—including building a flexible operational plan, supported by the right tools and systems that help you achieve real-time centralized observability and empower a strategic response to external disruptions.
Read this article to build a bulletproof operational plan that includes all the key elements necessary to overcome unpredictable business chaos. You’ll also get free templates that will help you rapidly adapt and align your teams.
✨Bonus: We’ve included pro tips from business leaders in our network to help you identify gaps in your strategy execution and build resilient business operations.
What Is An Operational Plan?
An operational plan is action and detail-oriented; it needs to focus on short-term strategy execution and outline an organization's day-to-day operations. If your operations strategy is a promise, your operational plan is the action plan for how you will deliver on it every day, week, and month.
Put simply, an operational plan helps you bridge the gap between business strategy and on-the-ground execution and ensures that the organization is on track to achieve its long-term goals.
Benefits of operational planning
- Clear definition of relationships between cross-functional teams in different departments and responsibilities for each to eliminate duplicated efforts.
- Tighter alignment between corporate or business unit strategic plans and on-the-ground execution, helping the organization meet its business targets.
- Strong operating system that enables the company to quickly adapt, deliver operations goals, and monitor performance.
Operational planning vs. strategic planning
Operational planning deals with the day-to-day details and short-term goals, while strategic planning focuses on the big picture and long-term direction of an organization.
To put it in simpler terms, operational planning is about the "how" of daily tasks, while strategic planning defines the "what" and "why" for future success.
📚Recommended reading: Strategic vs. Operational Planning
Kickstart Your Operational Planning Process: Lay The Foundation
The quality of your operational plan will depend on your input. A successful operational planning initiative will consider these aspects:
- Who will be involved? Identify and include employees, customers, and the management team in the planning process to gain valuable insights from the front lines, ensuring better strategy and execution buy-in.
- What are your internal capabilities? Assess internal capabilities by conducting an internal analysis, including resource requirements, operating budget, and talent skills. Talent management and employee engagement are just a few of the many challenges that COOs will have on their operations agenda.
- What environment are you operating in? Conduct an external analysis (e.g., PESTLE or Porter’s 5 Forces) to inform your approach and identify optimization opportunities and risks, keeping you agile in a changing market.
- Is it aligned with your organization’s strategy? Ensure alignment of your operational plan with your organization’s strategic plan to actively support the company's long-term vision and contribute to key business metrics.
👉🏻 Once you’ve gathered this information, you can develop an operational plan to help you execute business strategies.
Key Elements Of Your Operational Plan
Enough chit-chat; it’s time to put your operational plan together. We've built this based on our proven and tested approach, used by over +45,000 Cascade users. Here’s a recap of the five key elements your plan must consider:
Choose key metrics aligned with the company goals
Selecting your operational plan's key metrics isn't a mere exercise in tracking numbers; it's about laser-focused alignment with your business needs and objectives. These metrics are the tangible indicators of your organization's efficiency and performance. They serve as the compass, guiding your daily decisions and actions toward achieving concrete results.
By precisely aligning these metrics with your company's core objectives, you ensure that every initiative and action within your operational plan directly contributes to achieving tangible results.
An aligned operational plan makes it easier to:
- Communicate roles and responsibilities to all employees so they know how their efforts contribute to overall business success.
- Identify and address operational bottlenecks and inefficiencies that could derail strategy execution.
- Motivate and engage employees to work toward strategic objectives and deliver on business outcomes.
Remember that the role of operations is to close the gap between your organization's strategic goals and what is being done on a daily basis to make them happen.
👉🏻 How Cascade can help:
With Cascade’s Metrics Library, you can bring your operating and financial business-level goals together with your strategy under one single roof. This makes reporting & governance easy, accurate, and less time-consuming by connecting your business data to your key business initiatives.
Through Cascade’s integrations, you can consolidate your metrics in one place, importing your data directly from business systems, data lakes, BI tools, or even spreadsheets.
Define the focus areas of your operational plan
The focus areas of your operational plan are the key areas of the business that the plan will address.
This will depend on your business plan. Think about how the business operates and how it succeeds. Do you need to pursue short-term cost reductions while simultaneously pursuing longer-term growth and transformation initiatives? Your operational plans must be built on these strategic priorities.
For example, you can prioritize your focus areas based on the most relevant business strategies or by specific departments. Some examples of focus areas could be:
- Human Resources
💡Tips to help define the focus areas of your operational plan:
- Identify the business's key challenges and opportunities.
- Consider the business's overall long-term strategy and key metrics and how the operational plan's focus areas can support these objectives.
- Bring other people on board to help you identify what needs to be addressed by the operations plan.
Create strategic objectives for your operational plan
Strategic objectives are specific goals aligned with the operation’s strategy and focus areas. They represent what you want to achieve in each focus area and will serve as the building blocks of your plan, ensuring that it’s focused and actionable.
Some examples of strategic objectives:
- Reduce costs by 10% within the next year by implementing more efficient processes and streamlining the supply chain over the next year.
- Launch three new products in the next fiscal year to expand your product lines and increase revenue.
- Increase customer satisfaction scores by 5% within the next six months.
💡Tips for defining strategic objectives include:
- Ensure your objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
- Consistently align objectives with your operational plan's focus areas and the company's goals.
- Don’t be afraid to get input from other people about your objectives.
Identify and prioritize projects
It’s time to identify and prioritize the projects that need to be executed. Remember, projects are action plans to help you achieve your strategic objectives.
Project planning should include thinking about time frames, task assignments, and deliverables (and prioritizing).
Here are some examples of project ideas:
- Localize sourcing for critical semi-finished materials.
- Streamline the supply chain to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
- Find and develop an alternative logistics channel.
- Implement a new customer service training program to improve customer satisfaction scores.
- Implement a new technology that will enable end-to-end supply chain visibility.
💡Tips for defining and prioritizing projects:
- Identify the specific actions and activities needed to achieve each strategic objective.
- Prioritize the projects based on their importance, feasibility, and potential impact on the business.
- Involve stakeholders in defining and prioritizing the projects to ensure their needs and concerns are heard.
Identify and track key performance indicators (KPIs)
Finally, you’ll need to know if your operational plan and day-to-day activities result in outcomes.
Set KPIs for key initiatives and strategic objectives to measure success, ensure alignment, and identify performance gaps in your operational plan.
Some examples of operations KPIs are:
- Inventory costs
- Costs of goods sold
- Revenue growth
- Employee retention rate
- Customer satisfaction score
💡Tips for defining and tracking KPIs:
- Align KPIs with your strategic objectives and focus areas so that you can track the plan's progress against these specific goals.
- Add both lagging and leading indicators.
- Instead of using multiple disconnected spreadsheets and project management tools, consider live dashboards or reporting systems to track the KPIs and monitor progress over time.
👉🏻 How Cascade can help build your plan:
Cascade’s planner feature enables you to build your operational plan with structure and ease by breaking down the complexity from high-level initiatives to executable outcomes. Define your key elements (focus areas, objectives, projects, and KPIs), and share the plan with your teams. You’ll get full visibility of the plan’s progress in real-time, allowing you to identify gaps, quickly update the plan, and communicate the change with your team with a single click.
👉🏻 If you don’t want to start building the plan from scratch, use our free Operational Plan Template pre-filled with examples of focus areas, objectives, projects, and KPIs that you can customize to meet your organization’s needs.
Operational Plan Examples & Templates
Here are five operational plan examples to help you create plans for your teams. You can use one master operational plan or set up an operational plan for each department.
Master Operational Plan Example
This Operational Plan Template will help you close the gap between business goals and day-to-day operations. You'll be able to set goals and KPIs for your top priorities and work with the operations team to deliver operational excellence and business results.
HR Plan Example
This HR Operational Plan Template can be used to meet staffing requirements, manage human capital and align human resources activities with your strategy. HR managers in any industry can create a clear operational plan that can be constantly monitored, adapted, and improved.
IT Plan Example
If you’re in the IT team, try out this IT Plan Template to get your IT operational planning up and running fast. It comes prefilled with focus areas and KPIs relevant to IT operations; you can easily customize workflows and deliverables to your needs.
Marketing Plan Example
This Marketing Plan Template can help you efficiently understand and plan your digital marketing operations using best practices. Use it to quickly set up priorities and get your social media and marketing teams moving on tasks that will make an impact.
Finance Plan Example
This finance-focused template is ideal if you want to get on top of your finance operations plan. Use it to allocate and distribute financial resources across your organization and get real-time updates through your dashboard and reports—which are great tools to create a visually compelling financial summary that clearly shows your key metrics.
💡Pro Tip: To ensure successful execution, it's crucial to align not just your master operational plan with your overarching strategic plan, but also all the operational department plans.
👉🏻 How Cascade can help:
With the Alignment Maps feature, you’ll be able to visualize how your top-level business strategy breaks down into functional and operational plans. This empowers COOs and CFOs to consolidate their operational plans in one place, creating tighter alignment between the finance and operations teams and improving cross-collaboration to build more resilient operations.
Want to dig deeper? Use the Relationships feature to see the relationships between connected objectives from your plans and understand how your different department goals contribute to the core business metrics and goals. This view will allow you to clearly map dependencies, blockers, and risks that may lie along your journey.
5 Tips For An Effective Operational Plan And Its Execution
1. Don’t underestimate the power of transparent communication
Regularly communicate the operational plan and progress to all relevant stakeholders to build the necessary buy-in and support. Your employees must know your goals and the roadmap, and team members should understand their role in its execution. This business transparency will help everyone row in the same direction.
“Clarity regarding strategy is one of the key drivers of autonomous execution. If people understand what you’re working toward and have guardrails in place, they can be empowered to make their own decisions and don’t need everything to be ‘run up the chain’ to get approved. This allows you to move fast and at scale.”—Sam Sterling, Chief Strategy Officer, Akqa
2. Keep moving forward and adopt a growth mindset
Keep the momentum going and ensure that the plan is executed effectively. Regular monitoring and reviews can help identify and address any challenges or obstacles that may arise.
Schedule regular reviews and check-ins and provide the necessary support to ensure projects are on track and moving forward.
“I think adopting a growth mindset is super important. This means having the confidence to fail fast, try something new and empower people to do that.”—Ken Miller, General Manager, Azure Intelligent Cloud at Microsoft
👉🏻 How Cascade can help:
With the Team Updates functionality, every team member can post updates on key measures, actions, and objectives. This will give you real-time visibility into performance and help you identify possible risks before it’s too late—without having to schedule extra meetings or nag your team members for updates.
3. Make strategic moves and change fast when you need to
Your operational plan should be flexible, adaptable, and open to adjustments. This means keeping an eye on progress, making corrections if needed, and being willing to adapt the plan to changing circumstances or new opportunities. As McKinsey suggests, you can consider creating a team that will be able to collect data, link analysis with action, and offer quick responses to rapid changes.
“Traditionally, companies would have taken that piece of paper and gone out and said: we're going to execute it, start to finish. Then get into the formulation of the strategy, what we need to hit, and what the end product result will be like. But what we do know is that’s never the case. Along the way, you're going to have bumps, and inevitably, you’ll need to change from that original picture.”—Annie Lucchitti, Marketing Manager, Unilever
4. Empower your operations team and boost efficiency
Effective operational planning requires the engagement and empowerment of your team. Involve stakeholders in the planning process and provide them with the necessary resources. Give them context and an opportunity to set goals and prioritize initiatives. This will help you boost engagement and hold them accountable for progress.
“I think it just works at every single level. Are people allowed to be themselves at work? Personally, are they at peace? Are they happy? Productivity happens when people have the right skills, but also when they are engaged and happy. If one of those fails a bit, productivity will start decreasing.”—Joan Torrents, Global Sourcing Manager, TESCO.
5. If it isn’t measured, it isn’t managed
Don’t underestimate the importance of tracking and measuring progress against the operational plan's goals and objectives. Set milestones, enforce KPIs, and stay on top of progress. Doing this will help you stay on course, empower you to act quickly, and provide valuable insights into what is going wrong.
“Data is a foundational element in the strategy definition phase as well as in the strategy execution phase as it helps create a baseline, identify key priorities, set goals, and measure progress.”—Erica Santoni, Principal, Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Intuit
👉🏻 How Cascade can help:
Use Cascade’s Dashboards to monitor your day-to-day progress on key metrics and critical business and strategic information in real-time.
Compile the information in powerful reports and executive summaries in seconds with pre-built templates. Share them with your key stakeholders—internal and external—and invite them to collaborate on your strategy together.
Execute Your Operational Plan With Cascade 🚀
What good is an operational plan if no one executes it? If your organization wants to operate at a higher level, static tools like Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoints, Google Docs, and/or project management tools aren’t the solution.
❌They aren’t designed for adaptive strategy and planning.
❌They often lead to siloing and hinder effective cross-collaboration.
❌They make it challenging to measure progress and slow down decision-making.
With Cascade as your central operating system, you can stop running business operations blindfolded and embrace rapid, coordinated, and data-driven decision-making.
Get your Operational Plan Template to get started with a dynamic plan that will lead to actual outcomes for your business and see faster results from your strategy.