Burdened with the realization that the old way of planning no longer works in complex and unpredictable business environments, companies are struggling to find their feet on shaky ground. As we observed 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 visibility and empower a strategic response to external disruptions.
Read this article to get a practical step-by-step guide on how to create an effective operational plan. You’ll also get a template that will help you rapidly adapt and align your teams.
✨Bonus: We’ve included pro tips from business leaders and professionals 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.
The benefits of operational planning include:
- A clear definition of relationships between cross-functional teams and responsibilities for each of them so you can eliminate duplicated efforts.
- A tighter alignment between corporate or business unit strategic plans and on-the-ground execution that will help the organization meet its business targets.
- Establishing a strong operating system that enables the company to quickly adapt, deliver operations goals, and monitor performance.
📚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? This is a phase where you need to identify and include all stakeholders (employees, customers, management team, etc.) who will be responsible for the execution and get their input. This will help you define a better strategy and build an effective plan because you will have a better understanding of what’s happening on the front lines. One of the worst things is to launch a plan with no buy-in from the people who will have to execute it.
- What are your internal capabilities? An internal analysis will help you understand what resources, risks, strengths, and weaknesses you must consider, such as your operating budget or internal 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? An external analysis, such as PESTLE or Porter’s 5 Forces, can inform your planning and approach to various operational requirements and goals. By understanding these external factors, you can identify opportunities to optimize your operations and mitigate potential risks. Keeping the pulse of the market will help you get better at anticipating change and gaining a competitive advantage.
- Is it aligned with your organization’s strategy? Strategic alignment is crucial for any plan. Aligning your operational plan with your company’s overarching strategic plan will ensure that your operational plans actively support the company's long-term vision.
Once you have gathered this information, you can develop an operational plan to help you execute business strategies.
Build Your Operational Plan In 5 Easy Steps
Enough chit-chat; it’s time to put your operational plan together. We've built this guide based on our proven and tested approach, used by over 20,000 Cascade users. Here’s a recap of the five key steps to create your plan:
1. Align your operational plan with the company's goals
Strategic alignment is crucial to ensure your organization works cohesively, efficiently, and effectively. Without it, you risk wasting resources on dead-end initiatives, siloed teams, and organizational chaos where no one knows the purpose of their job.
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.
2. 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 defining different focus areas in the Cascade template:
- Human Resources
👉If you’re using Cascade: You can add several focus areas to your operational plan. With Cascade’s functionalities, you’ll be able to review the health of your focus areas in one place or get a breakdown by plans, budgets, resources, and people behind each. See something at risk? You can drill down into the data and identify the culprit. ;)
An example of a workspace in Cascade where you have a high-level overview of your plan’s performance.
💡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 goals 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 and the best way to go about it.
3. 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 are the most important part of your plan.
Your objectives will serve as the building blocks of your operational plan and help to ensure that it is 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.
👉If you’re using Cascade: Adding objectives in Cascade is intuitive, straightforward, and accessible from almost anywhere in the workspace. You can add a deadline, the objective's owner, and the way your objective will be measured. This will help you track performance and hold your team accountable for progress.
💡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. They need to be attainable and meet the organization’s needs.
4. 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.
👉If you’re using Cascade: You can use the "+ Add action" button to create projects for your operational plan. By having all key projects and action plans in one place, you’ll be able to quickly identify underperforming areas and reallocate resources if needed. Without compromising transparency, your teams will be able to work together across departments.
💡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.
5. 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
👉 If you’re using Cascade: You can add multiple KPIs for each project or initiative by clicking the "+ Add measure" button. With the Operational Plan Template, you’ll get access to basic integrations that will help you track all relevant metrics in one place and create powerful reports to give progress updates to key stakeholders.
And most importantly, if you identify gaps, you’ll be able to quickly update your plan and communicate the change with your team with a single click.
💡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.
Operational Plan Examples
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 IT, 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.
💡Tip for Cascade users: COOs and CFOs can link their operational plans in one place. This will help you create tighter alignment between the finance and operations teams and improve cross-collaboration to build more resilient operations.
5 Bonus 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. The days when strategy and planning workshops were held behind closed doors and presented briefly at an annual company gathering are long gone.
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.
👉If you’re a Cascade user: You can schedule regular team updates within Cascade. Each 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 to send you the latest performance report.
“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
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
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.
For people to act on strategy and planning, it needs to be easily accessible, top of mind, and central to their daily work. In this new world, where fast and agile win, a digital approach is the best way to address the primary operational challenges faced by many companies and industries.
With Cascade’s collaborative features, integrations, and monitoring tools, you can stop running business operations blindfolded. Cascade will make it easier to share data within the organization, in real-time. It will act as your central operating system that enables 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.
What are the five key components of an operational plan?
The five key components of an operational plan are objectives, projects, actions, KPIs, owners, and due dates.
What is the purpose of an operational plan?
The purpose of an operational plan is to outline how a specific team or department will execute a strategic plan. It’s a short-term and action-oriented plan to help operations teams focus on strategy execution.