Having a work plan is all about establishing clear strategic goals that have measurable outcomes. Planning is a double-edged sword; on one side, it keeps you focused and accountable. On the other, though, you can find yourself falling into the trap of micro-managing irrelevant details. When choosing the components of your work plan, put the brakes on tracking tasks that seem useful but ultimately don’t contribute to the success of your plan; but fall short on details and you may fall short on budget and resources, too.
Understanding Work Plans
The goal of a work plan is to create a visual reference as to what the objective is, what the tasks required for completing it are and whose responsibility each task might be. A well-made work plan is the sort of project organization tool that allows anyone to roll into work in the morning, take a glance and know what they’re up against in the eight hours – and weeks or even months – ahead.
Sometimes, the best way to start a work plan is to focus on the end and work backward from there. What is the objective? What do you want to achieve? What are the tasks and resources that will be required to get you to that finish line? And how will you measure that success?
That success may include a project being delivered to clients. What form does that take and will that itself be a challenge to execute? If so, the delivery process may need to be included as part of the work plan too.
A Work Plan’s Value
Think of the work plan as being the clearinghouse for all processes, information, resources and skills needed for project success. All the team members, and their contributions, should be included on the work plan. And it needs to be constantly updated to reflect progress and current status. If Betty’s out for the flu, it should show on the work plan so everyone can see not only that Betsy’s not there today, but what her responsibilities are and how those may be affected by her absence.
Team-wide oversight and empowerment are the ultimate perks from a well-made work plan. There are all kinds of services that now offer real-time team work plan databases that allow everyone to see what the most recent accomplishments or time overages might have been, as well as any slack that may need to be tightened.
Getting Started: Templates or Not?
Should you design a custom work plan, or use a template? A template can be a real time-saver when it comes to projects that are somewhat routine in execution or when they’re smaller parts of a whole. Some services that offer work plan templates can give you a variety of models to choose from. If you’re clear on what your project is and what it’ll ultimately need for success, then it’s easier to sift through styles to see if the elements of the work plan are presented in a way that makes sense for your project.
In that instance, you’re looking for a template that allows plug-and-play. It will allow you to plug in tasks, team members, timelines and objectives, giving everyone a clear, easy perspective on the project’s status.
If, however, you’re working on a large project with higher stakes, which has many complex steps on the path to success, it might be worth your time to use a custom template. In that case, you’ll need to ensure all the typical parts of a plan are present – but there may be other components you think to add, too. It’s important to be detailed with work plans because they do impact what resources or budget you get allocated, but too detailed can mean you’re stuck dealing with record-keeping holding you back from the finish line.
Components of a Work Plan
- Work plan: Start by roughing out the work plan, then put it together when you’ve got all the parts laid out. You may need all these components for your work plan or maybe just a few. The reality is, there is no hard rule on what composes a work plan. In the end, it’s really about making things clear about what needs to get done, by whom, when and with what resources, to what end.
- Project Description: What are you doing? Summarize what the project is about and what or who it’s for.
- Objectives: You may have short-, middle- and long-term objectives on the project. Understand what they are and what will be needed to attain success for each stage. Remember, business objectives should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. So you’ll need a clear objective that is definitely achievable in the time you have available, and it must be relevant to the big picture and have measurable criteria.
- Timelines: Some larger projects will be well-served by use of a detailed GANTT chart that clearly depicts what tasks need to be done in which order and by what time. In fact, GANTT charts can often comprise an entire work plan with the information contained in them. Simpler projects might get by with simply having a date written down by each team member’s responsibility.
- Team Members: Who’s involved? What tasks have they been assigned? These are typically listed as responsibilities. As suggested earlier, some work plans can track team attendance as well, and when the project’s timeline and each member’s responsibilities are all incorporated, it can allow for pinch-hitting when crucial milestones are coming up.
- Resources: Getting tasks accomplished can take resources that may exist outside your typical budget or department. Understanding what’s entailed means having these available to you with prior approval when they’re needed. If it’s people power from other departments, like the IT division or engineering, it’ll be important to have these resource availabilities tied into the timeline so that valuable manpower isn’t wasted by bad time management or not being ready for their input.
- Measurements: How will you rate success or failure on project milestones? It’s important to set down what’s considered a job well done so you and your team know what you’re striving for. Perhaps it’s approval from a manager, an acceptance vote from shareholders or simply client satisfaction that’s at the end of the line. Whatever it is, make note of it; if it can affect the timeliness of the next project segment getting underway, it’s critical you plan for any timeline juggling that may entail.
Work Plans that Work for You
There may not be a need for measurements along the way. Perhaps you’re a department of one. Maybe the timeline is ongoing. There are all kinds of variations that impact what you need to track and why.
Don’t feel like you need to include all the above categories just because they’re written here. Instead, get on the web and search for “work plan templates” and take a look at the wide variety of ways you can plot your path to success.
Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.