Beginning a project without a thoughtful work plan is like starting a road trip without a map. You may eventually get where you're going, but you're likely to spend energy and resources meandering rather than charting a direct line toward your destination. A clear and detailed work plan won't solve all of the problems that may come up during the course of a project, but it will provide an opportunity to organize your thoughts, evaluate your options and pre-empt potential difficulties.

Charting Direction

A work plan is a practical, limited time manifestation of an overall strategic plan. The scope of the work plan is more limited than that of the big-picture strategic plan, which defines your organization's overall purpose and mission. However, the work plan does provide perspective for day-to-day tasks, putting them in context relative to your organization's concrete objectives during the plan's specific time frame. This clarity can provide an overall sense of purpose, encouraging collaboration toward common goals.

Posting Benchmarks

Your work plan's usefulness continues throughout the period it covers, providing milestones to assess progress. A useful work plan defines a series of short-term goals, providing measurable objectives for evaluating success. Measurable objectives may include a targeted number of new customers or clearly delineated phases of product development to be completed within a specific time frame. These goals offer ongoing feedback: For the most part, a successful project achieves its short-term goals, while an unsuccessful endeavor comes up short.

Identifying Obstacles

A relevant and well-researched work plan performs the important task of highlighting potential difficulties and proactively offering solutions. The process of creating the work plan offers an opportunity to address these difficult questions, and ongoing reference to the plan can keep these issues in the foreground and force your organization to address them rather than lapsing into complacency. For example, if your organization uses outdated technology, your work plan may prioritize replacing these systems with others that will be useful farther into the future.

Ensuring Accountability

An effective work plan clarifies the specific tasks and outcomes that each team member must achieve, paving the way for accountability and successful collaboration. By clearly delineating individual responsibilities and their relationship to the larger project in process, a work plan can help create a successful balance between personal and collective roles, facilitating communication and joint problem-solving. Conversely, the responsibilities outlined in a work plan can help an organization identify and address its weak links, specifically those individuals who are not meeting the work plan's benchmarks.