What is an Operational Plan? A Complete Playbook (+ Examples, Tips & More)

Shreelekha Singh
November 9, 2022
min read
March 15, 2024
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Discover the power of an operational plan in streamlining business operations. Learn how to create a fail-proof roadmap with examples and expert tips.
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Without a plan, your business operations are as good as a children’s playground—everyone’s doing their own thing with no care in the world. 

An operational plan brings order to your organization. It defines the functional aspects of your long-term strategy, like goals, milestones, responsibilities and timelines, to build collaboration and make real progress toward your vision. 

Teams often overlook the importance of operational plan management, leading to miscommunication, unnecessary roadblocks and slow growth. 

If you don't want to end up in a chaotic playground with everything going south, read this start-to-finish guide on operational planning. We'll share a 6-step process of making your own operational plan with a few examples to inspire you.

TL;DR: What is an operational plan?

  • An operational plan clarifies the details of your strategy, assigns responsibilities, and sets milestones and timelines.
  • Use an operational plan to create a roadmap, assign roles, track progress, establish criteria for success, and minimize errors.
  • To develop an operational plan, create a fail-proof strategic plan, establish clear goals and budgets, define the project scope, create the operational plan, get stakeholders' buy-in, and publish the plan using the right tool.

Scribe's Operational Plan Template

What is an operational plan?

An operational plan is a roadmap designed to implement your business strategies. It operationalizes your strategic plan by defining:

  • Vision and objectives behind a strategy.
  • Budget and resources required for execution.
  • Weekly, monthly and quarterly milestones. 
  • Relevant metrics to track progress consistently. 

‎An operational plan clarifies all the finer details about your strategy—like what, who, when and how—to help you realize the bigger vision. It’s a work plan for transferring the available inputs into the desired outputs. 

what is an operational plan? Text: Operational planning in a nutshell, with key performance indicators such as strategies, timeline, budget and responsibility

Operational planning vs. strategic planning

While operational and strategic planning might sound the same, they have significantly different meanings. Let's take a quick look at these differences to understand what an operational plan stacks up against a strategic plan.

Strategic PlanOperational Plan
Conveys the bigger picture with the long-term vision for the businessCommunicates more concrete and short-term goals to realize the vision
Includes high-level inputs from various stakeholders to move forwardHas a detailed action plan with milestones and metrics to track progress
Remains weatherproof for a longer periodSubject to change based on performance
Focuses on org-wide goals that are relatively vagueFocuses on tactical plans for every team/function within the company
Created by the senior leadershipCreated by individual departments

5 reasons why you need an operational plan

Only setting goals without a solid operational plan to implement them is like making new year’s resolutions that never come true. 

Without a clear direction of what to do and how, you’d end up wasting your resources with little to no progress to show for it. An operational plan helps move the needle for your company by clarifying the steps to success and bringing more accountability. 

Still wondering how an operational plan can keep you on track? These five benefits will clue you in:

1. Creating an airtight roadmap

If a strategic plan defines the destination, an operational plan chalks out the itinerary to reach that destination. This actionable roadmap covers all bases to streamline collaboration within the team and set up the right systems to hit your milestones. 

2. Attributing roles to all stakeholders

Making an operational plan allows you to assign responsibilities to all internal and external stakeholders. It clarifies who’s responsible for what and sets expectations from the start. This is key for bringing everyone on the same page and avoiding roadblocks once the work is underway. 

3. Tracking progress & making strategic changes

Timelines and milestones are two of the most crucial components of an operational plan in business. They empower teams to analyze their performance and review progress objectively. You can use these insights to tweak your game plan for greater success and to improve operational efficiency.

4. Establishing criteria & metrics for success 

An operational plan outlines the parameters for success and metrics to monitor the same. These metrics give you a clear picture of your progress at every stage to ensure you’re moving as per the plan. They also highlight any potential red flags that can potentially derail the plan and need your attention. 

5. Minimizing discrepancies & errors

One of the most important benefits of making an operational plan is the clarity it brings to everyone. Instead of leaving your team clueless about the next steps, this work plan clarifies how and where they can start. It also reduces errors by laying down the ground rules for every task and process.

📌 Related resource: Operations Teams: How to Assemble and Lead a High-Performing Team

How to develop an operational plan strategy

There’s no standard rulebook for creating an operational plan. It’s a fully customizable document that depends entirely on your company’s goals, resources, timelines and overall approach. 

For example, a fast-paced team can work with shorter timelines and hit more goals than a large-scale organization with more levels of checks and a bigger hierarchy.  

So, instead of replicating other companies’ operational plans, let’s help you create your own plan with this 6-step process:

  1. Draw out a fail-proof strategic plan.
  2. Establish clear goals and budgets.
  3. Dig deeper into the project scope.
  4. Create your operational plan.
  5. Get all stakeholders’ buy-in for the plan.
  6. Publish the plan using the right tool.

1. Draw out a fail-proof strategic plan

A strategic plan is to an operational plan what a storyline is to a movie—it conveys the essence and creates a direction for the operational plan to become a masterpiece. 

So, naturally, the first step to operational planning is creating a strategic plan; here’s how:

  • Define what success looks like for the entire organization. 
  • Evaluate organizational readiness to implement this strategy. 
  • Take inputs from people in the senior leadership. 
  • Assign responsibilities to different stakeholders. 
  • Prioritize goals against timelines. 

Once done, you can rely on this strategic plan throughout the operational planning process to prepare for what lies ahead. 

💡 ‎Use these 14 free customizable project plan templates to enhance communication, save time and achieve your strategic planning goals.

2. Establish clear goals & budgets

The next step is breaking your high-level goals into shorter, more actionable objectives. For example, you can divide the goal of achieving an X% growth in revenue into smaller targets, like increasing inbound leads, doubling down on cold outreach and rolling out a referral program. Implementing effective referral tracking within the program will allow you to monitor and optimize the success of your referral initiatives, providing valuable insights into the sources and impact of referred business.

Goal-setting makes your operational plan realistic and feasible. You're ideating the means to realize the long-term vision by hitting the right milestones. 

More importantly, once you have a list of goals, it's easier to determine the budget and resources required to achieve them. Before moving ahead, do your homework to set a solid budget that allows you to implement your strategy without splurging too much. 

3. Dig deeper into the project scope

Once you’re clear about your goals and resources, it’s time to define the finer details of your plan—specifying who’ll do what, when and how. 

Create a comprehensive project scope by outlining:

  • Department-wise goals and tasks according to the goals.
  • Different stakeholders involved within and outside your company. 
  • Responsibilities for each stakeholder with primary KPIs for their role.
  • SOPs and workflows to perform a task or complete a process. 

This step brings more specificity to your operational plan. It concretely spells out each goal with details about milestones within each goal, roles and teams responsible for fulfilling these milestones and how they will work toward the end goals. 

💡 Scribe top tip: Creating a project scope document is a breeze when you use Scribe. You can use Scribe's project scope template to get cracking at the earliest. 

Project scope template: what is an operational plan
Scribe's project scope template

4. Create your operational plan

By this point, you've done all the legwork to get to work and start writing your operational plan finally.

Make it as actionable and value-packed as possible by answering these five main questions:

  • Who: People involved in different tasks. Include a list of teams and specific roles involved in the business operations and clarify what’s expected of them. 
  • What: Plan of action and targets to pursue. Create a milestone-based roadmap of the high-level goals to achieve and the smaller goals involved in the process. 
  • Where: Platform(s) where daily operations will happen. Add all the tools and frameworks you'll use to run business operations through this plan seamlessly. 
  • When: Deadlines for different tasks and activities. Map out the timelines for each job to ensure your team is on track for timely completion. 
  • How much: Costs involved in hitting the designated goals. Mention your final budget and resource allocation for different tasks.

Use Scribe's free AI Writer for Operations tool to capture and document operational procedures.

Scribe's AI Writer for Operations

‎Additionally, a good operational plan also lists the metrics to track your progress. Pick and explain relevant metrics in your plan to show employees how you'll analyze their efforts. 

5. Get all stakeholders’ buy-in for the plan

No plan is perfect and there's always scope for improving your operational plan to make it perfect. So, once you've drafted the plan, don't forget to run it by a few select stakeholders to identify the gaps you can cover. 

Actively seek feedback from people in different ranks and departments to understand the missing links in your plan. Your plan will go through 2-3 rounds of iterations before it’s finally ready to roll out. 

6. Publish the plan using the right tool

The final step in the process is publishing the plan. The most important thing to remember is that your plan should be:

  • Reader-friendly.
  • Easily accessible.
  • Quickly shareable. 

Clueless about the best way to hit all three points to roll out your operational plan? We have just the solution you need — Scribe

‎Scribe is a documentation tool designed to create intuitive documents, like an operational plan, in a few seconds. It significantly reduces the time spent on creating such documents and improves team efficiency in more ways than one.

‎You can create a single Scribe to explain a process or compile instructions with SOPs in a single place with Pages. You can even ask the AI to write your operational plan — just add a simple prompt and your Scribes, and the AI will build a customized document!

Use Scribe

‎It's the easiest way to bring your team on the same page and power up your operations! 

‎See how operations teams use Scribe to tackle even the most daunting operational challenges.

3 operational plan examples (& why they work)

If you’re looking for some inspiration to get cracking with your planning process, looking at a few operations plan examples can help big time! Let’s look at three great examples, see why they work and how you can replicate the results. 

1. Carter Supply’s risk management plan

This detailed risk management plan by Carter Supply covers several aspects of managing risk at the organization. This 10-page document lists the key components of this plan, like a summary, the approval process and the end-to-end risk management process. 

As an operational plan, it gives the entire team clear insights into the risk management plan, highlights why it’s in place and explains how this plan will be used. 

This plan also covers different aspects of the plan and lays down the process of working on each element. For example, for risk quantification, the plan specifies that the risk manager will work with the risk owner to understand the exposure. 

What is an operational plan? policies and procedures risk management plan example

2. Upscope’s go-to-market plan

Upscope’s go-to-market (GTM) plan is another excellent example of operational planning. The SaaS company created this plan to execute its strategy for breaking into the co-browsing market. 

Pursuing this goal, the team created an airtight plan with a rundown of its target audience, pain points the product solves and the buyer journey. 

The Upscope marketing and sales teams could use this GTM plan to launch targeted campaigns and reach the right people. They were also well aware of the main value propositions to share with the target buyers, nudging them towards a purchase. 

📌 ‎Related resource: How Product Operations Can Help Your Team Build Better Products📌

3. SmartNet’s project quality management plan

The quality management plan by SmartNet is a detailed document explaining the company’s entire operations framework, from the management structure to project reporting, risk assessment, deliverable production and more. 

Instead of a single department, this operational plan documents the complete business operations. Despite being so lengthy, the document is easy to read and understand—exactly how the plan should look like.

It also includes all the critical information to guide new employees about the company's operations from scratch.

What is an operational plan? smartnet project quality plan

Make operational planning your road to success 

When done right, operational planning can be a game-changer for streamlining your operations. It’s an in-depth roadmap to work toward your vision and hit all goals. 

Even though making an operational plan isn’t the most exciting task and it can get extremely time-consuming, the right process and tools can do the trick for you. Follow the six steps we’ve highlighted in this guide and when you’re ready to roll, use Scribe to put the plan in place. 

Scribe takes the pain out of documentation to empower teams for seamless operational planning. Try it today to see how it works!

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