Operations Plan Examples: What You Need To Know

When creating a business plan, it’s important to understand the key types of plans to determine which will most benefit your specific business needs. Some plan types include operations plans, strategic plans, and tactical plans, each of which has a different focus and purpose. All three can fit together as part of the overall management planning process, although your business may need only one or two different plans. Here’s operational planning information and strategies to help you create them.

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What Is Operational Planning?

Operational planning involves defining and outlining the actions individuals will take to support the plans and objectives of the executive management team. An operations plan is extremely detailed, describing the who, what, where, and when involved in managing the day-to-day tasks and low-level activities of the business. This type of plan supports the tactical plan, which is more of a mid-level plan.

What are the criteria of an operations plan?

To qualify as an operations plan, the plan itself needs to meet certain criteria. We’ve listed important criteria  below:

  • The plan needs to exist together with tactical and strategic plans. An operational plan supports these other two plans and provides more detail about how a business and its team members will achieve the goals outlined in the high-level plans.
  • Providing the details included in an operational plan will give members of supporting management a clearer sense of their tasks. When executive management members create the tactical and strategic plans, they need to ensure that supporting management team members have a firm grasp on what they need to do to support achieving the goals outlined.
  • An operations plan should only apply to a specific area or department of an organization. If the plan is too broad, it typically cannot get into the level of detail needed to emphasize how certain activities and processes will be completed. For example, if a manufacturing company created an operational plan, it might outline a strategy for each of the products it manufactures or for each of the plants it operates.

Operations plans subdivisions

Operations plans can be further segmented into two categories:

  • A single-use plan, which is created to address a specific issue or period. An example of a single-use plan is one that outlines the process of cutting expenditures during the following year.
  • An ongoing plan, which can be altered as needed and will carry forward into future time periods. An example of an ongoing plan is one that outlines the process of bringing on new staff members as positions are created or vacated.

Strategic, Tactical, and Operational Plan Differences

A strategic plan is a business plan created by an executive management team which has a much wider scope than a tactical or operational plan. It is a plan that can outline the ambitions, future goals, and mission of an organization.

1. Strategic plans 

Strategic plans tend to be broader and vaguer, although they may focus on the high-level and long-term goals that the company will work to achieve over the next three to five years. Strategic planning can also include the way an organization will measure its progress toward the established goals and any major projects that need to be completed to achieve the goals.

2. Tactical plans 

A tactical plan is created by mid-level management professionals and includes the specific actions that employees must take to work toward the goals described in the strategic plan. This plan can also outline how a certain area or department of a business will support the strategic plan. A tactical plan isn't usually very detailed, but it will include more specific ideas and actions.

3. Operational plans 

One of the main differences between a strategic and operational plan is the period of time covered. In a strategic plan, the goals are typically attainable in several years, while the operational plan goals are short-term ones and can be achieved during the next year in most cases.

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Operations plans’ focal points

Focus areas are the foundation of your strategy. They expand on your Vision Statement and start to create some structure around how to actually get your organization to achieve its goals. The focus of the goals and objectives in each plan differs.

A strategic plan exists to outline the long-term vision of the company and how each department will work together to achieve the goals.

An operational plan focuses on specific departments and their roles in achieving short-term goals. A large department may have multiple plans to maintain a clear and detailed focus.

Differences between a strategic and operation plan

Here are the most significant differences between the two ideas:

Time period

Your strategic plan outlines long-term goals for the next three to five years. What you’ll be doing to achieve those goals in the shorter term (typically the next fiscal year) is outlined in your operational plan.

Goal

The goal of your strategic plan is to outline the company’s long-term vision and how all departments should work together to achieve it.

Because of its narrower focus on specific departments instead of the entire company, an operational plan is more detailed and outlines how to reach the outlined goals.

Focus

A strategic plan distinguishes your organization’s direction as being different from that of other companies. In contrast, an operational plan is all about being better operationally.

Who creates an operational plan?

Who creates each plan is another difference. Members of an organization's executive management team will handle the creation of a strategic plan, as those responsible for the overall vision and goals. Department heads may create an operations plan since they are the ones to implement the processes. Those involved in creating the plan are often more likely to work together to accomplish the necessary tasks.

Reporting on operations plans

Reporting is another key differentiator among the types of plans. When reporting on a strategic plan, which may happen as often as quarterly or once a year, executive management will outline how an organization is performing on specific measures. The reporting should be at a high level to avoid getting lost in details that don’t help an organization reach their goals.

An operational plan report is much more detailed and typically is prepared and reviewed more often. When you have a regular review of reporting, your team  reviewing the reporting more frequently, individuals can make sure all team members remain on track and can handle the necessary tasks and processes to achieve the short-term goals related to the business operations.

Operational plans may not have specific measures to quantify results or report on, and these updates may be more qualitative or anecdotal.

Creating an Operations Plan

When creating an operations plan, you want to follow some key steps, such as:

1. Focus on  goals 

First, focus on important goals that pertain to the specific department or division that will follow the plan. After identifying the goals, determine any key initiatives that will help achieve those goals. These initiatives will easily enable those following the plan to understand what they must do to work toward achieving the broader goals.

An effective operational plan should also include key performance indicators that permit progress monitoring. A key performance indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that shows how well a company is achieving the key business objectives it has outlined. The KPIs in an operational plan will lead the team members involved as long as the KPIs are communicated effectively.

2. Outline responsibilities and tasks

The operations plan must also clearly define who, what, where, and when in great detail. It should outline who is responsible for which tasks, what tasks need to be completed to achieve a goal, where the individuals involved will work on their assigned tasks, and when they must be completed to maintain the timeline. You also want to discuss whether the plan is an ongoing or single-use plan. This information will help to better define the estimated timeline for completion.

3. Define resources 

The final step to create an operations plan is defining the resources needed to achieve the goals. These resources may include software programs to improve processes, tools to manage new tasks, or training to bring all team members up to speed on a certain task. Determining the necessary resources can help divisional leaders know how to proceed and provide their team members with what they need to succeed.

Operations Plan Example

Don’t think that these types of plans are just for big organizations. Operational plans can be helpful in almost all industries and business structures. Your plan should be tailored to your unique business but many elements will be the same. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel - there are lots of plan examples out there. Below we've provided a simplified version to study.

Manufacturing Plant Operations Plan

  • Objective: Improve plant workflow
  • Category: Single-use plan
  • Required Resources: Training, efficiency study, and new equipment that operates quickly and more efficiently
  • Tasks: Learning how to set up new equipment, identifying ways to reduce production waste, determining how to best reduce the level of inventory maintained in the plant, and identifying strategies to improve procedures associated with materials handling

Final thoughts

By creating an operations plan, a business can outline its short-term, divisional, or departmental objectives and describe the initiatives required to achieve those objectives. Operations plans work together with other types of business plans to outline the overall goals of an organization as well as how the business plans to meet these goals.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The SmartBiz® Small Business Blog and other related communications from SmartBiz Loans® are intended to provide general information on relevant topics for managing small businesses. Be aware that this is not a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter covered and is not intended to provide specific recommendations to you or your business with respect to the matters addressed. Please consult legal and financial processionals for further information.

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