Sunday, 22 January 2023

How to create a small business operational plan in five steps

You’ve got the business name, social accounts, a website, and a vision. You’re almost good to go! However, have you considered an operational plan? An operational plan focuses on your vision, creating goals, and creating a step-by-step structure to achieve them.

There are five basic steps in creating an operational plan:

Step 1: Visualise your operational plan

In order to get clarity on what needs to be done at the micro (day-to-today) level, you need to understand what needs to be achieved at the macro (strategic) level. The questions you need to answer initially are:

Vision: How do you see yourself in future?

Mission: What steps do you need to take to achieve your vision?

Operational Vision: How can you align your day-to-day tasks and achievements with your overall vision?

Step 2: Create SMART goals

To create goals for your operational plan, you need to address five main questions:

  1. What is your budget? Is it an initial Start-up, or if a running business considering where it was last year versus this year?
  2. Where is your team now? Consider this from a cost, resource, and team member perspective.
  3. Where does your team want to be? Consider the knowledge, skills and performance etc., next year, in two years, in three years, etc.
  4. How do we get the team there? Types of training, support or resources required to enhance the team performance
  5. What should key performance indicators be used to measure our progress? This can include product launch deadlines, number of sales, number of customers served, number of 5-star reviews received number of new customers acquired, return on investment, etc.

To answer these questions, you must involve your team members by asking them these questions. Prioritise their responses into:

■ Four easiest to do

■ Hardest to do

■ Most important to do

■ Least important to do

This will help you to focus on the right goals and create the right strategies.

Step 3: Create work breakdown structure and Gantt Chart

Once your goals are set in step 2, it is time to plan out your activities and use effective techniques to identify tasks and create the preceding steps to simplify them for delegation purposes. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) technique allows you to simplify complex-looking tasks into small achievable tasks. WBS is an effective tool for scheduling, cost estimation, monitoring tasks and controlling the issues at any planning stage.

Once WBS clearly defines your tasks, you can use these tasks to schedule using Gantt Charts. Gantt Charts are the scheduling tools to track the progress of your project, show dependency of tasks and create a visual tool to communicate effectively with your team.

Below is a simple illustration of the Work Breakdown Structure:

Below is the example of a Gantt chart:

Step 4 - Delegation Of Tasks

Once you are ready with your work breakdown structure, you need a delegation and communication strategy to implement your plan effectively. Delegation is giving clear directions to your team members with the proper support and resources to achieve goals. Effective delegation saves time, inspires people to perform better and strengthens team bonding and accountability.

Common Communication strategies are:

■ Meetings

■ Emails

■ Phone conversations

■ Feedback

■ Active listening

An effective delegation has the following elements:

What to delegate:

Use visually constructed tools (like WBS & Gantt Charts), Action plans etc., with clarity on objectives, expected outcomes and available resources. Remember to add a code of conduct to maintain professional standards within your team.

Whom to delegate:

Choose or hire the right people with the right skills to manage specific tasks. Based on people's strengths, the work tasks must be delegated, and support must be provided.

When:

As discussed earlier, Gantt charts are very effective tools for visually communicating the expected timeframes and priorities. An initial clarity on deadlines and quality prevents conflicts at later stages.

Authority:

Using RACI Matrix allows you to map the role and responsibilities of all the team members involved, including you. It shows who is Responsible for completing the assigned tasks, who is Accountable for presenting the work, whom to Consult for any concern and whom to Inform on task progress.

Follow-up:

Ongoing supervision and proper support and training are the critical success elements of effective delegation. If implemented carefully, these three elements would help you achieve a long-term and confident team. Understand a clear difference between supervision and micro-management, though. Follow-ups can be done via team briefings (daily/weekly), casual team catch-ups, and meetings.

Feedback:

Ongoing and constructive feedback develops trust and confidence in the team. Some of the effective feedback strategies are:

Step 5 - Continuous Improvement

Change is inevitable in a business environment. The changes could be positive, leading your business towards growth or indicating errors or areas of improvement. With the evaluation of each project completion, action plan or operational plan, we can identify the areas of exceeding performance, underperformance and variations to improve. As a business owner, your role is to acknowledge, recognise and reward the best performance, support and improve the underperformance and start fresh with the lessons learnt.

Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you cannot measure something, you cannot understand it. If you can't understand it, you can't control it. If you can't control it, you can't improve it."

~ H. James Harrington

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