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Plan the work, then work the plan. Here’s how to create a plan that works

April 27, 2022 - 14 min read


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What is a work plan?

3 great reasons to use a work plan

How to create a project work plan

Types of work plans

And once you knock it out of the park…

You did it — you got promoted or landed your dream job

After a lot of hard work, you’re ready to make your mark with your next project. You want to make a great first impression with your boss. Whether you've got big ideas to pitch or big challenges being pitched at you, execution matters.

You know that you need to communicate your ideas clearly. But you also need to communicate your ability to execute on them and rally the resources to help. That starts with demonstrating that you have a solid grasp of the nature, size, and complexity of the project.

How? By creating a work plan that shows your approach and lets others see where they fit in. A work plan isn't always right, but it gets people to ask the right questions.

So before you change the world, think about your approach. Are you following a known methodology? Your manager will need specifics, everything from your project timelines to a high-level action plan. (And, eventually, a detailed action plan.)

In short, you’ll need a work plan — a roadmap for accomplishing your work goals. Whether you want to streamline your team's workflow, build a new app, or put on the event of the century, a strategic plan will take you there.

Let’s talk about how to create a work plan that meets your project management goals and achieves the outcomes and impact that matter.


What is a work plan?

A work plan is a document that helps everyone communicate more clearly about the project.

A good work plan lays out the action steps needed to complete a project.

It makes clear what the desired outcome is and the major streams of activities or deliverables that will accomplish that outcome. It also highlights needed resources or participation and dependencies.  

Key stakeholders should review and provide input to a plan before the project begins. This process is lengthy, but you’ll have a clear roadmap that everyone supports when it’s ready (more on how to create an action plan and achieve your goals in a moment).

A final work plan typically includes:

  • Goals and project objectives
  • Project tasks
  • Task assignments (if working with a team) 
  • Milestones
  • Key deliverables
  • Required resources
  • Timelines, including due dates
  • Budgets

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3 great reasons to use a work plan

It’s tempting to avoid creating such a rigorous document for your workflow. After all, this process is both complicated and somewhat time-consuming. But extra work now will pay off in the long run.

Creating a plan forces you to really consider how to achieve the objective. The process forces you to ask hard questions, like who will do the work, and is there enough time?

Here are three reasons to pull together a work plan:

1. It’ll help your team stay on task

A great work plan establishes deadlines and tasks. Listing out who is responsible for what keeps everyone accountable. People can also see how their work fits into the bigger picture. That can make it more rewarding but also helps them make better decisions.

Colleagues-Working-how-to-create-a-work-plan2. Manage expectations

By the time you start the project, your plan will have made the rounds to all relevant stakeholders — including management. This process takes time and effort. But without it, people will inevitably throw curveballs at you throughout the project. (They still may but you are standing on more firm footing with a good work plan).

Everyone should be clear on what the plan requires and what it can accomplish. It surfaces mismatched expectations and different interpretations at the outset to reduce confusion and conflict down the road. Plus, it will highlight requirements and constraints that you might not have been aware of,  like special permissions, that you can add to the plan.

3. It’ll make it easy to know when to celebrate

Tracking your goals and milestones gives you a reason to celebrate with your team. Nothing feels better than crossing a significant item off the list. Plus, you can share your successes with management, making you and your team look good.

Understanding what level of detail is appropriate and how to present your plan to different stakeholders are some of the skills that BetterUp can help you develop.  

How to create a project work plan

You can plan your project in Microsoft Word, Excel, or a dedicated project management software. You can also find project plan templates online. 

No matter what you choose, there are some fundamental principles to follow. First, start simple. At every step, try to tell a clear, easily understood story. Second, get test it on the high-level before you get too detailed. Share it with your manager, experienced team members, or trusted peers and listen for what resonates or where they have questions.

An example can help you understand how the process works. So imagine you’re the head of a public relations department at an outdoor equipment company. In this role, one of your goals is to organize a fundraiser for a high-profile local not-for-profit. Let’s prepare your work plan to pitch to your CEO. 


Step 1: Define the “why” of your project

In your work plan document, you’ll need to explain: 

  • The purpose of this endeavor. How does it fit into the company's big picture? What will it bring to the organization? Provide a clear explanation.
  • The background and wider context of this project. Demonstrate where the project fits in the company's business plan or key objectives. It can also be helpful to show how the project fits into the company’s core values

In the outdoor equipment company’s case, you want to show the company’s commitment to the local community. This helps build trust with customers and employees, who are the pillars of the company’s success.

And because you sell outdoor equipment, your charity of choice is an environmental group. This perfectly aligns with the outdoorsy image of your organization. 

Step 2: Set your project schedule

It’s always good to have a clear deadline for a project. A time-bound project helps you to prioritize and get things done. Plus, having a deadline can help you manage your time effectively

In this example, your time frame is clear: You have until the date of the event. Pick a placeholder date to help you establish the schedule. Keep in mind the event date could change during discussions with stakeholders.

You will also need start dates and end dates for each aspect of the project, such as creating promo materials and guest invitations. Determine which of these dates are fixed and which have some flexibility. Don't create a plan that relies on the best-case scenario every step of the way.

Be sure to assign team members to these tasks. 

Step 3: Clearly state your goals

This is where you list clear, achievable objectives. Consider using the SMART goals technique. This will help you brainstorm specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based objectives.

Be sure to also define key performance indicators (KPIs). These are the tools you need to measure success.

For your fundraiser, a donation goal of $100,000 and an attendance rate of 50% would be reasonable indicators of success. 

Step 4: Go over your constraints

Your goals should be consistent with your chosen timeline, budget, and resources. You probably found barriers in the planning process, so make sure the project’s scope is realistic. Don’t promise a moon landing if you don’t have money for a rocket.

Your event should have a realistic way of meeting its goals of $100,000. Does your company have connections in the community? Will you have many high-profile guests who can make large donations? Are they guaranteed to show up if they RSVP? 

Answer these questions honestly, think imaginatively about alternatives, and adjust your goals accordingly.


Step 5: Discuss risk and accountability

Think of your plan from every angle. What are your core dependencies? What could go wrong? Whether it’s unexpected employee turnover or bad weather forcing the event indoors, be clear about what could prevent an ideal outcome and have a backup plan. Have several and specify what conditions would trigger a contingency plan in advance.

Types of work plans

Every work plan will be different. As this work plan template shows they vary depending on the type of project, the number of people involved, and who will be using the plan each day 

The nature of these strategies makes them hard to categorize, but we can boil them down to two major types: 

Employee work plan

These plans are smaller in scope, focusing on simple projects within a department. They aim to help your team achieve its internal goals — thus negating the need for upper management approval. Usually, these small projects fall within your purview as a department head or manager.

An employee work plan includes things like:

  • Project goals

  • A budget

  • Materials and expenses required for the project

  • Deadlines and estimated date for completion


Manager work plan

A manager's work plan is more appropriate for large projects. They involve long-term goals and strategies, and may require help from other departments. These projects tend to have:

  • The projected impact on the company

  • Detailed risk analyses

  • Granular cost breakdowns and budgets

Because of their size and complexity, these plans often require approval from the higher-ups.

Let’s come back to your mountain equipment company fundraiser. This project would be considered a manager plan. It’s expensive, could significantly impact the company’s brand image, and involves multiple stakeholders outside of your department. Within the plan, you might find tasks that you can assign to your employees on a smaller scale — but that’s still part of the manager’s role. 

And once you knock it out of the park…

Project management plans are essential for any team leader, but they’re not everything. Having and communicating a vision and leading a team all the way through execution are important skills. Now that you know how to create a solid work plan, you’re on your way.

BetterUp can help you level up your leadership skills to get everyone on board with your work plans. We’re here to help you create a plan to crush your goals (in the best possible way).

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Published April 27, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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