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How to develop an effective work plan for your team


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When marketing or design team members come from varied backgrounds, not everyone will have project management knowledge or an understanding of how a work plan functions.

Someone who has been in the news media and is transitioning to a marketing agency may be used to tight deadlines and making quick decisions without a lot of planning. A role where strategic planning is heavily involved may be a major transition for them.

To help your entire team achieve their project goals, it’s important to create an effective work plan they can follow. Clear team workflows(opens in a new tab or window) will help everyone stay on track, streamline processes, and accomplish more together.

What is a project work plan?

A project work plan serves as a roadmap that creates and tracks goals, outlines project scope(opens in a new tab or window), and keeps tactical operations in perspective. Effective work plans also assess bottlenecks and risks along the way.

An effective work plan breaks down the project management process into smaller achievable tasks for you and your team. Whether it’s launching a new campaign, building a website, or planning a major event, as the person in the driver’s seat, you’re always in the know of the overall direction. A work plan, or project plan, includes:

  • Task management
  • Resource allocation
  • Time management
  • Qualitative and quantitative input
  • Goals and objectives
  • Defined start and end dates

A Gantt chart is a visually simple way to share information about a project timeline. This Gantt chart template(opens in a new tab or window) is an effective way to list tasks and show the length of time for each portion of the project.

Why an effective work plan works

With an effective work plan, all participants are kept on the same page, understand the goals and objectives, and have a roadmap to success. Without these plans, projects often miss the mark when it comes to on-time completion and staying within budget. A survey by Wellingtone found that only 34% of organizations complete projects on time and on budget(opens in a new tab or window). Having a work plan can help ensure delays and cost overruns are minimized.

In project management principles, defined start and end dates are a key element of what can be considered a project. A work plan or project plan will span a period of time that’s dependent on the size of the project and the resources available. With a thorough project management work plan, timelines can be adjusted as necessary to accommodate changes and lead the project to success.

Here’s why a good project management work plan is effective:

  • A work plan gives the project team direction and action steps as you assign tasks to them.
  • With a work plan, team members are encouraged to take ownership of the project they are contributing to.
  • A work plan allows you to organize your resources or budget prior to project delivery.
  • A work plan lets you strategize and articulate your action plan(opens in a new tab or window) and project objectives effectively to hit individual goals and achieve the outcome you want.
  • A work plan provides a visual reference for the goals, objectives, tasks, and team members involved, making it easy to communicate to key stakeholders.
  • A work plan helps you monitor workflow, bottlenecks, and progress(opens in a new tab or window), making the day-to-day workload easier to manage.
  • A work plan sets a project timeline to ensure everyone meets deadlines and project milestones.

A visual timeline lets you look at your project at a glance. With this blue and black timeline presentation, you can add dates or team members to each task and share it with them.

How to create a successful work plan template

A work plan based on project management methods and best practices can make a significant impact on project success. According to PMI’s 2021 Pulse of the Profession report, companies waste 9–10.5%(opens in a new tab or window) of their investment due to poor project performance.

Before going into the details, let’s cover the steps you need to take to create a project work plan template that can help you get to the big picture on your next project.

Step 1: Set SMART goals

Step 2: Define your budget and allocate resources

Step 3: Assign team roles and responsibilities

Step 4: Establish a timeline—set time-bound milestones and deadlines

Step 5: Identify challenges and risks

Step 6: Execute your plan

Step 7: Check in and monitor progress on goals

Step 8: Close the project and evaluate

1. Set SMART goals

Goals are the starting point of any project and empower you and your team to take action. They give you the reason—the “why”—you want to achieve something. Goals also help provide the rationale for why the project fits into the company’s overall business plan.

The SMART goal guide(opens in a new tab or window) provides five criteria to help you define your goals. Depending on the time frame you’ve set for your project, break goals down into short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Above all, make sure your goals are clear, realistic, and meaningful to increase success. Just like a hockey game, when the team has clear sight of where to shoot the goal, they can work together to score and win the game. Each goal should be:

  • Specific: What is happening, and why is it important?
  • Measurable: What does success look like? What metrics can be used to show you’ve achieved success?
  • Attainable: Is this goal realistic for the time frame, resources, and budget?
  • Relevance: Why is the goal important for your team to work toward?
  • Time-based: What’s the project time frame?

Gather input and feedback from your entire team when developing your SMART goals. Use a shared doc to add ideas and make adjustments as you refine your benchmarks. Whether your goals change over time or remain static, a shared doc will help you and your team maintain a focused work ethic and strategy.

2. Define your budget and allocate resources

Once you’ve settled on your goals, develop a budget breakdown of what it will cost to achieve them for your project. A budget enables team members to plan and cost out the activities or resources they need to complete tasks for the project.

Project costs can include conducting research, hiring independent contractors, renting a venue, and purchasing materials or equipment. Suppose you forecast the budget with each milestone in mind. As the project progresses, you’ll be able to review your budget accordingly and identify where costs may run over or where you may be able to reallocate unused funds.

Organize documentation for budget and any other resources your team might need into a convenient folder or filing system. Since not every member of your team needs access to every file, grant selective access to reduce confusion. Whether it’s your budget sheet, brand assets, or your team goals, it’s important to make it easy for team members to find the information they need.

Use Canva’s Brand Kit and content management features to organize your assets.

3. Assign team roles and responsibilities

Designating responsibilities is vital in helping you execute your project. Whether you have a team assigned to you or you’re choosing your own, part of your work plan is to identify the team players responsible for each area of your project. Playing on their strengths and expertise can improve productivity and increase workflow efficiency(opens in a new tab or window).

As part of your planning, meet with each team member to discuss existing workload and determine whether they have the appropriate time available to dedicate to the project. During this part of your work plan process, you may uncover where workloads need to shift or where there may be insufficient team skills that you need additional resources to obtain.

At the end of the day, your team players need to understand their role, objectives, and the project’s goals so they can actively contribute and complete their assigned tasks. Then, through teamwork and shared responsibilities(opens in a new tab or window), the pieces of your project, like a puzzle, can come together seamlessly.

If you’ve set up a team on Canva, you can easily assign roles to collaborate(opens in a new tab or window) with your team members on designs, marketing campaigns, or brainstorming docs. To avoid any unwanted changes, duplicated work, or mishaps, choose which team members will be responsible for edits and which can only view or comment.

Invite team members to collaborate on designs, docs, or other Canva features and assign their level of access.

4. Establish a timeline

When you set a timeline with trackable milestones, it streamlines the overall project journey and workflow and keeps everyone in the loop. Your plan timeline serves as a knowledge hub for key project deliverables and deadlines.

Some of the essential points to include on your timeline to keep everyone on the same page are:

  • A list of tasks or deliverables to break down large projects into smaller sub-projects and tasks
  • The team member assigned to each task
  • Due dates or milestones to schedule the expected length of each task
  • Forecasted budget to ensure resources are sufficient for each task
  • Approvals and check-ins to keep the communications open and flowing

Timelines can change based on your project status or progress. Establish a timeline using a shared content planner or calendar that holds team members accountable to their tasks while also providing an overview of upcoming content. Canva’s content planner(opens in a new tab or window) enables users to share designs directly from Canva to social media and other integrated apps such as Slack. Automate the feedback and approval process by scheduling a design to post to your team’s Slack channel.

5. Identify challenges and risks

At this stage of your work plan development, it’s good to identify potential challenges and risks. According to Wellingtone’s annual State of Project Management Report, 64%(opens in a new tab or window) of project managers complete risk management activities as part of their project planning.

Those challenges or risks may include things like a key team member going on parental leave during a crucial part of the project process, a shortage of team skills, or the need to address stakeholder feedback that requests significant changes. Sit down with your team to brainstorm what challenges and risks might occur and potential solutions for dealing with them.

Use a collaborative doc or whiteboard to brainstorm potential or existing challenges and risks your team might face. If your team works asynchronously, Canva’s whiteboards(opens in a new tab or window) help you collaborate seamlessly and keep everyone on the same page. Use whiteboards to collectively identify challenge solutions and risk management procedures that will help prevent future bottlenecks.

By identifying these challenges, you’ll be able to anticipate and remove roadblocks, organize your thoughts, review options, and adjust your work plan and workflow accordingly. In addition, you can use this time to manage team expectations and ensure everything is in place and done the way you’ve envisioned without having to micromanage the process.

6. Execute your plan

To begin execution, you may want to hold a kick-off meeting with your team. Be sure to prepare a well-executed meeting agenda(opens in a new tab or window) to help make your meetings more productive. In the meeting, you can make sure they’ve reviewed the plan, have all the materials and information they need, understand their assignments, and answer questions. With everyone on the same page, it’s time to get to work. Follow-through is very important, share the minutes of the meeting(opens in a new tab or window) to align the progress to everyone.

During execution, the person managing the project will ensure the project plans and workflows are followed. They’ll also update project planning documents to keep key stakeholders informed on status changes. At this stage, the project manager should request stakeholder feedback on the plan or other working documents. In Canva, stakeholders can leave feedback using Canva’s commenting feature. They can also give kudos with fun and vibrant stickers to celebrate great ideas or design choices.

Liven up your communication and celebrate great work with Canva’s stickers.

7. Check in and monitor progress on goals

This step takes place at the same time as the execution phase. Monitor that everything is going according to plan through a workflow automation software(opens in a new tab or window). Keep track of project progress, budgeting, resources, and timelines, make sure approvals are obtained, and make adjustments to the work plan as needed.

If you were too optimistic about your timeline during planning, you might notice that specific tasks are not meeting the set deadlines or the quality of work produced isn’t meeting expectations. Reevaluate your plan and develop a strategy to ensure the objectives set are still aligned with your project goals.

An easy way to simplify and accelerate complicated approval processes is with Canva’s built-in approval workflow system, which streamlines all approvals in one place. Plus, the live comment feature allows stakeholders, partners, managers, designers, and clients to easily communicate feedback in real time, reducing back-and-forth emails.

In Canva, leave comments to request and communicate feedback.

8. Close the project and evaluate

To close up your project, you’ll want to make sure all deliverables have been formally approved and completed. You may also need to make sure any contracts or invoices are fulfilled and paid, complete project evaluations or reviews, and archive project files.

The purpose of the evaluation is to measure the impact of each task delivered at the end of the project. Learn if the work and results of your team members are effective and collect valuable insights to help you improve strategies or performance for future projects. Part of this process may also include presenting reviews and reports with key takeaways and outcomes to stakeholders and investors directly involved in the project.

Use analytics and tracking tools to gather data on how your workflows were executed and how it impacted your objectives. For example, let’s say one of your objectives was to increase engagement through social media campaigns by a certain number in a specific time frame. Using a social media analytics tool(opens in a new tab or window) can help you learn whether or not your posts were published often enough and performed well.

Canva’s insights feature tracks your published posts performance on social media.

Use Canva’s insights feature to determine which campaigns are most effective for your objectives.

Centralize your work planning process

There are several steps in developing a work plan. While you could use an Excel worksheet or other project management software, a visual communication platform(opens in a new tab or window) like Canva is the perfect solution for work plan management, especially for agencies(opens in a new tab or window).

Start by creating a team(opens in a new tab or window) for the project on Canva. Then invite team members and assign roles to them. With real-time collaboration functionality for your documents, whether you’re goal-setting, brainstorming, planning a strategy, or monitoring the progress of your pitch presentation, you can easily invite the assigned team members to work collaboratively(opens in a new tab or window) and efficiently with you. All while staying on the same page at the same time.

Learn more about how agencies are transforming workflows and winning with Canva today.

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