How to develop an effective work plan for your team

Without a plan, many things can get in the way of achieving your project goals, no matter how big or small they are. For example, you could waste time and money on unnecessary activities, encounter avoidable delays that affect your timeline or have team members go get distracted by competing priorities.

And the reality is, whether you’re new to leading a team, new to project management, or a veteran, there are always new ways to streamline team workflows. In this article, we will cover how to create and build an effective work plan from start to finish.

What is a work plan?

An effective work plan outlines a plan of action that creates and tracks goals and keeps tactical operations in perspective. Effective work plans also assess bottlenecks along the way.

An effective work plan also 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, planning a major event, or launching a big-budget business idea, as the person on the driver’s seat, you’re always in the know of the overall direction. A work plan includes:

  • Task management
  • Resource allocation
  • Time management
  • Qualitative and Quantitative input
  • Direction
  • Goals and objectives

Using the visual simplicity of a Gantt chart, this green bar gaant chart is an easy and effective way to list tasks and show the length of time for each job.

Why an effective work plan, works

Philadelphia's favorite founding father, Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” To set your project up for success, it's a good idea to start a work plan from the get-go. A work plan can span over a period of time ranging from four, six to 12 months. Depending on the size of the project, task, or resources available, timelines can be adjusted to suit the project. Here's why:

  • A work plan gives the project team direction 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 activities effectively to achieve individual goals or the outcome you want.
  • A work plan provides a visual reference for the goals, objectives, tasks, and team members assigned
  • A work plan helps you monitor workflow, bottlenecks, and progress, making the day-to-day workload easier to manage.
  • A work plan sets a timeline to ensure everyone meets the deadlines or project milestones.

A visual timeline lets you look at your project at glance. Use this blue and black timeline presentation. Add dates or team members to each task and share it with them.

How to create a successful work plan

Now that you know a work plan is a successful foundation of any project, what’s the process of developing one? Before going into the details, let’s briefly cover the steps you need to take to help you get to your big picture.

Step 1: Set SMART goals

Step 2: Know your objectives or purpose

Step 3: Cost, budgeting, resourcing

Step 4: Team roles and responsibilities

Step 5: Establish a timeline - Set trackable milestones and deadlines

Step 6: Identify challenges

Step 7: Check-in and monitor progress on goals

Step 8: Execute and evaluate

1. Set SMART goals

Goals are the starting point of any project. Goal-setting empowers you and your team to take action. It gives you the reason; the why you want to achieve something and motivates you to set the path towards it — moving you forward to where you want to be.

The SMART goal guide provides five criteria to help you define your goals. Depending on the timeframe you’ve set for your project, you can also break goals down into short, medium, and long-term outcomes. Above all make sure your goals are clear, realistic, and meaningful to increase success. Just like a basketball game, when the team has a clear sight of where to shoot the goal, they can get into position, strategize, and work together to score that goal and win the game. Each goal should be:

  • Specific: What is happening and why it’s important
  • Measurable: What does success look like?
  • Attainable: Ask yourself, is this goal realistic for the timeframe, resources, and budget?
  • Relevance: Ask yourself, why is the goal important for your team to work towards
  • Timely: Establish the timeframe

2. Know your objectives

While goals determine the broad vision and define an outcome, objectives are specific and tangible next steps taken to carry out a task, in order to reach a goal. An objective defines a scope, provides specific steps, and is backed by a time frame. The chart below further explains the key differences between goals and objectives.

3. Budgeting and resource allocation

Once you've settled on your objectives, you may need to include a budget breakdown of what it will cost to achieve them for your project. Establishing a budget also 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 a venue, independent contractors, materials, or equipment. Suppose you forecast the budget with each milestone in mind; you'll be able to review your budget accordingly and identify any extra spending problems or allocate them for other parts of the project.

4. Team roles and responsibilities

Designating responsibilities are vital in helping you execute your project. Whether you have a team assigned to you or if 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. In addition, during this part of your work plan process, you may also uncover insufficient team skills, which you may need resources for.

Image source: https://www.sandler.com/

At the end of the day, your team players need to understand their role, objectives, and the project's set goals so they can actively contribute and complete their assigned tasks. Then, through teamwork and shared responsibilities, 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 and collaborate with your team members and get down to business in moments.

5. Establish a timeline

Setting a timeline with trackable milestones streamlines the overall project journey and workflow and keeps everyone in the loop — like the knowledge hub for key project deliverables and deadlines. Below are some of the essential points you can add to your timeline to keep everyone on the same page:

  • List of task or deliverables to break down the big project into subprojects/tasks
  • Due dates or milestones to schedule the expected length of each task
  • Incorporate approvals and check-ins to keep the communications open and flowing
  • The team member assigned to each task
  • Forecasted budget to ensure resources are sufficient for each task

Timelines can change based on your project status or progress. Easily customize these updates to suit your needs with this red-navy-corporate-gantt-s charts

6. Identify challenges

At this stage of your work plan development, you may have identified some challenges, opportunities, or resourcing requirements. It can cover things like a key team member going on maternity leave during a crucial part of the project process. A shortage of team skills, or you may need to address stakeholder feedback or reaction to a task you’ve shared with them.

By identifying these challenges you’ll be able to 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 precisely the way you’ve envisioned with not too much oversight.

7. Check-in and monitor progress on goals

Following the previous six steps, by now, you should have something someone can say, “Sounds like a plan, Stan!”. Here is where it’s up to you to manage and monitor your work plan during project execution. Ensure you add check-ins to:

  • Track your team’s progress
  • Get approvals during project milestones
  • Create time to track and assess results.
  • Make sure if your project is on budget or not.

If you’re too optimistic about timings, you may notice that specific tasks are not meeting the set deadlines, or the quality of work produced isn’t meeting expectations. Knowing all this helps determine decision-making and evaluate 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 features allow stakeholders, partners, managers, designers, and clients to easily communicate feedback in real-time, reducing those back and forth emails.

8. Execute and evaluate

Here is where the success of your work plan comes into play when executed — a place where performance and objectives meet to deliver results.

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. 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.

Infographics enable you to organize and deliver your data or results beautifully in a visually interesting way. Use this pink and orange futuristic template to add impact to your project presentation.

How you can centralize your work planning process

As you can see, there are several steps in developing a work plan. A visual communication platform like Canva is the perfect solution for work plan management, especially for agencies. Start by creating a team for the project on Canva. Then invite team members and assign roles to them. Plus, with real-time collaboration available for the different types of 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 and efficiently with you. All while staying on the same page, at the same time.

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