How to Develop a Strategic Plan for Business Development [Free Template]
Published: May 01, 2023
Business development is usually confused with sales , often overlooked, and only sometimes given the strategic focus it deserves. Having a business development strategy, however, is crucial to long-term success. It ensures that everyone in your company is working toward a common goal.
But how do you develop a business development plan? Pull up a chair and stay awhile, I’m diving into that and more below.
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Business development is the practice of identifying, attracting, and acquiring new business to further your company’s revenue and growth goals. How you achieve these goals is sometimes referred to as a business development strategy — and it applies to and benefits everyone at your company.
It’s not unusual to mistake business development with sales, but there’s an important distinction between the two. Business development refers to many activities and functions inside and outside the traditional sales team structure. In some companies, business development is part of the larger sales operations team. In others, it’s part of the marketing team or sits on its own team altogether.
Because business development can look so different among industries and businesses, the strategy behind this function is expansive. Below, we outline each step in the strategy and how to apply it to your business development plan.
Business Development Strategy
- Understand your competitive landscape.
- Choose effective KPIs.
- Develop long-term customer relationships.
- Implement customer feedback.
- Keep your website content and user interface fresh.
- Speed up your response time.
- Leverage a sales plan to identify areas of growth.
- Implement a social listening strategy.
- Sponsor industry organizations, conferences, and events.
1. Understand your competitive landscape.
Before you can develop a strategic plan to drive business growth, you must have a solid understanding of the competitive landscape in your industry. When you know who your ideal customer is and what problem they are looking to solve with your product or service, research who else is providing a viable solution in your industry.
Identify other companies operating in your space. What features do their products have? How competitive is their pricing? Do their systems integrate with other third-party solutions? Get crystal-clear on what the competition is offering so you know how to differentiate your product to your customers.
Featured Resource: 10 Competitive Analysis Templates
2. Choose effective KPIs.
How will you know if your business development efforts are successful? Ensure you can measure your goals with relevant, meaningful key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect the health of your business. The result of these metrics should give you a strong indication of how effective your business development efforts are.
Featured Resource: Sales Metrics Calculator Dashboard
3. Develop long-term customer relationships.
Do you engage with your customers even after the deal has been closed? If not, it’s time to develop a plan to keep your buyers engaged. Building long-term relationships with your customers pays off. A grand majority of a company's business comes from repeat customers, and returning customers are cheaper to convert. Indeed, it’s famously known that it costs five times more to convert new customers than it does to sell to returning customers.
Not only are repeat customers easier to sell to, they can also provide valuable feedback and insights to help you improve your business. Additionally, customer testimonials can be used for valuable content that can attract your next buyer.
4. Implement customer feedback.
If and when you have customers who are willing to provide feedback on your sales process and offerings, make sure you hear them out and implement it. Your customers offer a unique, valuable perspective because they chose your product over the competition — their insights can help shape your strategy to keep your business ahead of the curve.
5. Keep your website content and user interface fresh.
When was the last time your company had a website refresh? Can you ensure that all links are working, that your site is easy to navigate, and that it is laid out and intuitive for those who want to buy from you?
Keeping your website up-to-date and easy to use can make or break the sale for customers who know they are ready to buy. Don’t make it too difficult for potential customers to get in touch with you or purchase your product directly (if that suits your business model).
6. Speed up your response time.
How fast your sales team responds to your leads can make or break your ability to close the deal. If you notice your sales process has some lag time that prevents you from responding to prospects as soon as possible, these could be areas to prioritize improvement.
7. Leverage a sales plan to identify areas of growth.
No business development strategy is complete without a sales plan . If you’ve already established a plan, make sure to unify it with your business development efforts. Your plan should outline your target audience, identify potential obstacles, provide a “game plan” for sales reps, outline responsibilities for team members, and define market conditions.
While a sales plan primarily affects your sales team, it can inform the activities of your business development reps. A sales plan can help them understand where the business needs growth — whether it’s in a new vertical, a new audience, or a new need that’s recently come to light in the industry.
Not sure how to create a sales plan? Download the following template to get started.
Featured Resource: Sales Plan Template
8. Implement a social listening strategy.
While social listening is mainly used in a marketing and customer service context, it’s also an essential practice for business development. There are more than 4 billion social media users worldwide. Naturally, social media is one of the best places to hear directly from consumers and businesses — without needing to reach out to them first.
In business development, you can use social listening to track what the general public is saying about your brand, industry, product offerings, product category, and more. It can help you identify key weaknesses in the industry, making it a prime opportunity to be the first to address those pitfalls.
Use a social listening tool to pick up on trends before they gain traction.
9. Sponsor industry organizations, conferences, and events.
A key facet of business development is reaching potential customers where they are. One of the easiest ways to do that is by sponsoring industry organizations, conferences, and events. This strategy will guarantee that your business development reps get valuable face-to-face time with your business’ target audience. The additional visibility can also help establish your business as a leader in the field.
Now that you understand what business development entails, it's time to create a plan to set your strategy in motion.
How to Develop a Strategic Plan
When we refer to a business development strategic plan, we’re referring to a roadmap that guides the whole company and requires everyone’s assistance to execute successfully and move your customer through the flywheel . With a plan, you’ll close more deals and quantify success.
Let’s go over the steps you should take to create a strategic plan.
1. Download our strategic plan template .
First, download our free growth strategy template to create a rock-solid strategic plan. With this template, you can map a growth plan for increasing sales, revenue, and customer acquisition rates. You can also create action plans for adding new locations, creating new product lines, and expanding into new regions.
Featured Resource: Strategic Plan Template
2. Craft your elevator pitch.
What is your company’s mission and how do you explain it to potential clients in 30 seconds or less? Keeping your elevator pitch at the forefront of all strategic planning will remind everyone what you’re working toward and why.
Some people believe the best pitch isn’t a pitch at all , but a story. Others have their favorite types of pitches , from a one-word pitch to a Twitter pitch that forces you to boil down your elevator pitch to just 280 characters.
Find the elevator pitch that works best for your reps, company, and offer, and document it in your business development strategy.
3. Include an executive summary.
You’ll share your strategic plan with executives and maybe even board members, so it’s important they have a high-level overview to skim. Pick the most salient points from your strategic plan and list or summarize them here.
You might already have an executive summary for your company if you’ve written a business proposal or value proposition . Use this as a jumping off point but create one that’s unique to your business development goals and priorities.
Once your executives have read your summary, they should have a pretty good idea of your direction for growing the business — without having to read the rest of your strategy.
3. Set SMART goals.
What are your goals for this strategy? If you don’t know, it will be difficult for your company and team to align behind your plan. So, set SMART goals . Remember, SMART stands for:
Featured Resource: SMART Goal Setting Template
Download the template now.
If one of your goals is for 5% of monthly revenue to come from upsells or cross-sells, make this goal specific by identifying what types of clients you’ll target.
Identify how you’ll measure success. Is success when reps conduct upsell outreach to 30 clients every month, or is it when they successfully upsell a customer and close the deal? To make your goal attainable, ensure everyone on your team understands who is responsible for this goal: in this case, sales or business development reps.
This goal is relevant because it will help your company grow, and likely contributes to larger company-wide goals. To make it time-based, set a timeline for success and action. In this case, your sales team must achieve that 5% upsell/cross-sell number by the end of the quarter.
4. Conduct SWOT analysis.
SWOT is a strategic planning technique used to identify a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Before conducting a SWOT, identify what your goal is. For example, “We’d like to use SWOT to learn how best to conduct outreach to prospective buyers.”
Once you’ve identified what you’re working toward, conduct market research by talking with your staff, business partners, and customers.
Next, identify your business’ strengths. Perhaps you have low employee turnover, a central location that makes it easy to visit with prospects in person, or an in-demand feature your competitors haven’t been able to mimic.
Featured Resource: Market Research Kit with SWOT Analysis Template
Your business’ weaknesses are next. Has your product recently glitched? Have you been unable to successfully build out a customer service team that can meet the demands of your customers?
Then, switch to opportunities. For example, have you made a new business partnership that will transition you into a previously untapped market segment?
What are the threats? Is your physical space getting crowded? What about your market space? Is increasing competition an issue?
Use SWOT results to identify a better way forward for your company.
5. Determine how you’ll measure success.
You’ve identified strengths and weaknesses and set SMART goals , but how will you measure it all ? It’s important for your team to know just how they will be measured, goaled, and rewarded. Common key performance indicators (KPIs) for business development include:
- Company growth
- Lead conversion rate
- Leads generated per month
- Client satisfaction
- Pipeline value
6. Set a budget.
What will your budget be for achieving your goals? Review financial documents, historical budgets, and operational estimates to set a budget that’s realistic.
Once you have a “draft” budget, check it against other businesses in your industry and region to make sure you’re not overlooking or misjudging any numbers. Don’t forget to factor in payroll, facilities costs, insurance, and other operational line items that tend to add up.
7. Identify your target customer.
Who will your business development team pursue? Your target market is the group of customers your product/service was built for. For example, if you sell a suite of products for facilities teams at enterprise-level companies, your target market might be facilities or janitorial coordinators at companies with 1000+ employees. To identify your target market:
- Analyze your product or service
- Check out the competition
- Choose criteria to segment by
- Perform research
Your target customer is the person most likely to buy your product. Do your homework and make sure your business development plan addresses the right people. Only then will you be able to grow your business.
8. Choose an outreach strategy.
What tactics will you use to attract new business for your sales team to close? You might focus on a single tactic or a blend of a few. Once you know who your target market is and where they “hang out,” then you can choose an appropriate outreach strategy.
Will your business development plan rely heavily on thought leadership such as speaking at or attending conferences? Will you host a local meetup for others in your industry? Or will your reps network heavily on LinkedIn and social media?
If referrals will be pivotal to your business’ growth, consider at which stage of the buying process your BDRs will ask for referrals. Will you ask for a referral even if a prospect decides they like your product/service but aren’t a good fit? Or will you wait until a customer has been using your solution for a few months? Define these parameters in your strategy.
Upselling and Cross-Selling
Upselling and cross-selling are a cost-effective way of growing your business. But it’s important that this tactic is used with guardrails. Only upsell clients on features that will benefit them as well as your bottom line. Don’t bloat client accounts with features or services they really don’t need — that’s when turnover and churn start to happen.
Sponsorship and Advertising
Will your BDR work with or be on the marketing team to develop paid advertising campaigns? If so, how will your BDRs support these campaigns? And which channels will your strategy include? If you sell a product, you might want to feature heavily on Instagram or Facebook. If you’re selling a SaaS platform, LinkedIn or Twitter might be more appropriate.
What’s your outreach strategy? Will your BDRs be held to a quota to make 25 calls a week and send 15 emails? Will your outreach strategy be inbound , outbound , or a healthy combination of both? Identify the outreach guardrails that best match your company values for doing business.
Strategic Plan Example
Let’s put all of these moving parts in action with a strategic plan example featuring good ol’ Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.
Elevator Pitch Example for Strategic Plan
Dunder Mifflin is a local paper company dedicated to providing excellent customer support and the paper your business needs to excel today and grow tomorrow.
Here are some additional resources for inspiration:
- Elevator Pitch Examples to Inspire Your Own
- Components of an Elevator Pitch
Executive Summary Example for Strategic Plan
At Dunder Mifflin, our strengths are our customer service, speed of delivery, and our local appeal. Our weakness is that our sales cycle is too long.
To shorten the sales cycle 5% by the end of Q4, we need to ask for more referrals (which already enjoy a 15% faster sales cycle), sponsor local professional events, and outreach to big box store customers who suffer from poor customer support and are more likely to exit their contract. These tactics should allow us to meet our goal in the agreed-upon timeline.
- How to Write an Incredibly Well-Written Executive Summary [+ Example]
- Executive Summary Template
SMART Goals Example for Strategic Plan
Dunder Mifflin’s goal is to decrease our sales cycle 5% by the end of Q4. We will do this by more proactively scheduling follow-up meetings, sourcing more qualified, ready-to-buy leads, and asking for 25% more referrals (which have a 15% shorter sales cycle already). We will measure success by looking at the sales pipeline and calculating the average length of time it takes a prospect to become closed won or closed lost.
- 5 Dos and Don'ts When Making a SMART Goal [Examples]
- How to Write a SMART Goal
- SMART Marketing Goals Template
SWOT Analysis Example for Strategic Plan
Strengths: Our strengths are our reputation in the greater Scranton area, our customer service team (led by Kelly Kapoor), and our warehouse team, who ship same-day reams to our customers — something the big box stores cannot offer.
Weaknesses: Our greatest weakness is that our sales team has been unable to successfully counter prospects who choose big box stores for their paper supply. This results in a longer-than-average sales cycle, which costs money and time.
Opportunities: Our greatest business opportunity is to conduct better-targeted outreach to prospects who are ready to buy, ask for more referrals from existing customers, and follow up with closed lost business that’s likely coming up on the end of an annual contract with a big box store.
Threats: Our biggest threat is large box stores offering lower prices to our prospects and customers and a sales cycle that is too long, resulting in low revenue and slow growth.
- How to Conduct Competitive Analysis
- How to Run a SWOT Analysis for Your Business [+ Template]
- SWOT Analysis Template and Market Research Kit
Measurement of Success Example for Strategic Plan
We will measure success by looking at the sales pipeline and calculating the average length of time it takes a prospect to become closed won or closed lost.
Budget Example for Strategic Plan
You've laid out the SMART goals and the way you'll measure for success. The budget section's goal is to estimate how much investment it will take to achieve those goals. This will likely end up being a big-picture overview, broken down into a budget by a program or a summary of key investments. Consider laying it out in a table format like so:
- Budgeting Templates
- How to Write an Incredible Startup Marketing Budget
Target Customer Example for Strategic Plan
Our target customer is office managers at small- to medium-sized companies in the greater Scranton, PA area. They are buying paper for the entire office, primarily for use in office printers, custom letterhead, fax machines. They are busy managing the office and value good customer service and a fast solution for their paper needs.
- How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business
- Make My Persona Tool
Outreach Strategy Example for Strategic Plan
Networking, sponsorships, and referrals will be our primary mode of outreach. We will focus on networking at regional paper conferences, HR conferences, and local office manager meetups. We will sponsor local professional events. And we will increase the volume of referrals we request from existing customers.
Create a Strategic Plan for Business Development
Without a strategic plan, you can invest resources, time, and funds into business development initiatives that won't grow your business. A strategic plan is crucial as it aligns your business development and sales teams. With a solid business development strategic plan, everyone will be working toward the greater good of your company.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
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Create an action plan that drives results
An action plan outlines precisely how you’re planning to accomplish your goals. It’s the perfect way to approach goals systematically and keep your team on target. In this article, we will cover how to create an action plan in six steps and how to implement it successfully. Plus, learn more about the differences between action plans, project plans, and to-do lists.
It can feel good to make goals. After all, you’re defining what you want to accomplish. But goals won’t do much without clear action steps. An action plan is a popular project management technique that lists your action steps so you know exactly how you’re going to accomplish your goals.
We’re going to show you how to create this clear roadmap step by step and other tools you should utilize to get the most out of your action plan. Let’s dive in.
What is an action plan?
An action plan is a list of tasks or steps you need to complete to achieve your goals. An effective action plan works like a management plan for your company’s initiatives, outlining the steps you need to take to make these larger goals a success. Once you go through the goal-setting process, create an action plan with specific tasks and timeframes to reach each goal.
Who needs an action plan?
An action plan is useful for anyone who needs a step-by-step planning process. When you create an action plan, you detail exactly what actions you'll take to accomplish your project goals. These plans can help you organize your to-dos and ensure you have the necessary information and resources to accomplish your goals.
But you can create action plans for more than just strategic planning. Use this tool to reach any specific goals in a systematic way. Try setting up:
Business action plan
Marketing action plan
Corrective action plan
Sales action plan
Project action plan
Personal development action plan
Regardless of the type of action plan you create, make sure you create it in task management software . That way, you can easily share action items and timelines with your team to track progress. Instead of manual status updates and unclear deliverables, your team has one central source of truth for everything they need to do in order to hit their goals.
Now let’s get into how you can create an action plan that increases your team’s efficiency and accountability.
6 steps to create an action plan
Step 1: set a smart goal.
When it comes to setting goals, clarity is the single most important quality. With the SMART goal method, your goal is clearly defined and attainable. Set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals to benefit from this tactic.
For example, your goal could be to deliver your current project (measurable) in four months (time-bound) without overspending (specific). Assuming this goal is both achievable and realistic based on your available resources, it’s a great SMART goal to set for yourself.
Step 2: Identify tasks
Now that your goal is clearly defined and written down, you’ll want to identify the steps you have to take to reach it. Identify all of the tasks that you and your team need to complete to reach milestones and, eventually, the main objective.
Here are a few action plan examples with tasks for different kinds of goals:
Goal: Expand team from seven to nine team members by June.
Meet with Human Resources to discuss the recruitment campaign.
Create a template project to track candidates.
Schedule three interviews per week.
Goal: Select and onboard new work management software to the entire company by the end of Q2.
Apply for the budget.
Create a roll-out plan for Q2.
Schedule training for team members.
Goal: Host 5k charity run in May to raise $15,000 for the local food bank.
Find volunteers and determine responsibilities
Prepare marketing materials and PR plans
Step 3: Allocate resources
Once you’ve outlined all of your tasks, you can allocate resources like team members, project budget, or necessary equipment. Whether it’s assigning team members to certain tasks, applying for a budget, or gathering helpful tools—now is the time to plan and prepare.
Sometimes, you can’t allocate all of your resources before you put your action plan in motion. Perhaps you have to apply for funding first or need executive approval before you can move on with a task. In that case, make the resource an action item in your plan so you can take care of it later.
Step 4: Prioritize tasks
When your team is clear on their priorities, they know what work to do first and what work they can reschedule if necessary. No action plan is set in stone, so the best way to empower your team is to let them know what tasks have a high priority and which ones are a bit more flexible.
To make this clear, sort all of your action items by priority and sequence:
Priority: Important and less important tasks.
Sequence: Order in which tasks have to be completed so others can start.
When you’re organizing and prioritizing your action items , you’ll notice that some action items are dependent on others. In other words, one task can’t begin until the previous task is completed. Highlight these dependencies and factor the sequence into your prioritization. This reduces bottlenecks , removing obstacles that would make a less important action item delay a high-priority item.
Step 5: Set deadlines and milestones
When your team knows what they're working towards, they have the context to effectively prioritize work and the motivation to get great work done. Team members tend to be more motivated when they directly understand how their work is contributing to larger goals.
To engage your teammates from the get go, assign deadlines to all action items and define milestones . Milestones mark specific points along your project timeline that identify when activities have been completed or when a new phase starts
Create a timeline or Gantt chart to get a better overview of your prioritized tasks, milestones, and deadlines. Your timeline also serves as a visual way to track the start and end dates of every task in your action plan. You can use it as a baseline to make sure your team stays on track.
Step 6: Monitor and revise your action plan
Your ability to stay on top of and adapt to changes is what makes you a great project manager. It’s crucial that you monitor your team’s progress and revise the plan when necessary.
Luckily, your action plan isn’t set in stone. The best way to track potentially changing priorities or deadlines is to use a dynamic tool like a work management software . That way, you can update to-dos and dependencies in real time, keep your team on the same page, and your action plan moving.
Action plan vs. plan B vs. project plan vs. to-do list
So how exactly does an action plan differ from all these other plans and lists? To clear this up once and for all, we’re going to explain what these plans are and when to use which plan to maximize your team’s efforts.
Action plan vs. plan B
You may have heard the terms action plan and plan B used interchangeably. But in fact, an action plan and plan B are two completely different types of plans. Here’s how to tell them apart:
Your action plan outlines actions in much detail so you and your team know exactly what steps to take to reach your goal.
A plan B is a secondary action plan, an alternative strategy, that your team can apply if your original plan fails. Whether that’s because of an internal issue or an external factor—having a plan B is a great way to be prepared for the worst case scenario.
Action plan vs. project plan
A project plan is a bit more complicated than an action plan. Project plans are blueprints of the key elements your team needs to accomplish to successfully achieve your project goals. A project plan includes seven elements:
Goals and project objectives
Stakeholders and roles
Scope and budget
Milestones and deliverables
Timeline and schedule
Once you’ve created a project plan, use an action plan to outline and document how your team will execute your tasks and hit your goals. This will ensure that everyone on your team knows what their responsibilities are and what to get done by when.
Action plan vs. to-do list
A to-do list is typically used to write down single tasks that don’t necessarily lead to one common goal. To-do lists can change daily and are much less organized than action plans. An action plan will follow specific steps and include tasks that all lead to the completion of a common goal.
How to implement your action plan successfully
You know how to create an action plan, but in order to implement it successfully, you need to use the right tools and use them correctly. Here are our top five tips to ensure your action plan is effective:
Use task management software
Streamline your action plan by keeping all of your tasks and timelines in one central source of truth. Task management software, like Asana , is perfect for your action plan because it allows you to keep track of pending tasks, declare task ownership, assign dependencies, and connect with your team in real time or asynchronously .
Use or create templates
Create or use a template that lists all the action items with notes, status, priority, and ownership. When you create a template that fits your project type, you can reuse it time and time again.
Set up real-time alerts and assign dependencies
Make sure all action items are time-bound and that you assign dependencies. That way, your team can react when an item is ready for them and easily track what other items depend on theirs.
Check action items off as you complete them
When action items are completed, check them off! Make sure it’s visible to everyone and happens in real time so the person responsible for the next action item can start their work as soon as possible.
Discuss late or pending tasks
If you run into issues or delays, talk to your team to uncover potential bottlenecks and find solutions that keep the action plan on track. You can add notes directly into your action plan or set up calls to discuss more complex issues.
Ready, set, action plan
Like Benjamin Franklin once said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Creating an action plan helps you stay focused, on track, and brings your goals to life.
Plan to succeed with a structured action plan and helpful tools like Asana’s task management software. Connect and align with your team in a central source of truth while staying flexible enough to revise your action plan when necessary.
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What is an action plan? Steps, template, and examples
June 27, 2023 10 min read 2824
Editor’s note : This blog was updated 27 June 2023 to add more information about action plans, including examples of the types of organizations that can use action plans and an in-depth example study. The action plan template was also updated.
Have a thoughtfully laid-out product roadmap? Great! What’s next?
It’s time to make things happen and turn your product vision into reality.
As a product manager, you’re akin to an orchestrator, juggling multiple hats that need different levels of skill and communication — the glue that brings everything together. One of the most important things you need to get started is an action plan.
Table of contents
What is an action plan, what is an action plan example, how an action plan complements your product strategy.
- Define goals
- Build your framework and task list
- Define roles and responsibilities
- Communicate and gather feedback
- Update your action plan
Action plan in-depth example: Improving user engagement with a new feature
5 tips to build an action plan that drives value, action plan template.
An action plan is a guiding document and work breakdown structure that outlines all the tasks that need to be completed so you can achieve your product goals.
An action plan is like a music sheet: if you have a defined set of notes, you know exactly what the music is going to sound like.
As the product manager, you need to be able to define the set of tasks in sequential order, considering dependencies and priorities, that will help you complete your project in the quickest, most efficient way possible.
Action plans do not all have to be for complicated products or things — they can be for easy, short-term plans as well. For example, say a product team at a stationery company wants to introduce a new pen model. Their action plan could involve defining the new model’s design, sourcing materials, setting up manufacturing processes, determining marketing strategies, and setting a timeline for the product launch.
Another example could be a clothing brand apparel brand plans to launch a new, sustainable line. This action plan could include researching sustainable materials and manufacturing processes, designing the clothing line, determining pricing strategies, planning the marketing campaign to emphasize the sustainability angle, and coordinating the product launch across various sales channels.
As you can see, action plans don’t always have to be for complex software products. We’ll walk through an example later in the article more suited toward a digital tech product, but the point is that every team can use an action plan no matter what their product is!
It’s important to note that an action plan and product strategy are not the same thing. Product strategy defines the high-level direction of what will make a product successful and a general idea of how to get there. An action plan is created from an execution standpoint and is not meant to define product strategy.
However, a good action plan should incorporate a long-term product strategy that aligns with business goals. Taking action that doesn’t ultimately lead to achieving your goals is simply unnecessary and a drain on your resources. A smart action plan embraces the fact that business goals and product priorities can change along the way, making it crucial to create a plan that is flexible and allows you to pivot with minimal disruptions.
All in all, an action plan (especially when finely tuned and strategic) complements your product strategy by providing an actionable roadmap to success. As mentioned earlier, while the product strategy paints the high-level vision for what will make a product successful, the action plan breaks this down into tactical steps — think of it as the bridge between the strategy and actual implementation. It’s important to clarify that a well-crafted action plan does not aim to redefine the product strategy but gives a path to execute it.
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How to create an action plan in 5 steps
Creating an action plan is a logical exercise, much like putting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. It’s just that sometimes, you don’t have the jigsaw pieces readily available, so you have to do some digging to find them first.
Whether you’re using pen and paper or a more sophisticated project management tool such as Jira or Confluence, it’s important to write down your action plan so you can get everyone on the same page (literally) and reference it later.
The steps to writing an effective action plan are as follows:
- Communicate and get feedback
1. Define goals
The most important step in creating an action plan is to define the goals you want to achieve through that plan. This isn’t exclusively about launching a new product feature or enhancing user experience, you can equally use an action plan to reinforce security measures or diminish your product’s tech debt. The goals can be big or small, but defining them clearly is crucial.
To ensure these goals are robust and measurable, incorporate data metrics as your success indicators and set feasible timelines. The more precise and data-centric your goals, the more actionable they become. For example: Increase net-new users by X percent through the release of Y new feature by the end of Q3.
2. Build your framework and task list
Now that you have your goals defined, work backward from your goals and think about all the different pieces you need to reach them.
When dealing with so many moving parts, it’s important to create a structure for them. We call this the work breakdown structure.
Essentially, this involves dissecting the project into smaller, manageable tasks. Organize these tasks into groups and create dependencies and communication links between them. This forms the framework you can use to fully build out your action plan.
The framework will help you create a holistic execution plan and force you to think about the things that you possibly could have missed. No two companies are alike, so create a detailed framework that works for you and your company.
Example action plan framework
Here’s an example of a simple, high-level framework for a process-oriented action plan that’s ideal for software companies:
- Product scoping
- Technical scoping
- UI/UX design
- Release and review
Product scoping — Gather product requirements through product analytics, customer discovery, cross-functional collaboration and internal feedback, competitive and market trends, and any other source that brings insights into the product you’re building. Consider how your product will impact existing customers, other products, teams, revenue streams, etc. within your company.
Technical scoping — Once you have the product requirements nailed down, having technical scoping discussions helps to understand technical feasibility and dependencies better.
UI/UX design — Create prototypes according to user experience and design best practices. This will help validate technical feasibility, customer usability, and alignment with product strategy.
Development — Now that we have a solid set of requirements that are ready to be developed, you can create further action plans specifically for development in collaboration with your engineering manager(s) . Together with your engineering leaders, break down the development phase into manageable chunks of work, taking into account technical dependencies and the sequential order of how the tasks must be developed.
Testing — Once your product is developed, it’s time to test it. Engage a variety of stakeholders to test your product. More feedback means more insights into how customers will perceive and use your product.
Release and review — Releasing a new product feature can be nerve-wracking. Having a release checklist to go with your action plan can be helpful. Think about all the things that need to be put in place before the release, including communicating with other stakeholders (e.g., support, marketing, sales, leadership, etc.). Once you release, review customer feedback to find ways to improve your product.
Once you have your framework, create a detailed list of tasks for each stage. Support each task with a written description of what the task entails and what defines it as completed . Reach out to your team members to help you understand each task better and include any other details that you think are relevant.
3. Define roles and responsibilities
Use the framework as a point of reference to manage your resources. Resources can make or break your project, so it’s important to manage them as efficiently as possible.
In collaboration with your engineering manager, establish the team that will be working on the specific project. Define the roles and responsibilities of each team member and make sure everyone understands how they are expected to contribute to the project.
Assign tasks to team members accordingly and help them understand the scope of their tasks. It’s also important to collaboratively set up deadlines for tasks and then hold them accountable to those timelines.
4. Communicate and gather feedback
You now have a well-established action plan. You know who is doing what, when, and how it all leads up to achieving the goals of your action plan. But there are always caveats.
For instance, sometimes you make assumptions before validating, or you’re just not aware of something that can become a problem later on. The list of potential nags is literally endless.
To avoid this, communicate your action plan to your core team, management, cross-functional stakeholders, and other team members to gather feedback. Being open to feedback is critical to learning and growing. Incorporating feedback will build your own credibility and will help evolve the process of creating action plans.
5. Update your action plan
The only constant is change. As market trends and business strategies evolve, you have to be ready to pivot. This can put a damper on your well-established action plans.
Acknowledging this and building flexibility into your action plans will help you keep projects on track. Create milestones or checkpoints in your action plans; this will enable you to make informed decisions on how best to pivot when the need arises.
As things change, update your action plan and communicate at the earliest possible to the project team, as well as any other stakeholder that needs to be in the loop.
Let’s walk through a specific (and realistic) example product managers may face — improving user engagement by releasing a new feature. Specifically, let’s say you’re working on a news app and have been seeing declining user engagement recently. You’re not exactly sure why, but think that introducing a personalization feature might increase engagement. Following the steps outlined to create an action plan, the process would look like this:
The primary goal is to increase user engagement by 20 percent over the next two quarters. You’ll do this by introducing a personalization feature that tailors content to the individual user’s interests — something that we believe our competitors are doing already.
This will be measured by tracking metrics such as session duration, number of articles read per session, and click-through rates on personalized content suggestions.
You’ll use the simple, high-level framework we outlined to build the task list.
Product scoping — Conduct market research to understand user preferences for personalized content and see how our competitors are currently doing it.
Technical scoping — Collaborate with the technical team to assess the feasibility of implementing personalization algorithms, dependencies, and any potential challenges. This step may include meetings with data scientists and backend developers.
UI/UX design — Design the user interface for the personalized content feed. It could include the location of the personalized feed on the home screen, a section for users to choose their interests, etc. This step will involve creating wireframes, developing prototypes, and conducting user testing to validate the design.
Development — Implement the personalization feature, including the development of the algorithm, changes to the backend to handle user data securely, and the frontend changes to display personalized content.
Testing — Extensively test the new feature for usability, security, learning curve, etc.
Release and review — Plan the release of the new feature, and consider a soft launch with a small user group to collect early feedback. After the release, continue to collect user feedback to identify any needs for improvement.
For the sake of our example, let’s assume all of the team members have availability to help. The product manager will work on the product scoping phase and coordinate with the technical team for technical scoping, UX designers will handle the UI/UX design phase, developers and data scientists will work on developing the personalization algorithm and integrating it with the app during the development phase, etc.
4. Communicate and get feedback
The plan is then shared with all stakeholders — the core team, senior management, executives, and other teams impacted by this feature. You’ll get their feedback and make the necessary amendments. You’ll also use project management tools to ensure everyone has a clear understanding of the action plan and their roles.
Lastly, you’ll set up regular reviews to monitor progress and make necessary changes in the plan as we encounter new information or challenges.
Now that you have a foundational understanding of what to include in an action plan and how to write one, where do you start?
This action plan template is designed to help you keep track of tasks, resources, dependencies, and progress in a single, easy-to-read, and even easier-to-update spreadsheet:
To customize the action plan template for your next project, click here and select File > Make a copy from the main menu at the top of the page.
A rushed or incomplete action plan will lead to stress and frustration down the road. Here are five best practices to help you create an effective and efficient action plan:
- Create multiple action plans
- Identify milestones and critical tasks
- Communicate early and often
- Embrace technology
- Continuously improve your processes
1. Create multiple action plans
Action plans can get pretty daunting for bigger projects. Don’t overwhelm yourself; use the same concept as the work breakdown structure.
Start by creating a holistic, high-level action plan that encompasses the entire project. Then, take each part of that plan and break it down further, and so on.
You can create individual action plans for each part of the high-level action plan. You may also need to do this for specific parts of the project if they have a lot of dependencies or require many people to collaborate with each other.
2. Identify milestones and critical tasks
When you have numerous tasks, you might have trouble managing them all.
Identifying milestones and critical tasks can bring visibility to the most important parts of the action plan. Make sure you have the right stakeholders in the room when discussing these.
Celebrating milestones is also a great way to improve the morale of the team.
3. Communicate early and often
No matter how detailed your action plans are, if you are not able to communicate them properly to the project team, it will be difficult to achieve your goals.
Keep the communication continuously flowing and keep an eye out for blockers. As the product manager, you need to work with the team to remove obstacles and keep things moving along.
Communication also goes a long way to align the team during change management .
4. Embrace technology
Technology can make our lives so much easier when we know how to apply it in the right ways.
There are many software tools that can help you create, document, and manage your action plans. Assess your needs and experiment with free trials to gauge which tool suits your process the best.
If paid software is too far out of the picture at the moment, you can simply use Google Sheets/Docs or Microsoft Excel/Word to create your action plan. Click here for a simple action plan template in Google Docs.
5. Continuously improve your processes
Small things that are done to better the process eventually add up and create drastic efficiencies over time.
Make time for feedback and introspection loops. Find ways to incorporate relevant feedback and distribute the knowledge. Monitor for process patterns and areas that need improvement and discuss with the team how you can make the overall process better for everybody.
Collaborate with the team to make improvements incrementally and continuously .
The framework and process for creating and managing action plans can vary based on the project and team. As long as you have action plans documented and communicate regularly with relevant stakeholders, you will be able to get things done efficiently.
Remember, as the orchestrator (product manager), you need your music sheet (action plan) and your orchestra (project team) to align, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic concert (product)!
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How to Create an Action Plan that Drives to Accomplish Your Goals
Exploring action plans.
Planning on turning your vision into reality? And what’s your best way to avoid challenges and problems during this journey? A solid action plan .
We have outlined 6 steps explaining how to write an action plan. Once you familiarize yourself with them, go ahead and use the editable templates below to start planning right away.
What is an Action Plan?
An action plan is a specific list of tasks in order to achieve a particular goal. It can be regarded as a proposed strategy to execute a specific project to achieve a specific or general goal effectively and efficiently. It outlines steps to take and helps stay focused and organized, whether it’s personal or work-related. Breaking down the goal into smaller, manageable steps, makes it easier to stay motivated and track progress.
It’s an essential part of the strategic planning process and helps with improving teamwork planning Not only in project management, but action plans can be used by individuals to prepare a strategy to achieve their own personal goals as well.
Components of an action plan include
- A well-defined description of the goal to be achieved
- Tasks/ steps that need to be carried out to reach the goal
- People who will be in charge of carrying out each task
- When will these tasks be completed (deadlines and milestones)
- Resources needed to complete the tasks
- Measures to evaluate progress
What’s great about having everything listed down on one location is that it makes it easier to track progress and effectively plan things out.
An action plan is not something set in stone. As your organization grows, and surrounding circumstances change, you will have to revisit and make adjustments to meet the latest needs.
Why You Need an Action Plan
Sometimes businesses don’t spend much time on developing an action plan before an initiative, which, in most cases, leads to failure. If you haven’t heard, “failing to plan is planning to fail” said Benjamin Franklin supposedly once.
Planning helps you prepare for the obstacles ahead and keep you on track. And with an effective action plan , you can boost your productivity and keep yourself focused.
Here are some benefits of an action plan you should know;
- It gives you a clear direction. As an action plan highlights exactly what steps to be taken and when they should be completed, you will know exactly what you need to do.
- Having your goals written down and planned out in steps will give you a reason to stay motivated and committed throughout the project.
- With an action plan, you can track your progress toward your goal.
- Since you are listing down all the steps you need to complete in your action plan, it will help you prioritize your tasks based on effort and impact.
How to Write an Action Plan | Best Practices
From the looks of it, creating an action plan seems fairly easy. But there are several important steps you need to follow with caution in order to get the best out of it. Here’s how to write an action plan explained in 6 easy steps.
Step 1: Define your end goal
If you are not clear about what you want to do and what you want to achieve, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Planning a new initiative? Start by defining where you are and where you want to be.
Solving a problem? Analyze the situation and explore possible solutions before prioritizing them.
Then write down your goal. And before you move on to the next step, run your goal through the SMART criteria . Or in other words, make sure that it is
- Specific – well-defined and clear
- Measurable – include measurable indicators to track progress
- Attainable – realistic and achievable within the resources, time, money, experience, etc. you have
- Relevant – align with your other goals
- Timely – has a finishing date
Use this SMART goal worksheet to simplify this process. Share it with others to get their input as well.
And refer to our easy guide to the goal-setting process to learn more about setting and planning your goals.
Step 2: List down the steps to be followed
The goal is clear. What exactly should you do to realize it?
Create a rough template to list down all the tasks to be performed, due dates and people responsible.
It’s important that you make sure that the entire team is involved in this process and has access to the document. This way everyone will be aware of their roles and responsibilities in the project.
Make sure that each task is clearly defined and is attainable. If you come across larger and more complex tasks, break them down to smaller ones that are easier to execute and manage.
Tips: Use a RACI Matrix template to clarify project roles and responsibilities, and plan projects
Step 3: Prioritize tasks and add deadlines
It’s time to reorganize the list by prioritizing the tasks . Some steps, you may need to prioritize as they can be blocking other sub-steps.
Add deadlines, and make sure that they are realistic. Consult with the person responsible for carrying it out to understand his or her capacity before deciding on deadlines.
Step 4: Set milestones
Milestones can be considered mini goals leading up to the main goal at the end. The advantage of adding milestones is that they give the team members to look forward to something and help them stay motivated even though the final due date is far away.
Start from the end goal and work your way back as you set milestones . Remember not to keep too little or too much time in between the milestone you set. It’s a best practice to space milestones two weeks apart.
Step 5: Identify the resources needed
Before you start your project, it’s crucial to ensure that you have all the necessary resources at hand to complete the tasks. And if they are not currently available, you need to first make a plan to acquire them.
This should also include your budget. You can assign a column of your action plan to mark the cost of each task if there are any.
Step 6: Visualize your action plan
The point of this step is to create something that everyone can understand at a glance and that can be shared with everyone.
Whether your action plan comes in the shape of a flowchart , Gantt chart , or table , make sure that it clearly communicates the elements we have identified so far – tasks, task owners, deadlines, resources, etc.
This document should be easily accessible to everyone and should be editable.
Step 7: Monitor, evaluate and update
Allocate some time to evaluate the progress you’ve made with your team.
You can mark tasks that are completed as done on this final action plan, bringing attention to how you’ve progressed toward the goal.
This will also bring out the tasks that are pending or delayed, in which case you need to figure out why and find suitable solutions. And then update the action plan accordingly.
Action Plan Templates
Business action plan, marketing action plan, strategic action plan, corrective action plan template, action plan template, any more tips on creating an action plan.
An action plan is designed to guide your way to accomplishing your goals. It turns your vision into actionable goals and steps. And it helps you stay focused and motivated.
From an individual employee in an organization to larger departments can make use of action plans to steer their way towards completing their goals.
Maybe you are about to create your very first action plan, or you are already a pro at writing them. Either way, we’d like to hear your opinions on how to write an action plan. Do share them with us in the comments section below.
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FAQs About Action Plan
Lack of clarity on goals: Make sure the team understands the goals and objectives of the action plan. The goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
Unclear responsibilities: Assign clear roles and responsibilities for each team member to avoid confusion and ensure accountability.
Overcomplicating the plan: Keep the action plan simple and easy to understand. Avoid adding unnecessary complexity or detail that may confuse the team.
Failure to prioritize tasks: Prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. This will ensure that the team focuses on the most critical tasks first.
Inadequate resources: Ensure that the team has access to the necessary resources such as time, budget, and equipment, to carry out the action plan successfully.
Lack of communication: Effective communication is crucial to the success of any action plan. Ensure that team members are regularly updated on progress and any changes to the plan.
Failure to monitor progress: Regularly monitor progress and adjust the action plan as needed to ensure that it stays on track and achieves its goals.
Strategic action plan: This type of plan outlines the long-term goals and objectives of an organization, and the actions that will be taken to achieve them. It typically covers a period of several years and includes high-level strategies and initiatives.
Operational action plan: This plan focuses on the day-to-day operations of an organization, outlining the actions that will be taken to achieve short-term goals and objectives. It typically covers a period of one year or less and includes specific actions and timelines.
Project action plan: This type of plan is used for individual projects and outlines the actions that will be taken to achieve specific project goals and objectives. It includes a detailed breakdown of tasks, timelines, and responsibilities.
Sales action plan: This plan focuses on the actions that will be taken to increase sales and revenue. It includes specific strategies for marketing, sales, and customer service.
Marketing action plan: This plan outlines the actions that will be taken to promote a product or service and increase brand awareness. It includes strategies for advertising, social media, public relations, and other marketing initiatives.
Crisis management action plan: This type of plan outlines the actions that will be taken in the event of a crisis, such as a natural disaster or security breach. It includes specific protocols for communication, evacuation, and other emergency procedures.
An action plan can be used by anyone who wants to achieve specific goals or objectives. It is a useful tool for individuals, teams, and organizations in a variety of contexts. Here are some examples:
Individuals: An individual can use an action plan to achieve personal goals such as losing weight, completing a degree, or starting a business.
Teams: A team can use an action plan to achieve goals related to a specific project or initiative. For example, a marketing team may use an action plan to launch a new product.
Small businesses: Small businesses can use an action plan to achieve goals related to sales, marketing, operations, or finance.
Non-profit organizations: Non-profit organizations can use an action plan to achieve goals related to fundraising, volunteer recruitment, or program implementation.
Government agencies: Government agencies can use an action plan to achieve goals related to policy implementation, disaster response, or public safety.
Educational institutions: Educational institutions can use an action plan to achieve goals related to improving student outcomes, increasing enrollment, or expanding programs.
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Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.