Everyone knows that projects work best when they begin with a plan. But there’s one area that often causes friction: the gap between planning and kick-off.
Easy to overlook, but tricky to overcome once you’re there, it’s the moment when everyone springs into action — except it can all too easily come to a standstill. This is where an implementation plan comes in handy. It’s essentially a formal document that brings the plan and action together, helping everyone move seamlessly from one to the other with purpose.
Ready to get started? Read on to learn all about this incredibly useful project management technique.
What is an implementation plan?
Before we get into what one is, we first need to talk about strategic plans.
Simply put, a strategic plan is a strategy for accomplishing goals. And an implementation plan explains how you’ll make your strategic plan happen.
Your implementation plan will map out the steps you’ll take. It will contain information about resource allocation, schedules, and teams — and detail how these will bring the strategy to life, both at kick-off and over time. Here’s what will typically be in your document:
- Goals and outcomes (short- and long-term)
- Roles and responsibilities
Without an implementation plan in place, it can be tricky to work out how you’ll achieve your goals. And even if you do know, an implementation plan is useful when explaining your strategic plan to other people. In fact, you don’t even need to explain: Just put the document somewhere where everyone can see it.
What are the benefits of an implementation plan?
Implementation planning has been proven to improve project success: One report by The Harvard Business Review revealed that companies who used this technique saw 70% higher returns.
Here are the three main benefits:
- It helps you stay on track
Projects can be hectic. An implementation plan helps everyone stay on track. Your team knows their goals, they know their deadlines, and they know what they’re trying to accomplish.
- It makes buy-in easier
Stakeholders and partners are important: The perceived success of your project often depends on their satisfaction. With a well-thought-out, thoroughly researched plan, it’ll be much easier to get their support — and continue to have their support throughout the project.
- Better collaboration
It’s easier to work together when everyone knows what they’re doing — as well as how that fits into the bigger picture overall. An implementation plan stretches across different roles and departments and helps everyone ensure their goals are aligned.
How to make an implementation plan
Your implementation plan will outline the steps you’ll take to turn your strategic plan into action. There’s no set way to do things since every project is different — but here’s a skeleton guide.
1. Start by asking the important questions
- Do you have everything you need to achieve your strategic goals? If not, what do you need, and how will you secure it?
- Who needs to be involved at each point?
- How long will it take to achieve your goals?
Involve team members, stakeholders, clients, and anyone else whose input can help you answer these questions. Keep your strategic plan front-and-center, so all conversations will lead back to that.
2. Assign roles
Go through your activities and assign someone to each one — or in case of bigger projects, assign a team with a leader. If the latter is the case, choose someone in that team to be the product champion (or in other words, someone who will be responsible for delegating roles and monitoring progress).
3. Write down risks and assumptions
Are any team members going off on vacation? Note it down. It’s also a smart move to write down potential problems, such as competitor movements, economic instability, and budget constraints.
4. Review and kick-off
Finalize activities. Ask yourself if everyone who needs to be involved is involved, what the stakeholder requirements are, how resources are allocated, what milestones and deadlines are you need to meet, what are the risks and project dependencies. Once these are all defined and approved, you’re ready for kick-off.
What should an implementation plan include? A checklist
There’s no one way to do an implementation plan, but here are some key components:
- Introduction: What do you want to accomplish? Include your mission statement, purpose, and a summary of your goals/risks/assumptions.
- Management overview: Detail roles and responsibilities and points of contact.
- Milestones: More detailed deadlines and timelines will go into your execution plan, but it’s a good idea to outline your schedule here. Note down major tasks as well as their status.
- Security information: Note down what you’ll do to ensure data is safe, as well as how you’ll handle sensitive information.
- Resources: Make sure you have everything you need to successfully carry out your plan, as well as how you’ll go about securing the things you need. This list could include facilities, human resources (internal or external), as well as software and hardware.
- Individual responsibilities: Create a general list of roles and responsibilities.
- Documentation: Attach all the bits related to your plan, including your strategic plan, resources, and references. Label everything properly so it’s easy to find, and store it on the cloud so everyone can access it from wherever they are.
- Define metrics for success: Explain how you’ll prove whether your project was a success. How will you gather and analyze this data?
- Establish a feedback process: Alongside explaining how you’ll measure success, you should also explain your review process. For example, will you hold daily standups, and/or quarterly reviews?
- Create a contingency plan: It’s tempting to pretend nothing will go wrong in front of those whose approval you want, but neglecting to acknowledge potential pitfalls would be a mistake. Plan for how you’ll adapt, if necessary, and address internal and external situations that could change or cause problems. Doing so makes you look prepared and encourages a culture of flexibility and agility.
- Glossary: Note down terms, acronyms, and any other words or phrases that might not be known by all.
- Approval: If you need sign-off before kick-off, make an official space for it in your implementation plan.
Common implementation plan problems (and how to avoid them)
No matter how carefully you plan everything, problems can still happen.
The biggest risk you’ll likely face is a lack of buy-in from leaders, stakeholders, and team members — usually due to a sudden loss of confidence. This becomes a very real risk if your project involves significant change or investment.
To lower the chances of this happening, brush up on your organizational communication skills. As well as setting out your plan with an amazing project charter, explain how you’ll make the project run smoothly, and demonstrate this competence at the planning stage with indisputably good organization and reporting.
Continue to do this throughout the project and you should avoid confidence wobbles both during and after the kick-off. Remember, even if there are issues like unplanned absences and economic changes, good communication can help soothe concerns and help the team work together toward a productive outcome.
Implementation planning best practices
- Define your ‘why’: Create a shared vision among the team. Explain why you’re doing this so each person knows how their work fits into the bigger picture. Encourage shared discussions and decision-making where possible to greatly increase the buy-in and commitment that the team has to get the project implemented.
- Define your goals: Write down SMART goals to ensure they’re specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. When it comes to defining goals, you can use all kinds of techniques, including brainstorming and surveys (anonymous or in-person).
- Make communication easy: Regular, open communication is vital to project success. Team leaders should be approachable and value everyone’s input. Meanwhile, project management tools make it easier for everyone to stay up-to-date with progress thanks to notifications and progress charts. As well as helping everyone on the team communicate clearly, it’s important to check in regularly with stakeholders and other figureheads at key parts of the project, so they feel involved (and have the opportunity to share their thoughts at key points).
- Celebrate wins and progress: Holding regular reviews is important for moving things forward, but it’s just as important to look back and celebrate how far you’ve come. This allows managers to make adjustments as they go while helping team members feel valued.
- Choose a team leader: The team leader is there to support, coach, and guide the team — as well as solve conflicts and other issues. There are different types of team leader, so depending on your project, you may want more than one.
- Make your plan visible: Encourage transparency by putting your plan somewhere visible, where everyone can access it. This means higher-up individuals can check it and check-in, while team members can refer to it for accountability and a sense of direction.
Once you’ve created your plan, you’ll need to track progress and keep up with schedules and resources. Creating and managing an implementation plan is a big job and you’ll need to do everything you can to make it easier on yourself.
With Backlog, you can create Gantt charts and Kanban boards everyone can access from wherever they are. You can also stay on top of developments by adding tasks, setting dates, and receiving automatic notifications when work has been done. Keeping everything in one unified platform builds the transparency necessary for buy-in and sign-off while allowing you and your team to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. And when it comes to project success, these things that really make all the difference.