Small Business Basics
Preparing a Work Plan

(Date posted: February 20, 2009)

Use these small business basics guidelines to help you prepare a work plan for a new or difficult task.

A work plan summarizes the various requirements, research, decisions, preparations, and activities needed to complete a task in a timely and efficient manner. It also can list deadlines and other requirements.

Here are the topics:

Insights
Introduction to procedures
Deciding how to proceed
Perform any preliminary research needed
Deciding how to write the plan
Listing the task requirements
Listing any advance preparations needed
Listing all activities for the main task
Listing the final activities
Final thoughts

The following example shows how a simple work plan might appear:

Example of a Work Plan: Learning Spanish

NOTE: A more complicated work plan would have more categories and many more action steps.


IMPORTANT

Before using this information to start a business be sure to read the following notice: Disclaimer

Insights

Making big improvements in your life usually entails working on new or complicated tasks on occasion. These tasks could pertain to a project at work, a personal goal, or even a small business startup. Usually a small amount of time spent planning can save a great deal of time, and even expense, in getting the work done.

There is a certain magic in writing down your plans for a task. As long as a plan exists only in your mind, you tend to see only the big picture. But when you have to write down the detailed steps, then you can discover what is missing.

Many people have trouble starting or completing a large or poorly defined task. By having a written plan, the requirements of a task become more specific and attainable. This helps reduce wasted time and effort, and improve the chances of completing the work successfully.

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Introduction to procedures

These procedures consist of two phases. During the first phase, you make some decisions and, perhaps, perform some preliminary research. During the second phase, you prepare the actual work plan.

Some complicated tasks should be broken up into several smaller tasks. Each such smaller task then might require its own work plan. An example is a task that has a series of processes, with different activities, for each process.

In some cases, the attempted or actual preparation of a work plan reveals that the task is beyond your present capabilities. If so, you might choose an easier task, or wait until you have increased your skills and/or resources. Where the task pertains to a project at work, you should consult with your supervisor or employer on how to proceed.

A work plan contains the following four parts:

  1. Task requirements
  2. Any advance preparations needed
  3. All activities for the main task
  4. Final activities

The topics below explain how to develop a work plan. These procedures should be used in sequence, unless indicated otherwise.

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Deciding how to proceed

This procedure consists of two decisions you need to make before getting ready to prepare a work plan.

Is a work plan needed?

One of the time saving rules I advocate is to eliminate needless tasks. Since it takes a certain amount of time and effort to create a work plan, you should be sure it's really needed.

If any of the following considerations apply, then a work plan probably is needed:

  • You don't have any experience with this type of task, and there are no existing instructions to show you how to do it.
  • The task is complicated and/or time consuming.
  • It is very important that the task be completed without making any big mistakes.
  • The work plan you prepare will be used on the same type of tasks in the future.

If a work plan is not needed, you may wish to just start working on the task. However, I would recommend that you first briefly scan through all remaining topics. You then at least will have some ideas that may be useful while performing the task.

If a plan is needed, continue on.

Is any preliminary research needed?

Sometimes you need to gather some background information before continuing.

If you have any of the following questions, then some preliminary research probably is needed:

  • What are the requirements, restrictions, and desired results that apply to this task?
  • What preparations are needed before starting on the main task?
  • Are there any guidelines, instructions, or other useful information available to show how to do this task?
  • What equipment, materials, supplies, and other resources are required to complete the task?
  • Are there any reliable shortcuts that could make the task go faster?
  • Where can I go for advice if I need help to complete the task?

If the preliminary research is not needed, then go to this topic.

If research is needed, continue on to the following topic.

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Perform any preliminary research needed

The purpose of this procedure is to expand your basic knowledge of the task and to find answers to any questions you may have.

Also, you may want to find the best way to accomplish the task. This usually applies when the task is complicated or new to you.

Write down any questions you have. You may have discovered these questions in the previous topic.

Now you need to find the answers to your questions. If the work plan is required for your job, you should try to get these answers from your supervisor. You might talk to knowledgeable people, such as business people you know. You might do some research on the Internet.

The topic on Lack of needed information in Chapter 11: Overcome Common Obstacles from my free Magic Success Secrets ebook should help you.

As you find the answers, write them down.

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Deciding how to write the plan

By this point, you have decided to prepare a work plan, and have completed any needed preliminary research. Now you will make two more decisions before starting to write the plan.

How much detail should the plan contain?

The amount of detail needed depends on the circumstances. The general rule about preparing work plans is to limit their preparation time and effort to a small portion of that required to perform the task itself. If it would take longer to prepare a plan than to do the task, you usually don't need a plan.

If you are familiar with the task, you may not need to describe the action steps for each activity in the plan. It may be enough merely to provide a title and the desired result for most activities.

But a plan for an inexperienced person, a new activity, or a complicated undertaking probably should include descriptions of the action steps for all or most activities.

What medium should be used to prepare the plan?

Since a work plan may have to be prepared in bits and pieces, you should use a flexible medium to record it. If you have access to a computer then either a word processing program or spreadsheet program could be used.

If you aren't going to use a computer, you could use index cards or pieces of writing paper. These cards or pieces of paper should be about one-fifth to one-half the size of a sheet of paper, depending on the amount of details needed. Each item or activity for the work plan should appear on a separate card or piece of paper.

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Listing the task requirements

This procedure records the first part of the work plan. These requirements should include everything that the task must accomplish and comply with, including the desired results.

It might seem a waste of time to have these written requirements when the objective of a particular task appears obvious.

However, one of the uses of these written requirements is to avoid wasting effort and resources on actions that produce no useful results. (Some people get locked into a habit of doing things a certain way even when the needs of a task change.)

You may want to include some of the following items in your list of task requirements.

Overview of the task

Briefly describe the purpose of the task and the steps used to complete it.

Why the task is needed

Who benefits from the task? Is there some easier way to get the same benefit?

Who will perform the task?

Names or positions of people who will perform the task. Names or positions of any supervisors.

Resources needed

List the equipment, information, materials, supplies, and tools that will be neede3d to perform the task.

Restrictions

These are things you can't do while performing the task. Thus if the task is to apply new siding on a house, the customer may require you to not start working before a certain time of day.

Desired results

This describes what the task should accomplish. It should be as specific as possible, since the desired results of a task are very important.

Quality standards

Quality generally refers to whether expensive or inexpensive materials should be used on a task, and how carefully the task should be accomplished. The general rule, unless specified otherwise, is to use the type of materials and the degree of care as is customary for similar tasks.

Deadlines

Quite often, a task needs to be completed by a specified time and/or date. In some cases, portions of a task may have their own deadlines.

Coordinating with other tasks

Some tasks affect, or are affected by, one or more other tasks. These interactions with other tasks should be spelled out to avoid any problems.

Other requirements

This is a miscellaneous item for any other considerations that affect how the task is performed.

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Listing any advance preparations needed

This is the second part of the work plan. Write down any preliminary activities that should be done before starting the main task. These activities help insure that the task will be performed efficiently and the desired results will be obtained. You may want to include some of the following items in your list of preliminary activities.

Performing any research needed

This research is in addition to any preliminary research that was needed to understand the task or prepare the work plan. This type of research is part of the task itself.

Obtaining approvals and/or permissions

These are things needed from various people, organizations, or governments in order to proceed with the task. An example is getting a building permit before constructing an addition to a house.

Obtaining guidelines and/or instructions

You may be able to find or purchase guidelines and/or instructions that can help minimize problems, or save time and expense in performing the task.

Obtaining equipment, materials, supplies, and tools

This item should specify any equipment, materials, supplies, and tools needed for the task. It should also specify where these things are located or can be purchased.

Obtaining other resources

This item should specify any other resources needed for the task. It should also show where they are located or can be purchased.

Making a go or no-go decision

This item is optional. It can be used to describe conditions that would prevent you from proceeding with the main task. An example is that some vital information or materials cannot be obtained.

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Listing all activities for the main task

This procedure is used to create the third part of the work plan. It is concerned with determining and describing the various activities of the main task, and deciding how they should be sequenced.

Since these activities and their sequence are subject to change, they should be recorded in a manner that will allow for these possible changes.

The main task is where most of the detailed work will be done to achieve the desired results of the task. This work usually consists of various activities, such as the following:

  • Researching
  • Analyzing
  • Calculating
  • Summarizing
  • Making decisions
  • Recording information
  • Performing creative activities
  • Performing physical activities

The main task often includes some special activities that should be shown as separate items in the task specifications. If you are preparing a detailed work plan, you should describe any special activities, such as the following.

Repetitive operations

These are activities that are repeated until the main task is completed. The plan should specify how to tell when these activities should stop.

Sequence of steps

These are activities that must occur in a particular sequence until the main task is completed. Following is an example for constructing an addition to a house (this list ignores any required inspections):

Excavating for the foundation and crawl space
Assembling forms for the foundation
Pouring the concrete foundation
Framing the wooden structure
Applying the exterior wall and roof sheathing
Installing windows
Applying exterior siding and shingles
Installing plumbing lines
Installing electrical wiring
Hanging sheetrock ceilings and walls
Taping and painting the sheetrock ceilings and walls
Installing bathroom cabinets and accessories
Installing finish plumbing and electrical fixtures
Installing interior doors and trim
Laying carpets and vinyl flooring

Checking results as you go

It usually is a good idea to check on the results from time to time as the main task is in process. This item might specify what results are acceptable and which results are not acceptable.

Resolving mistakes and problems

This item might describe how to correct results that are not acceptable. It can also specify the procedure to be followed when problems arise.

Finishing the list

After completing this list of activities, review it carefully and make any needed changes. For a detailed work plan, this list should include every item needed to complete the main task.

You might want to set the list aside for a day or two before the final review. This will give your subconscious mind time to mull over what you have done.

After the list has been reviewed and accepted, the activities should be arranged in the most efficient sequence for accomplishing the main task.

After completing, reviewing, and sequencing the list of activities you are ready for the next procedure.

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Listing the final activities

This procedure produces the fourth and final part of the work plan. Write down any final activities that must be carried out after the main task has been completed. These final activities help insure that the task has satisfied the desired results specified for it.

Following are a couple of typical final activities:

Checking on final results

After the main task has been completed, there should be a final inspection to insure that the desired results for the task have been attained. If these results have not been attained then it must be decided whether to accept the impaired results or try to correct them. This item probably should specify the minimum results that are acceptable.

Adjustments needed

If the final results are not acceptable, this item should specify the methods to be used in making the needed adjustments or corrections.

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Final thoughts

My experience with work plans is that they usually need to be changed before the task gets finished. So don't be concerned about preparing a "perfect" plan. A plan isn't a work of art. It's just a tool to help you get the job done without making too many false moves or forgetting some requirements or restrictions.

It's probably a good idea to prepare some small work plans before trying to prepare a plan for a large or difficult task.

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