How To Write a Development Plan (With Example)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 25 October 2022 | Published 16 August 2021

Updated 25 October 2022

Published 16 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Developing a plan can help you orchestrate decisions throughout your career history, whether it be to complete a large project or build a unique skill. Building a professional development plan can help you create realistic goals, understand when you may complete them and derive structured steps toward them. In this article, we discuss what a professional development plan is and how to write a development plan to help improve your goals.

How to write a development plan

Understanding how to write a development plan can help you both understand and achieve future career goals. If you aim to create a development plan for your future, consider some of the following steps:

1. Perform a self-assessment

A self-assessment is an evaluation of your professional interests, knowledge and skills. Creating a self-assessment allows you to examine your current position as it relates to your career goals. When you determine the skills and interests you currently possess, you can identify areas in which you can improve to reach your goals.

It can be helpful to identify your transferable skills. Transferable skills are marketable personal assets that many employers seek in candidates, such as good communication, teamwork or leadership. List which software applications or computer programs you understand. As workplaces become increasingly dependent on computer programs, having technological skills is valuable in any industry.

2. Establish clear goals

The goals you set in your professional development plan can be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely). Using SMART goals can make them trackable, which makes it easier to update your PDP when you complete important milestones.

Structure your goals in a way that makes it easy to achieve them by completing small steps. It's helpful to list goals in order of priority with the highest first, so you can quickly identify them. It can also help to categorise goals as short-, mid- or long-term, so you can develop more detailed steps to achieve each one:

  • Short-term goals: Short-term goals are objectives you aim to complete within the next year. Examples could be small projects, or general improvement goals.

  • Mid-term goals: Mid-term goals are objectives you aim to complete within the next one to two years. Examples of these could be skill improvement or completing a large project.

  • Long-term goals: Long-term goals are objectives you aim to complete within the next three to five years. Examples of these could include learning a new skill, completing a large group project, or starting a business.

Related: Tips on How To Be Motivated at Work

3. Build strategies

Your professional development plan strategies define how you can achieve your goals. You can list a variety of approaches, such as experiential learning, which is learning through action, and exposure, which is learning from others. Other approaches may include education and reflection. For example, a person who wants to be a veterinarian could volunteer at an animal shelter as an experiential strategy for learning more about working with animals.

If the goal involves a career change, think about what education or certifications you need and how long they take to obtain. Research possible education and certification courses you can take to work toward this goal. If you need advice, consider contacting a professional contact and establishing a mentor-mentee relationship. A mentor could be an experienced coworker, a previous employer, a professor or teacher. If you can build your skill set, you might have some opportunities at your current job. You can ask your manager for more responsibilities that can help you gain the needed skills.

4. Research through resources

Resources are places where you can find professional growth. They might provide workshops or networking opportunities, and they have the potential to enhance your career path greatly. Some professional resources include:

Continuing education institutions

These institutions offer programmes, conferences and courses that help you learn more about specific topics. Many continuing education courses you can take lead to a certification or degree, which can show you have knowledge of a field or can perform a process. For example, project managers can earn a Project Management Professional certification that shows they can successfully execute a plan using different methods. You may be able to attend online courses or go to a college or school for classes.

Webinars

When building a development plan, a webinar hosted by a professional in your desired field or skill may help you. Some experts may host webinars showcasing their businesses or skills concerning a specific topic, or instructing about a certain skill or process. For example, a programming professional may host a webinar on general software development. Because businesses host webinars on the internet, you may not be required to travel to attend them. While they can be free, webinars may require a fee or other requirement before you can join. Try to consider this when allocating funds for your plan.

Why is a development plan important?

A development plan is important because it helps you gain specific details concerning your career goals, such as a skill set or new certification. Creating a development plan can help you improve your job search. If you plan your goals using a development plan, you can have a better understanding of how you want to reach your goals, and what you may need in order to prepare. You can use a development plan as a reference for each part of your goal, or as a general list of duties you consult throughout the process.

Regularly revising your plan with new information can help you track progress and realistically assess your goals. A development plan is important because it can help you maintain motivation towards your goals. A detailed and revised development plan can help you keep track of what you've accomplished so far, and what goals you have yet to work toward. It may also help you fulfil multiple goals at once, such as interviewing for a job and freelancing. You may also adjust certain aspects of your development plan while fulfilling different goals, just in case your plans or circumstances change.

Related: Career Planner: Definition and How To Outline Your Career

How do you format a professional development plan?

There are multiple ways you can format your professional development plan, depending on your plan's purpose. If you're using your plan to list the goals you may require accomplishing for a certain task, a simple typed document list with short descriptions may help you better understand your objectives. If your goals are more skill based, small note cards may be a better formatting option.

Another way of formatting your development plan may be to use a spreadsheet format. For example, if you're creating a development plan for an ultimate career goal as someone who has little experience or education, creating an extensive spreadsheet of all your goals and career requirements may help you properly sort what to do.

What can you include in a development plan?

What you include in your development plan depends almost entirely on your future goal. For example, your goal to reach another job within your career may not have as many details as another plan to get into another career. To create a simple development plan, consider including some of the following items:

  • A short self assessment: A brief self-assessment of your current skills and improvement needs can help you better plan goals and strategies.

  • Any goals: When planning goals, listing any, even if they are initially unrelated, can help you organise thoughts and plans.

  • Current strategies: After fully listing your goals, listing any strategies concerning them can help you work toward plans as soon as possible.

  • Researchable resources: Listing resources you can consult not only helps you remember ideas toward strategies, but can help you plan them for later in your schedule if you initially cannot consult them all at once.

  • Existing timelines: Understanding how far you are in your goal progress can help encourage you to keep going, as well as document your previous accomplishments.

Professional development plan example

Here's a sample professional development plan:

Self-assessment

  • Currently a specialist, but would like to move into a project management role.

  • Currently have good interpersonal and communication skills.

  • Need to improve my leadership and time-management skills.

Goals

  • Increase my salary by 30%.

  • Earn a promotion to be a project manager.

Strategies

  • Find a management mentor.

  • Accept increased responsibilities in my current job.

  • Complete a project management seminar.

  • Complete at least two leadership courses.

  • Learn specific coaching techniques.

Resources

  • Project Management Institute

  • Videos on different project management methods

  • Local project manager association

Timeline

  • In one month: Ask to lead the team for a small project.

  • In two months: Secure a mentor.

  • In three months: Enrol in project management courses.

  • In one year: Ask for project management promotion.

Related: Individual Development Plan Samples (With Definition and Steps)

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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