What is a Personal Development Plan?

What is a personal development planIf you want to create a personal development plan that helps you to actually achieve your goals, solid preparation is the answer.

Preparation already starts with your interest in reading this article, so you are already a good step ahead! However, there is a bit more to it.

So, what if I showed you how to use some great preparation techniques to create a powerful personal development plan that guides you along the way to your goals?

UPDATE: For a little personal development plan 101, check out this presentation first.

A personal development plan – in simple terms

You ask: “What is a personal development plan?”

The official Wikipedia answer on the process around the personal development plan is the following: “Personal development planning is the process of creating an action plan based on awareness, values, reflection, goal-setting and planning for personal development within the context of a career, education, relationship or for self-improvement.” (source).

In my simple terms: “A personal development plan is an action plan that gets you from where you are right now to where you want to be in future. This can incorporate learning hard skills (like project management skills) as well as soft skills (like active listening).”

Is this a bit clearer now?

Is it complicated to create a personal development plan? It can be. Everything can be complicated. For me, it is also a matter of mindset.

…why do we need a personal development plan?

Think of two benefits right now. Ready?

There can be huge benefits, both for you as well as your employer, if everything works out as planned. In case you finish this course as a project management professional, for instance, you can be referred to as the project management expert within your company and be engaged in different interesting projects. Added values for both parties.

In general, there are three types of motivation to create a personal development plan:

  1. A business related formal personal development plan: This can be an action plan linked with an annual interview or an action plan following a training. In terms of motivation, it is important to resonate with the goals, even those suggested by your superior.
  2. A private related motivation, this can be a formal or informal plan. If you intend to become a professional writer within the next ten years, it can be beneficial to do a formal planning.
  3. A combination of the above.

But the question remains, how can you do it?

How to create a powerful personal development plan

When I create a personal development plan, I use the following questions as a guideline to prepare myself best and to make this plan as useful as possible. Otherwise, I risk to lose the red thread. No matter how much motivation I have, without a logic plan, I am not getting very far.

Answer the following questions (not necessarily in this order):
Why do I want to create this personal development plan?

Refer to the top of this article, if you need some tips.

What to write?

There are commonly five to seven main categories of a personal development plan:

  1. Goal
  2. Success criteria (How will you know when you have succeeded? Can you use the certificate of completion at the end of your course? Be concrete.)
  3. Action outline (What will I do to achieve those goals?)
  4. Implementation (How will I practice what I learn?)
  5. Timeline (or deadline)
  6. Goal category/Skill (especially useful, if there is a mix between personal and business related goals)
  7. Goal priority (Weighting system: Check with your superior which goal is currently most important. Hopefully you both agree.)
How to write?
  1. Profit from your company’s templates, if available. Maybe you can also re-purpose them for your personal objectives. If not, just use a simple spreadsheet in the beginning with the key categories mentioned above.
  2. Goal: Use some reflection time to think of your objectives. This can be, for example, related to a training or following a 360° Feedback Process.
  3. Goals & Action outline: If you like to combine a goal with a key activity, I recommend you use the following formula: I commit to [Verb] + [Precise Goal] + [Frequency Per Week] + [Optional: duration] + [Purpose] = Action.
  4. Action: Research on specific actions.  Refer to your company’s training catalog. Ask people close to you what their favourite course was on topic X. Use Amazon and search for specific keywords to get more ideas. Look at some Educational Media out there (internet, podcasts, iTunes U) …
  5. Sign the personal development plan, even if it is just for your personal use.
  6. Print out a copy for your office.
When to write?

If business related, this will likely depend upon the circumstances. Is this plan related to your annual objectives? Has it been triggered during a training? During a 360° Feedback process? In all cases, you should be informed in advance.

What to draw?

Finally, yes, I believe plans should not only consist of words and numbers. Make a drawing on a separate page, just for your personal use. Draw an image or a symbol that you link with your desired outcome of the plan. It does not have to be pretty.

What do you do once it is on paper?

Follow the planning, aim for some progress, not perfection by tomorrow. You will be more satisfied and therefore more motivated to keep going.

If you are wondering what you need to succeed with your plan? You might like to read some techniques that I put in place. Last, but not least, do not forget to reward yourself every once in a while!

Has the question on “What is a personal development plan?” been answered for you? What do you think about such a detailed preparation? Does this make sense?

Leave a comment!

Image credit: iStockphoto (claylib)


  1. Great website you have here!

    Really enjoyed the information you displayed, and your info is spot on!

    Can’t wait to see what you write next, keep up the great work!
    Craig Ronaldson recently posted…Quanta Pre-Launch Review – What is Jim Britt and Jim Lutes New Company QuantaMy Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      I am glad you find it helpful, Craig. Thank you!

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Sorry for the delay, Craig! I am glad you like what you read! If there is anything else you would like me to get into, let me know! Have a great weekend!

  2. Mary Ann Muller says:

    In relation to creating a personal development plan is a plan for self-improvement that effects all areas of life.
    A great book I just read addresses this. Letting Go Get in the Flow by Faith Davis is a how to guide to creating an easier, happier and more peaceful life. It is a journey of eight steps that explains how we can increase flow, a gentle, loving, and powerful force that can guide us through life.

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      A belayed thank you for the book recommendation, Mary Ann! I actually do not know it yet. Will take a look!

  3. My main reason for coming on this site was to get a definition of the word Personal Development Plan, every other site basically said the same thing but the way you simplified it, helped me understand. This was very helpful, I was lost on what I was told to do. But you made it easy to read and follow as well as provided good examples.

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