Guide to personal development planning

What is a personal development plan (PDP)?

Personal development planning is a structured process that helps to create an action plan of goals for self-improvement, growth, learning and development. The process is based on reflection, values, achievements, performances, learning and awareness in the context of personal relationships, educational development and career growth.


This guide has been created to assist you in identifying goals and creating an action plan.


Personal development planning

The PDP is about investing in the most critical resource: you. Personal development is a commitment to yourself to fulfil your aspirations in a structured and measured way. Key features of effective PDPs are that they:


  • Are written down to framework goals and identify steps to achieve them
  • Are realistic and feasible; now is the time to be honest and practical
  • Reflect both long- and short-term perspectives; set long-term goals first and then subdivide them into smaller, achievable goals to make it easier to follow each step in the process
  • Set goals based on essential values; goals with a clear purpose motivate you to keep going


The benefits

From helping to plan a career change and build on your current skills to acting as the trigger to learn something new and quantify your abilities, a PDP is a logical way of accomplishing a range of different objectives.


PDPs can help to define a particular career path or area of study and set a realistic and practical goal to aim for. Effective PDPs are motivating and accurately track your development or career progression.


And, by documenting your individual development, you will be able to demonstrate your dedication, enthusiasm and ability to learn and plan.


The numerous benefits of personal development planning include:

  • Identifying areas for self-improvement
  • Clarifying a personal vision
  • Enabling learning about your aspirations and abilities
  • Clarifying well-informed goals
  • Identifying strengths and how best to use them


What should you plan for?

  • A PDP can be used to plan for a variety of things, including career progression or personal development to improve on existing skills and abilities
  • As part of the process of reaching your long-term goal, you must achieve short-term goals along the way
  • Short-term goals typically address the specific areas of improvement you have identified and normally involve gaining professional qualifications, taking courses or workshops, independent study, networking, mentoring, shadowing, coaching, on-the-job training, joining a club/support group, or something more directly linked to your current job or the organisation you work for

All of these opportunities will allow you to gain new skills and knowledge and could be the vital steps you need to ensure you meet your goals. (See ‘NFCC 20 ways to develop’)


When should you create a PDP?

  • You can create a PDP at any point in your life, providing the goals you set are specific to you and your individual situation
  • In a working environment, your PDP should be created in collaboration with your manager to identify your areas of strength and those for development; your manager can then assist to ensure that you are happy with where your career is going


Creating a PDP

What should you include?

Your PDP should detail your ideal future based on your short- and long-term ambitions. Areas of development will be specific to you but could be centred on work, education or self-improvement.

Your PDP should also acknowledge the potential obstacles you might face, and how you propose to overcome them. You may not be able to overcome all obstacles, in which case it is a good idea to outline a contingency plan to keep you moving forward.

Set goals that revolve around your development in the workplace, allowing you to progress professionally.

Great goal setting helps you take steps to improve any aspect of work that is relevant and specific to you, building on professional knowledge, skills and effective working practices. Here are some suggested steps to creating your PDP:

  1. Create a vision: first, assess your performance and your desires to identify what your personal development goals are
  2. Develop a plan: the next step is to create a plan to achieve your vision
  3. Track your progress: record your development as you work on your goals; note the changes you make and the effects they have on your career
  4. Review your plan regularly: it is important to review your plan periodically to determine if the path you are on is worthwhile

How do you track it?

One of the most important things to consider when creating your PDP is an accurate way of measuring your success.

Not only will this be a great way to prove your knowledge and skills, but it will also motivate you to succeed and allow you to adapt the plan if things are not moving in the right direction.

Tools and frameworks


SMART stands for SpecificMeasurableAchievableRelevant and Timely. It is a goal-setting technique that can be used when creating a PDP. The elements of the SMART framework work together to create goals that are carefully planned, clear and trackable.

Using the SMART goal framework can establish a strong foundation for achieving success. An action plan with the features outlined below is SMART.


SMART image


A SMART goal incorporates all of these criteria to help focus your efforts and increase the chances of achieving it. Here is an example:

Specific: ‘I’m going to earn a promotion and become a specialist.’

Measurable: ‘I will complete the required training and submit my application. I will also take on an additional work project to demonstrate my readiness to shoulder more responsibility.’

Achievable: ‘I’ve worked as a specialist for three years, and my work has produced significant results. Also, my company is looking to take on another senior specialist at the end of this quarter.’

Relevant: ‘I want to keep learning and challenging myself as I progress in my career.’

Timely: ‘I will take on one additional work project within the next two weeks, complete the required training within six weeks and submit my application within eight weeks.’


SMART goal example summary: ‘I’m going to land a promotion to become a senior specialist at my company. I will do this by taking on an additional work project within two weeks, completing the required training within six weeks and submitting my application within eight weeks.’