Vantage Blog


Are you caught in the planning trap?

An inordinate amount of time in business is spent planning, reviewing what did and didn't happen, and then planning again. A vicious cycle and, obviously, a waste of time. Strange you may say from someone who spends much time helping organisations clarify their strategy and planning a way forward!

So what's the problem? From where I sit it's the approach many take to developing strategy and then setting a path forward. Many organisations literally try to "boil the ocean" looking at all options, analysing all aspects of their business without first, at a higher level, determining where they are heading and why?

In my view, time should be spent thinking through why an organisations exists - what problem is it trying to solve for it’s customers - and then determining the choices they need to make to bring that purpose or aspiration alive. In short their strategy - the choices they need to make in terms of "where they will play" and "how they will win". Lafley and Martin's simple strategy model based on asking 5 key questions is a great way to focus the mind and make real choices as the foundation of your business strategy. For more information on that approach click here 
You then need to stress test your choices including "what has to be true" for these choices to be the right ones. This takes thoughtful consideration and is refined over time as you analyse and learn in a focussed way - the opposite of boiling the ocean.

From that point, set clear objectives and goals for the next year. Utilising a balanced scorecard linking to your strategic choices is an effective approach.

So at this point do you embark on detailed business planning – pages and pages of analysis and plans out three or more years? I think this is a trap. 
In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world you need to be adaptive or nimble within the framework of your strategic choices. Some initiatives have longer timeframes (especially in the case of product or market development) but setting milestones in more manageable chunks enables you to plot a more appropriate path. 
For instance, one way that I have seen work is to decide on a set of business priorities for the next 90 days - a top 3 or 5 that are going to be the core focus for the business. Priorities that move you towards achieving your goals, and delivering on your strategy, but enabling you to be nimble and adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities as they arise. This is what great businesses do. Put simply what's the use of detailed planning for the next 3 years when, in reality, the future never ends up looking anything like what you foresaw.

So I recommend three things

1) Utilise a simple strategy framework that starts with a clear view of potential future(s) and then stress test them through focused analysis and testing. This approach will only be successful if you have a clear view of the market and the segments that you operate in before you set off. This includes insight to the core needs of customers. Do not pass go until you have this foundation knowledge otherwise you will go in circles. 

2) Set clear goals and objectives over a 12 month period clearly linked to your strategic choices and following a balanced scorecard approach, and

3) Be nimble in how you approach planning the way forward. Create a core set of priorities that you regularly review (e.g. every 90 days) so you are responsive to the market and build on what you achieve and learn - a truly adaptive system. These priorities can be captured in a one-page plan so all of the organisation are clear on what you are focussing on, what you will achieve and who will do it.

The benefit - a clear path forward for all, less wasted time or "analysis by paralysis", and a focus on getting things done.

by James Atkins, Vantage Strategy & Marketing
This article is linked to James' Google+ profile

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