Most organisations I’ve worked in and worked with, begrudge business planning. Not because they don’t know how, but because it didn’t add a lot of value last time they did it.
But why doesn’t it add value? The problem lies in the lack of direction it contains and how it’s used once it’s created.
Instead of a document, we need a roadmap. Something that guides the evolution of the business, gives us concrete milestones and acts as a filter for every day decisions and actions.
To cross an ocean, you need waypoints
When we crossed the Atlantic, we didn’t just point the boat east and start sailing. We planned a route with a number of major waypoints along the way. Even when circumstances would force us off course, the overall plan still held true. Our goal was clear. Our route, chosen for all the right reasons, was still valid. Our waypoints still gave us a short term focus, helping us break the endeavour down into manageable pieces.
The best business plan is one you can draw
I believe business plans need this same approach. A destination, a broad plan describing how you’re going to get there and a series of waypoints to guide you day to day. You can document this in a number of ways, but my favourite is to show it in a Gantt chart or flow chart format. It allows you to capture the direction, strategy and sequence on a single page that is easy to communicate and review.
Best use of a business plan
Of course crafting the plan is just the start. Nothing happens without execution and this is the second challenge for business plans and those responsible for them.
Instead of regarding it as a job done, the business plan should drive the agenda of your management meetings. To illustrate, here’s a sample of a standing management meeting agenda I use with clients. We start every management meeting with these 3 items:
Touch base with the overall plan
Where we’re headed & why we care (vision, mission, goals)
Ourplan to get there (strategy, roadmap, & immediate milestones)
Progress against the immediate milestone
Report on action items from each stakeholder
New opportunities or threats to the business.
Validate against the plan
The shiny-ball filter
Starting the meeting ‘with the end in mind’ (Covey), is a great way to keep everyone on the same page and most importantly, align the actions and initiatives of the team to your plan for the business. It helps keep the focus at a strategic level and acts as a useful filter against which you can review actions, ideas and opportunities:
- If they contribute to or accelerate the plan, they’re in.
- If they relate to a milestone further down the track, they’re parked.
- If they’re not aligned to the plan, they’re out.
With a clear direction and roadmap a business plan can act as a valuable tool guiding the day to day operations of the business. So dust it off, reduce it to a flow chart and get it onto the management meeting agenda.
Strategic oversight and consistent implementation will focus your resources and drive your business faster than anything else.