In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Most people understand that good planning is the key to success.
This applies to marketing, sales, human resources, operations and every major business function. Although few would argue against the merits of preparation, many companies have a long way to go when it comes to building better business plans and executing them.
Numerous studies show a huge disconnect between their strategic plans and the intended results. The statistics range from a dismal 3% to a 33% success rate. Following are some key reasons why plans fail:
- Lack of planning experience or a solid planning process.Not enough research and data used in the decision-making.
- Not enough detail put into the plan.
- Unrealistic goals relative to the available resources.
- Lack of buy-in from those who will execute the plan.
- A weak governance process.
To help make your planning more structured and effective – you might benefit from the following framework. The basic premise is that you start at the most strategic level of thinking. Then you continually break things down into more tactical activities. Everything should align closely with your key inputs and business goals. Our example is based on a marketing plan, but this could be easily modified for any type of plan.
To build better business plans, there are a number of key inputs that form the foundation when selecting your goals and defining how you will achieve them. This is the “homework” that needs to be done first. It could be argued that this is a one-time event, but things change a great deal over a year and sometimes quarterly. At the very least, it’s wise to re-validate your data and assumptions before the real planning begins.
5 Steps to Better Business Plans and Execution
#1 Business Goals
These are the goals you are planning to reach in a given period of time. Marketing examples would include things like the number of new leads created; website and social media targets; brand building metrics, etc. There can also be important large-scale strategic goals such as deploying a marketing automation tool or hiring for several key roles during a quarter. During this phase, you also need to estimate the time, cost and energy it will take to achieve your plan. Make sure the budget and resources are abundant enough to get the work done.
#2 Focus Areas
This step defines the major Focus Areas for the execution period. What are the most important “big buckets” of your plan, and how do they align with your Business Goals? If you look at the examples in the framework, you would be right in assuming that these stay fairly consistent. However, there will be varying degrees of effort put into these Focus Areas at any given time since you can’t do everything, at once. Usually, there are 4-6 of these in total.
#3 Major Initiatives
Major Initiatives feed into and support your Focus Areas. For example, if you need to more brand awareness this year, your Major Initiatives may include things such as SEO, social media, advertising, public relations, or webinars. These can also be more programmatic in nature. Let’s say client retention is an issue for your company and a Focus Area this quarter. In this example, Major Initiatives might include creating programs to improve communications with your customers such as a newsletter, or a rewards program to help increase loyalty.
#4 Project Plans
This is the area where many fall short. There may be a good plan overall with the right Major Initiatives, but a lack of planning at the activity and resource levels. By not thinking through this concisely, it’s easy to underestimate the work and costs needed to execute. When you hear “it took longer than we thought” – that typically means it wasn’t planned with enough detail. Whether it’s MS-Excel, MS-Project, or an online tool such as Teamwork (a personal favorite), the owner needs to map out the many moving parts of each Major Initiative and clearly understand who will do what, and when.
To keep your Project Plans on track and running smoothly, you need a good project management process and strong governance. As mentioned earlier, you should employ a tracking tool to measure progress. You also need a regular checkpoint meeting. Weekly usually work best while executing a quarterly plan. This gives you time to identify and resolve issues before they side-swipe your plan. It also allows for mid-stream adjustments if needed.
When you build and execute better business plans, you achieve better results! A good plan reduces frustration by providing clarity and better resource management. It also helps improve quality and predictability.
This article offered an approach that can provide more structure when it comes to planning and we hope it helps. Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can help in any way.