Seven Deadly Sins of Business Planning


Planning in splendid isolation of other departments and without an overarching goal and strategy to guide you is a recipe for finger pointing at major review milestones. Functions or departments such as HR must coordinate with operational departments when planning organisation wide training. IT must coordinate software roll outs with all departments. It is not so much budgets that go wrong when departments plan in isolation, but the commitment of resources. As a result of competing priorities for employee’s time, projects often get postponed or compromised on quality.


Spending inadequate time planning in detail leaves estimations of both resource requirements and budgets out on a limb, wavering in a breeze of uncertainty. Plans need to be done in detail to understand what can be done in parallel and what must be done in sequence. Estimates of time and resources must be compared in detail with known internal or external benchmarks or, if they unavailable, challenged by experienced people in the organisation.


“My way or the highway” is no way to plan. Ensure you consider alternative approaches to planning and review alternative processes and actions to achieve the planned goals or sub-goals. For example, plan ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ and compare the differences. Ask yourself what you missed in the ‘bottom up’ plan if it does not fit within a reasonable variation of the ‘top down’ plan. Brainstorm different approaches to problems and opportunities before committing to a particular set of actions in a business plan.


Be bold in business planning. Strive to reach new heights of customer service or productivity or staff satisfaction. Plan to undertake projects which will transform your organisation. More of the same every year does two things: (1) Where you are competing for customers, it allows your competitors an opportunity to steal a march, and (2) Where you are competing for budget internally, say in a government department, it allows your internal competitors to make all the running. It also deprives your employees of an invigorating sense of purpose. Despite what we read, change planned well and handled well is tonic rather than a drag on an organisation.


Over reliance on software such as Microsoft Project and methods such as Prince 2 to create project plans in support of business plans can lead to a lack of thinking. When the tool and the process become more important than the outcome, you know you are in trouble. Get three or four people who can think, have experience in the subject matter, some Post-it notes, a large whiteboard and some whiteboard pens to develop the plan first, then record it using software. If you are using a methodology like Prince 2, challenge yourself to think about which elements of the method add value. Don’t be a slave.


Keeping your plan to yourself or to the leadership team and a few select other individuals seems like a good idea to some people, especially if there are elements of the plan that may be sensitive to some employees. This is wrong. It always has been wrong with few exceptions and will always be wrong. Taking employees and, if applicable, the unions that represent them into your confidence about your business plans results in much better engagement with employees. When there are significant changes in the business affecting employees, there is also much quicker healing of personal self-confidence and organisational effectiveness when compared with “surprising” people.


Ignore past experiences at your peril. If you have not been able to execute your business plan effectively for the last three years, what will make this year any different unless you change your assumptions or approach. Don’t fall into the trap of creating a series of hockey stick shape plans year after year, where the key metric, financial or otherwise, trends down in the years before the date of your plan and magnificently rises as straight as an arrow into the stratosphere of your graph’s Y-axis following the execution of your plan. Unless your plan has an unequivocal circuit breaker for the external and or internal forces that are causing the downward trend of your key metric, you are being unrealistic and your business plan should rightly be rejected.

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