Blink and there are new opportunities in the world. Blink again and you've missed them - Anon.
I am sometimes asked, "how far ahead should a plan look?" For a project with a specific end point, the plan would normally cover the whole project. Business plans are an entirely different matter.
We live in a constantly changing world where what you do today is already out of date. Your market is increasingly volatile and fickle and can disappear in an instant.
Traditional plans tend to be quite rigid, leading you along a fairly narrow path. They can restrict your flexibility and ability to respond to new developments that you are faced with.
Competitors are already operating in innovative ways; testing different approaches, continuously improving and doing all these things frequently and quickly to keep and increase their advantage.
Together, these things make long term planning less effective in most organisations; it's virtually impossible to accurately predict what your situation will be in five or ten years time.
One way to deal with the unexpected changes that are forced upon you or respond to opportunities that arise is to make plans with a light touch - I call it "lite planning".
Lite Planning Characteristics
- Different levels of detail over different time frames
- Options alongside outcomes
- Flexibility over how to achieve results
- Speed of reaction and response
- General attitude to real-world issues
It's virtually impossible to look ahead more than a few years in most industries. Long term views are unreliable, more risky and very likely to change before they are reached.
Where once a typical plan may have had a five to ten year strategic overview, that could now be a one to three year outline, Detailed operational plans could be made for one or two years at most. These plans need to be reviewed and updated frequently too.
Options vs Outcomes
Traditional plans tend to set clear, focused targets. Uncertainty in the current business environment means these precise targets are more wishful thinking than realistically achievable. This does not necessarily mean performance will be poor, new opportunities are just as likely to arise so you can beat your targets.
To cope with unexpected events, reversals of trends, crises, etc. a plan can describe more than one scenario with different paths leading to similar, acceptable, outcomes. Having these thought-through alternatives and contingencies gives you more choice about how to move forward when anything unexpected (good or bad) happens.
In more detailed, tactical parts of the plan various alternatives and backups can be presented to allow rapid responses to short-term changes. Provided that close monitoring of the outside world is done managers can respond quickly with alternatives that have already been considered and even preparations made.
By considering and spelling out a "lite planning" approach managers are already primed for the surprises that will arise and should be able to respond with an attitude of "let's deal with this quickly and effectively". Without this mode of thinking management becomes a fire fighting, panic-in-a-crisis style. It's much better to be able to say "we have a problem, we need a plan B and here's one we prepared earlier".
In "lite planning" it's important to be able to react quickly to changing circumstances. Ready made alternative plans make a rapid response easier without panic or undue stress.
Essentially, "lite planning" would have:
- A medium-term strategic plan, say 3 years, updated yearly
- Detailed plans for 1 year, updated every few months
- Options, alternatives and contingencies as well as targets
- Flexibility and adaptability when implemented
If you think a "lite planning" approach could help your organisation, please call me, David, on 07726 910542 to discuss how I can help you with this.
Updated 03/08/2016 DB