Tips to Leading a Successful Business Planning Process

Annual planning can be painful. But it’s necessary for all businesses. Minimize the pain and improve the outcome with these tips.

Regardless of your organization’s size or industry, the annual business planning process is a key, necessary activity that is often dreaded by those who are asked to participate.

In order to minimize the pain and improve the outcome and value to the organization, consider these tips as you kick off your planning process:

Tip #1 – Plan to Plan

Lay out the road map of key activities, inputs, off-site meetings, and review cycles on a calendar – and communicate it. More on this:

  • Align your planning efforts with the PMO or other capital approval or stage-gate processes. Put someone in charge of the process.
  • Find someone in your organization or a consultant to create templates for key inputs and outputs.
  • Book people’s calendars now and recommend they set aside time on their calendars to work on it with their teams.

Refer to any notes or conduct a “Lessons Learned” session to evaluate and suggest improvements to last year’s planning cycle.

Tip #2 – Update Your Strategic Plan

If you have a strategic plan, now is the time to decide whether it’s time to refresh it. Ask yourself:

  • Are your multi-year goals and objectives still the right ones?
  • Are there industry trends, such as the move to digital, that you need to consider?
  • What are the competitive, industry, customer, operational and regulatory forces impacting your business?

Anchoring your annual plan to the strategic plan makes both more valuable.

Tip #3 – Conduct Business Planning Before Budgeting

Take time to do – at least ‘light’ – business planning, prioritization, and alignment before you ask your teams to submit their budgets.

Some organizations do it in the reverse order or skip it.

If you avoid planning, you risk having budgets that are disconnected from the goals of the organization.

Business priorities should guide the capital and operational budgeting process so you’re informed when making tough decisions.

Tip #4 – Start With A Mid-Year Assessment

Midway through the fiscal year, conduct a formal check-in on key initiatives and progress against goals and measures. Some questions to consider:

  • Were your financial and progress goals reasonable? Things change quickly – especially if there are major shifts in external or internal forces impacting your business.
  • What initiatives will you need to carry-over into next year?
  • Is there anything you should stop or accelerate between now and the end of this year to position you for next year?

A mid-year assessment will help simplify the process of making adjustments to next year’s plan.

Tip #5 – Engage Business Leaders in the Process

Provide the framework and let your business leaders do the heavy lifting:

  • Be specific about what their input should include.
  • Lead a walk-through of each functional input with the cross-functional leadership team as part of your planning road map.

The plan will be more realistic and relevant if they participate and buy-in. It’s also a great professional development opportunity for junior leaders.

Tip #6 – Begin Early

Of course, this should go without saying, but it’s important to start early so teams can give the plan thoughtful consideration.

By allowing more time to research, prioritize and size the work of your teams, you’re able to produce a higher quality, more achievable consolidated annual plan. You should allow enough time to socialize and refine the components as they are developed.

Summer is a great time to get started. It might be the season for vacations, but it should also be your kick-off to the annual business planning cycle.

Go Further

Want more annual planning advice? Check out these related posts:

About the Author

John Zink is the Digital Strategy Practice Lead. He is passionate about aligning digital strategy with overall business objectives to help clients deliver change. John spent 13 years with a Big 4 Consulting firm and 15-plus years in IT and Financial Service operations executive leadership roles. His experience on both sides of the business operations and technology spectrum provides him with unique insight.

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