Friday, May 07, 2010

"Plan", as a verb.

Loads of GPS devices in our car

"Turn left here."

"But that's a building!"

"You missed your turn. Please make a u-turn as soon as it is safe to do so."

"But I'm in an alleyway!"

So, a couple years ago, I was visiting New York with my family, showing them my old haunts and taking in a game at the old Yankee Stadium. I opted to get a GPS unit from the car rental company because I knew that the roads had changed in the years that had passed since I last drove Long Island's Northern State Parkway.

Unfortunately, when on her very first assignment the lovely voice of the GPS unit directed me to a condo development in Queens instead of a hotel in Lindenhurst, it quickly became evident that things had changed since she'd last been calibrated. It wasn't long before I stopped referring to the chronically incorrect voice in the bright yellow sack as the family-friendly 'lemon lady', and opted instead for the far more colorful 'b*tch in the bag'. After the second day, we stowed the painfully out-of-date navigation unit in the trunk.

Are your business plan documents like that confused guidance system? Is your business planning process useful in navigating toward your goals or is it an annual process that is more routine habit than useful tool? If you are creating it once and then not updating it regularly to respond to changes that occur in the market, then what you created wasn't a tool, but a paperweight. Too often businesses large and small will smartly discuss goals, create a plan, normalize it across functional areas, print it out in color on glossy paper, put it into custom binders, and then put it on the shelf to be updated the next year when it is pulled down, dusted, and updated.

That approach only works for holiday decor.

So, sanity check: We are now halfway through the second calendar quarter, and have you even looked at your annual plan? Have you evaluated the assumptions and how they've played out? Did your competitors introduce new products, services, distribution? Did you or they change pricing strategy, pursue M&A or new partnerships? Is the same team in place? Did you hire someone for their experience and expertise and then quietly encourage them to follow a plan to which they did not contribute, wasting their insight? Did the market change? The environment? Did taxes increase? Were new products and versions and functions and services added precisely on schedule as outlined in the assumptions in the plan?

The plan document is not the objective of the planning process, any more than drawing a map is the purpose of a holiday. Planning documents are useful tools in guiding strategy and providing touch-points - so that even if the signs on the street change, you can still guide the organization to its destination.

Focusing on the map instead of your destination is a sure way to get- and stay - lost.