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Opinion /

Building for beyond 2023

Ah yes, the dreaded ‘P’ word. Planning. Whether you’re operating an agency, or work as part of a global brand, planning is a core element of any industry. The old adage “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, is frustratingly accurate - the process does however come with it’s own ‘p’ word. Problems.

Below are some of the most common problems that arise from strategic planning;

Problem 1. We plan so rigidly, we lose all flexibility

Failure Avoidance

Being safe in the knowledge that a plan is in place, typically helps reduce fear and anxiety. This is the natural by-product of the human condition. Not by any means an easy thing to do, it has long been acknowledged within many industries that failure, provided it’s failing small, is a good thing. It strengthens our people, our tools and processes, and furthers our knowledge of the pitfalls that come with implementing new initiatives, strategies and products. Ironically, failure helps us plan better. Plan, fail small, learn, plan again. 

A flexible approach to planning allows us to not put all our eggs in one basket that we think is going to be a success, and allows us to remould our strategies and plans, ensuring we roll with the punches and ultimately achieve the right outcome for the business or product.

OKRs or KPIs?

A lot of planning mechanisms rely on these two practices - OKRs and KPIs. There’s a good explanation of both and how they can be used here. In summary, we have to ensure we’re using the correct practice for the correct situation, and most importantly, ensure that the objectives that you are setting are in line with the outcomes the business is expecting. 

This provides us with not only with measurable and reportable progress in the immediate term, but allows us to reevaluate and replan against a 1 - 5 years plan.

Ambition with balance

Balance is key. When driving at a business driven outcome through short term initiatives, we have to strike that balance between realistic and ambitious. This balancing act usually relies heavily on the next problem…

Problem 2. We plan based on incomplete or false information 

Ensuring you’re starting out your planning exercises means a certain level of research and discovery both within your company and with your external customer base. Ensuring you have the correct level of information from multiple sources across these two types of information bases can be a daunting and time consuming task, but there are tactics to employ which alleviate these onerous processes, and ensure quality of quantitative and qualitative information you will use for business and product planning;

  • Consulting with external experts 

Consulting with external experts or consultants allows for an unbiased view of the landscape, providing you with the ability to validate your current assumptions within your business. The nature of Discovery work undertaken by an outside entity carries the benefit of tackling multiple departments, collating quantitative and qualitative data, to provide a summary view across multiple departments. It can also help circumnavigate any internal politics, teasing out the information you really need to make planning and business decisions for the future.

  1. Jobs to be done interviews

Interviewing your customer base and asking the question “what job is my business/ product being used by my customer to achieve?” provides one of the most valuable contexts to planning the future. It allows you to provide a guiding layer over the business metrics and research you have collated to plan with to ensure that your OKRs or KPIs are aligned to the main jobs your customers are trying to get done using your services. Using an external agency to conduct these types of interviews can also help in achieving honest feedback from customers, to ensure you have the correct information at hand, and have validated your assumptions on why a customer or a potential customer is using your business or product.

  1. Prioritisation Tools

Identifying which initiatives and strategies to prioritise in planning can be a minefield. Gaining a 360 view of the various factors that contribute to business value, length of time to implement, cost to the business, benefit to the customer of a strategy can be a lengthy process, especially when you’re conducting that exercise across 10+ strategies you are looking to implement. 

There are prioritisation exercises and tools that can help you to achieve this efficiently, to find out more about prioritising for your business and planning, contact us.

Problem 3. We plan for tomorrow, not the future

Tomorrow is closer than you think

Many businesses release strategies for their Q1/Q2/Q3/Q4 objectives at the beginning of the year, having not considered how long it may take for teams and the wider business to understand how to implement them. It can be Q2 before you know it, and nothing tangible has been completed against the objectives, meaning you’re at least 2 quarters behind and destined not to hit your year set target.

Releasing your intentions at least a quarter ahead of a new year allows time for planning and strategies to bed in, answering key implementation questions to hit the ground running in Q1. Allowing more complex and longer term strategies the time they need to truly flourish means planning them in for not just 1 year, but planning for 3 - 5 years.

Utilising some of the methods highlighted above in problems faced with 1 year planning and beyond, will help you not only hit your objectives for next year, but keep hitting them against your longer term plan for the next 2,3,4 and 5 years. 

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Author: Andrew Rapley, Client Services Director, Freestyle

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