Planning is a relay race: here’s how to get ahead of the competition
“Connected Planning” is a term that has come to prominence in recent years, but as a philosophy it’s nothing new. James McKinsey’s 1922 breakthrough book ‘Budgetary Control’ effectively set out the connected planning roadmap used today. It focused on learnings for the future rather than simply reviewing the past and placed great importance on allowing managers to take control of their future business. All organizations try to join up their planning activity, and the role of connected planning is to manage this process and make these links as seamless as possible. I’ve come to see planning as a relay race with multiple handoffs – working as a team and smooth exchanges are vital to success. But problems surface when businesses use siloed systems which slow down this process and cause a breakdown in communication.
When implemented properly at both a technological and an organizational level, connected planning provides an intuitive map of how decisions ripple through an entire organization. Streamlining this process can lead to significant competitive advantages. Of course, each business and sector will face its own challenges. On one hand, consider a fintech startup that’s moving and developing at pace. It almost needs to reinvent its planning process at every new cycle. On the other hand, think of some of the world’s largest companies where planning processes are more firmly entrenched. The sheer scale of their operations and the swathes of data and activity streams involved can make it very difficult to implement this intelligence.
I’d like to address the practical steps that businesses of all shapes and sizes can take, to build a workable framework. So, here are my top tips for how every business, big and small, can succeed in connected planning:
Get to the spine of the planning process
Connected planning can seem complex in the beginning. From inception to completion there will be many moving parts along the way. Like the relay, every section of the process is important. However, trying to do everything at once may cloud your view of the real backbone running through the process. Working out the path of least resistance will be critical. A great place to start is to ask yourself: What are my business objectives? Some will prioritise revenue management, for example, while others will look at workforce planning. Start from your ultimate goals and work backward to find out what really drives the process.
Think big, but make it manageable
You’re only going to realise the full potential of connected planning if you have that vision in the first place. Set a roadmap for how you’re going to get there in manageable steps, otherwise you will overwhelm yourself. Don’t try to do it all at once. Begin by focusing on the smaller challenges which would release the greatest immediate benefit and start there. Continually build, test and adjust as you go and progressively integrate connected planning into your business.
Put the tech into perspective
Technology is a wonderful tool, and is for the most part the reason why connected planning has become a reality. But technology on its own isn’t the answer: it’s only as good as the craftsman wielding it. Connected planning is all about the interaction between people and teams, without user buy-in and understanding, it simply won’t work. Focus on the people and the overarching governance of the process. Without proper care and attention, it will lie dormant and fail to deliver value.
Never stop improving
Planning isn’t a static process, with a simple beginning and end. If you’re starting out from a disjointed and siloed process, be prepared to go through some level of trial and error initially. It will take time and multiple iterations to get right. The important thing here is to keep an eye out for where you can make improvements.
Connected planning is about achieving Olympic level smoothness through the baton changes. But the benefits of planning really come to life once the race is over and leaders can take a step back, analyse the results and find out which part of the process made all the difference. Relish that winning feeling, but learn how to improve and replicate it over and over again.