Agile Business Plans

Did your business plan manage the coronavirus pandemic well? Did it even survive 2020? Did it bend so much it broke and you had to throw it out? Even without a global pandemic, your business deserves a business plan with more agility.

What is a business plan anyway? A business plan essentially should provide strategy and goals to help organizations achieve things together. That's it. None of the details matter if it isn't fulfilling this promise. Traditional business plans go back into the middle of the 20th century. But most businesses still use some variation of them today. And everyone seems to have advice on the perfect version, recipe, or template for exactly how to built one. Leadership teams often have a full day or two in a strategic planning session to work out every aspect and then write it all down. They may check in quarterly, but mostly to ensure the plan is being followed and implemented correctly.

But half a century ago the business environment moved much slower. And these days, your business probably needs more flexibility and quicker adaptability. Agility in business plans is not about a new template, rather about concepts and approaches to how you create and use a business plan. They provide a consistent vision, but with frequently updated goals and tactics. And they don't worry about details too far into the future. The present reality is what matters most.

Do you really need a more agile business plan though? Probably. There are many problems that traditional plans have today. And agility helps your organization improve or solve these.

If agile business planning isn't a template to fill in or an exact structure to follow, how do you use it?

Here are some basic principles to to incorporate into any business plan:

A long-term shared vision

  • What will the company look like in a few years. This isn't a goal, or a very specific description. This should just be a general concept of who you want to be. Think adjectives, not numbers.

  • Senior leadership is responsible for making sure this vision is clear, simple, known, and integrated in every aspect of the company's core activities.

  • If preferred, you can list three to five priorities for the year. But these should be topics, not goals or achievement. Examples: better marketing, a more efficient interpretation department, more staff professional development.

The short-term is for goals and targets

  • Goals are what exactly do you want to accomplish, and targets are how you measure when it is completed or not (usually numbers).

  • Divide your year into segments of short stretches. This can be a quarter (three months), two months, six weeks, whatever. But they should all be the same length, and not too short to get projects done but not so long their is no sense of urgency.

  • Convert those three to five strategic priorities into specific goals. Know what you want to accomplish and why. Then assign targets to each. How will you measure if it is complete or not?

  • You are deciding WHAT to accomplish, not HOW.

  • Create a team of staff members, with one as leader, to take responsibility for accomplishing each goal.

  • When each goal is due, don't just check if you hit target numbers. Evaluate how well the project is actually getting you closer to your long-term vision and direction. This will help you decide what the next set of goals should be and how to invest in them. Planning is based on recent ROI, not old hopes.

Create short-term budgets

  • Agile plans should be paired with agile budgets.

  • When you create short-term goals for the next few weeks or months, assign a budget to each goal.

  • Budgets should not be shared across teams.

  • When the goal is completed, look at how much of the budget you did spend, you should have spent, as well as the ROI to help decide budgets for future goals.

Decentralize decision making and empower your teams

  • Let the teams decide for themselves how to accomplish the goals.

  • Let them decide for themselves how to use their resources.

  • Don't micromanage the budgets.

  • Be sure to have a clear scope of work defining what is to be done, and how to measure completion and success.

  • Trust your team. Be available for advice. But get out of their way.

Promote transparency

  • Build a system of easy communication.

  • Make sure teams can easily work together and share and save information.

  • Make sure communication goes in all directions, from the top down, but also from the bottom up. Upward feedback is critical to better agile decision making.

  • Build a system to create, save, and easily find documentation and information that is accessible to as many employees as possible.

  • Prioritize connecting people to people, but also people to resources.

Grow a culture of innovation

  • Agile planning doesn't create innovation, but it does help clear many of the barriers to innovation.

  • Learn to let go. Lose your ego and listen to feedback, especially from clients.

  • Kill your darlings, those projects you only keep going because of emotional attachment. Don't let passion make drive bad business decisions.

  • Teach your employees that they have the autonomy to make decisions. They can have to reach their goals, but they get to decide how. Teach, then remind remind remind.

  • You have to train them to overcome their fear of failing in front of their bosses. The company sees failure as a lesson, not a precursor to punishment.

  • Let everyone know that new employees bring fresh new perspectives.

In short, agile planning isn't about switching from one formula to another. Just consider these principles and see how you can incorporate them into your unique business.

Agility is about being able to respond more quickly to changes in the world or market around your business. So with agile business plans, you're never changing your business plan, you're reacting to your reality and building your plan as you go.


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