Business plans

Business Planning Process Can Create a False Reality

Careful planning. Attention to detail. Ruthless process rigor. Keys to success, right? Only if done right, says one guest Xpert.

In large organizations there are legions of individuals involved in the business planning process. I do want to apologize to them up front as their job is to diligently herd cats all over the world to produce documents full of charts, spreadsheets and a narrative against an always impossible deadline.

While they work impossibly long hours, does their work produce real business insights? In my experience, the answer is only sometimes.

The fundamental issue is that senior business leaders, who are the only individuals with visibility across the entire business, cannot allocate the necessary time to develop a proper business plan because they are, justifiably, focused on actually running the business. Hence, they often kick off the process, provide general guidance, and then count on others to carry the weight. More often than not, the business-planning process falls on mid-level employees to fill in the details. And even though there is an ongoing review process with senior leadership, this often gets delegated to their subordinates because it can also be very time consuming.

So the actual plan then essentially gets created by lower-level employees who do not have full, current line of sight on operations, opportunities and more. How do they do it? More often than not, they use past data and experiences to build their models (definitely a bad idea in the technology business) because this provides them at least some guidance across a business. There is always a closing review with senior leaders to approve the final plan, but by this time the deadline may have passed and so only minor adjustments, if any, are made and the plan is blessed. And the organization starts treating it as if it is reality!

There is certainly team-building and communication value in doing the exercise, but because it is essentially based on backward insights, it creates a false reality of the future period. The plan becomes gospel and any actions outside the documented activities then become very difficult to implement. Hence, the plan actually significantly reduces the flexibility and agility of an organization, is often obsolete the moment it is completed, and there is little appetite to update it before the next planning cycle. So much for collaboration.

On the other hand, strategy is far more important for the future period and it might be better for organizations to mainly focus on this and have a budget with flexibility to perform whatever activities are necessary. Tempering the planning effort could certainly save a lot of time and effort on the part of any large organization. A documented false reality is very limiting as it does not provide the latitude necessary to succeed in a fast changing market.

That is what I think; let me know what you think.

Surinder Brar is a channel strategy adviser and Channel Futures contributing guest Xpert. Brar is the former chief strategy officer for Cisco Systems' Worldwide Partner Organization. He holds an MBA in marketing from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India. These days, he can be found on the shores of Hawaii ruminating about the future of channels.

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