As we near the end of the year we’ve been dedicating time to going through our strategic planning process for next year. We usually do this in December because things quieten down a bit – but this year things are still manic! Still, we’ve managed to find enough time to get things done.
I’ve always been dubious of long-range business planning (and being in the tech world, long-range is anything over 6 months), but as we’ve grown my attitudes to planning and the way we approach it have changed a lot, so I thought I share a few of our insights here.
The most important thing about our planning is to give us direction and make sure that everyone in the company knows what it is. It’s all too easy, especially when you’re growing quickly, to keep too much in your head and just assume everyone else knows what’s going on – I know that I personally am guilty here. With a written plan it’s easy for everyone to see what the objective is, so they’re much better placed to help us get there.
We’ve found that out plans are really useful to help us measure what we have achieved. If you lay out what you want to do before you start, and put in place key markers it’s much easier to step back later and remember what you’ve actually achieved. That’s a really good motivational tool when you’re moving so fast it’s sometimes difficult to sit down on a Friday and remember what you’ve done that week.
One of the things I found surprising, and yet incredibly useful, is that we use our plans to rationalise what we’re not going to do, and why, as much as we use them to work out what we are going to do. That’s really helpful because resources are always finite and so deciding where to focus is vital.
Although we use our plans to give us direction, the route changes constantly. I’ll be impressed if our strategic plan for 2009 makes it to the end of January unchanged. However, having it down on paper means you’re in control of the changes – you can make a conscious decision to do things differently and justify the changes, rather then ploughing ahead and just hoping for the best.
Something new, unexpected and exciting always comes out of our planning. We get everyone in the company involved in the process, either directly or indirectly, and the mixing of so many ideas, opinions and perspectives is amazingly valuable.
Overall we’ve found strategic planning to be incredibly useful. When you’re a small business it can feel a bit pointless – but as you grow you’ll find a plan invaluable to help you keep growing, and keep you sane.
Do you have a strategic plan? Is it constantly changing or do you set your route and stick to it? Let us know by leaving your comments!