Why is planning so critical?
Annual Planning is important for many reasons:
Communication of tangible, executable items that help crystalize the vision;
Pacing towards the Five-Year Plan in smaller, executable chunks; and
Ability to create buy-in among key stakeholders in the organization.
Planning is an annual exercise that is revisited quarterly. The best plans allow for time to discuss, negotiate and, at the last stage, execute. This means, you should plan a minimum of 3-months ahead of time, but, ideally 6-12 months in advance - here is why:
Resource allocation - you need time to prepare financial resource requirements;
Certainty - providing certainty to your team, especially non-managers, who may not understand the ‘pivots’ along the way;
Changes - the plans will certainly change (especially the more nascent stage the business); and
Goals - it’s a reminder that you are executing on your long-term goals, which can be lost in the day-to-day.
critical milestones to include in the roadmap
Planning should include all high-level milestones that are critical to the long-term success of the organization.
Generally speaking, this should include, but not be limited to:
Product-market-fit & go-to-market: What are the market opportunities and your execution plans to achieve scalable sales execution?
Process & Systems: What process are you going to standardize? what are still in ‘limbo’?
Research & Development: how are your products going to continue to scale marketshare and what are the use-case opportunities to pursue?
Resources: What are your available resources (time, staff, money, knowledge)? What is your shortfall? What is your plan to source the shortfall? What is your plan to invest the surplus, if relevant?
GIVE direction, BUT DO not DICTATE
While a CEO will establish the direction, it takes a talented and experienced leadership and management team to deliver plans upwardly. It’s not the CEOs role, unless there is a delegation/trust issue with a particular division, to dictate the detailed plans. Oftentimes in small and growing organizations, the CEO is wearing many ‘division hats’ and may be integrally involved in divisions - this, is completely normally, especially when resources are scarce (primarily money or knowledgable/experienced individuals); but, as businesses mature, divisional responsibilities need to be established and delegated to trusted leadership.
What management teams should deliver upwardly:
Division plans - What are we aiming to achieve in the forthcoming 12 months? How does that align with the vision of the organization? What are the resources required to execute this plan?
Accountability/Transparency - Across what timeframe is the plan to be executed? Who is responsible for what?
Friction - Are you mining for conflict with other dependent stakeholders (customers, divisions, leadership, etc)? This is non-political and is a simply a matter of prioritizing the divisional plan to the roadmap.
Communication plan - After the CEO signs off, is the Company aware of the plan? What is your plan to communicate it and ensure the broader organization is aware of your progress, pivots and shortcomings?