One of the essential functions and key skills in business is planning. Planning is a difficult process and many fail to get it right. As a nation, we have bemoaned for many years now how we make great plans that have poor execution. A function so critical yet poorly carried out it deserves its own time of study. There is a great body of knowledge out there on planning and it’s easy to get lost in all the planning tips and school of thought. Here are 5 practical tips for how to make effective plans. The tips are effective in both a business and personal capacity.
The first point of call is the research of plans. Regardless of the area or idea being planned for research is an essential element. This is known to many but often times the essential tenets of good research are not observed. Good research is relevant, reliable and relatable. Relevant research is firstly carried out on the ground preferably with a similar case to the intended use case. Beware of salient issues that may be missed in research. A good example is how Hwindi noted that while the Uber internet-based ride-hailing model could be a hit in Zimbabwe, the problems around access to the internet and where available problems with accessibility prompted them to also have a call centre. Reliable research is based on getting adequate information. Often times research information can be rendered unreliable due to insufficient sample size, incorrect sample measures and incomplete information. The complexities Zimbabwe has around money, cash and payments are a testament to this. In some cases the territory being researched is unchartered and extrapolation from seemingly similar cases is used but the information may prove unreliable in practice. Research is best done in the situation the research will be applied to. In business, talking to people, in general, is not as reliable or relevant as talking to customers.
While the idea of documenting plans seems blindingly obvious how to do so properly may not be so obvious. There are numerous planning matrices and frameworks available out there. The choice of which to adopt is entirely personal but planning matrices that ultimately include review and update are preferred. A little more on this later. A plan is not one until it is documented and documented well. Ultimately the greater the detail in a plan the more likely it is to succeed. I recall reviewing a business plan that successfully received US$35000 funding for a broiler chicken working capital funding. Among many good features of the plan, the highlight for me was the degree of detail as the entrepreneur detailed costs associated down to the washers for the roof nails. The small details tend to expose how serious the plan is.
Implementation is essential
As I pointed out before the government of Zimbabwe has churned out many plans which have ultimately not achieved their goals. Let us take ZimAsset as a case study. Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation was an economic blueprint that covered areas the nation would work in towards stabilising the economy. The results of ZimAsset are plain for all to see. In reading the 120 plus page document I was struck but how thin the implementation section of the plan was. Only half a page was dedicated to explaining the working of a plan for a nation of around 14 million people. The writing was on the wall or page from the outset. Implementation in simple terms is the how of a plan and a considerable amount of planning should be spent on this. This includes consideration of resources available, bottlenecks, resource deployment and alleviation strategies. This brings me to the next point.
Chunking is the process of breaking down a large task into many smaller, manageable and actionable tasks. The process of getting up in the morning may include rising, hygiene & grooming, dressing, tidying, preparing food, eating the food, gathering all the things needed for the day and then departing. With smaller and routine tasks it seems almost automatic but with bigger tasks, we may often not see these smaller chunks but they are important. I spoke about the degree of detail of plans and it feeds into this. Bigger goals may span months or years but life is lived a day at a time. therefore plans need to be broken down into tasks or chunks that can be tackled a day at a time or perhaps even smaller chunks. It is a critical part of planning which is sometimes lost due to excessive big-picture thinking. Using chunking allows you to plan in detail, plan for implementation and review your progress regularly.
Reviewing plans is critical to success. If you follow many of the big success stories locally and internationally you will see a common theme of reviewing plans to find success. Apple, Amazon, Econet, and many of the businesses we have featured commonly have a story from the founders where they had to rethink a step or two. The important part of the review is a process I call accounting for new information. It is impossible to know everything at any given time, even more so in the planning stage of anything. Because of this, you are likely to encounter new information that may affect the assumptions and ideas behind the planning process. As I earlier pointed out a good documentation system allows you to factor in new information. We have all experienced the nature of information asymmetry, a recent example is the day business owners in Harare woke up to find shop licence fees had sharply escalated. Putting good documentation and chunking you can see how regular review becomes essential. As a rule, the more volatile or unpredictable the situation the shorter your review interval should be.
As you read through the article I hope you noticed how much these tips work into each other and how they compliment. Work these tips into your planning methodology and you will start to results that have evaded you previously. As final tip remember that with planning while we have ideals that we like to hold on to the only thing that should be sacred is the goal. When met with difficulty many will feel the instinct to change the goal but what should change is everything but the goal.