Planning is often an overwhelming yet exciting time as you are mapping out the road ahead. Having a good sense of what you would like to get done over the year, recalling how far you were able to come, and forecasting on paper (or in the cloud) the middle ground of what is realistic for the coming year. Now, we never know what will be in store, but thinking in terms of “years” rather than quarters or cycles gets pretty exciting.
But planning isn’t just a once a year thing. In order to be successful, planning needs to be two-fold: upfront, strategic planning followed by continuous, tactical adjustments. Here is why it is critical to have both.
When you think about annual planning you might be thinking of pages and pages of spreadsheets, tabs and formulas that would make any sane person go cross-eyed. Strategic planning in the traditional sense is often too strenuous, stressful, and manual to be of true value. Let’s face it, a good portion of it is thrown together right before a deadline, despite your best intentions when you started the planning process. Yet the whole thing is entirely necessary. Every organization needs strategic planning to ensure their organization is headed in the right direction, has adequate resources and budget to get the projects done that need to be done, and ultimately justify the continued investment in the organization for the betterment of the business.
But there’s a better way. Annual planning should be more of a guide, an outline for what is to come. It should be strategic to get the organization aligned with business goals, and really identify not only what projects should be invested in, but also those that should not be invested in. From a strategic level, it can be much easier to identify those projects that either no longer warrant investment, or those that should not even begin. In the end, you’ll have identified the projects that can be completed given the resource and budget constraints and contributing towards the overall goals of the business.
Once you have your strategic plan in place, what usually happens? Life happens. Afterall constraints of one day will not necessarily be the constraints of the next as resources change, priorities change, and business changes. Tactical planning is the continuous planning that happens to account for change and provides the short term path forward. This tactical plan should always be in alignment with the strategic plan, yet allow flexibility to keep projects headed in the right direction. Tactical planning is best used for day to day activities — understanding the impact and outcome of an activity based on real time data. By continuously planning projects even during a cycle, there is always an assurance of taking the best course of action in any given scenario. As things change, tactical planning becomes more important to identify the next best course of action for the organization.
Planning can mean different things in different organizations, but for all managers it means one thing: having a course to follow. A roadmap is helpful not just for each team to identify what to work on, but to communicate out to other departments or stakeholders to set expectations. By having data to support the roadmap, options for alternatives, and a degree of flexibility, roadmaps are more likely to be accurate — increasing support from stakeholders that stand to gain from the outcomes of the roadmap. Planning at the strategic level as well as the tactical level ensures the best chance of success for what you have set out to accomplish.
For a more in-depth look at strategic and tactical planning, be sure to join our upcoming webinar, “Building Bridges: Linking Strategy and Execution” with guest speaker, Mark Mullaly, Consultant, Strategy Development, Execution & Change.