By Steve Feld, Certified SCORE Mentor and Business Coach
Is your organization’s strategy delivering on its promises?
For most organizations, the answer is "no". Too many plans end up full of content that is cerebral and fluff, ultimately adding little or no value to the organization. That is why companies are failing in strategy execution.
Operational planning may not be the sexiest part of corporate strategic planning, but it is very important. Most organizations do not even have strategy. Given its importance, understanding how to do operational planning and making sure it gets done is well worth the time and effort.
It’s not that operational planning is that complex to carry out, but there is some art to doing it well and it does require finesse. In short, operational planning requires a different skill set and discipline than its counterpart - strategic planning. The biggest difference is that we must adjust our thinking to the day-to-day business operations and consider all the constraints, inhibitors and accelerators that must be evaluated and factored into tactical planning. The discipline required is a mix of strategic planning with good old-fashioned program and project management.
Businesses are not getting the full value they should from their strategic planning efforts. Most have only, themselves to blame and they know it. Clearly, strategic plans without follow-through will collect dust and never be executed as intended.
If followed, these 10 essential operational planning steps will dramatically improve strategy execution in any organization. This is Part 1 of a 2-Part series and will show the first 6 steps.
1. Define the Strategic Portfolio
The work behind executing a corporate strategic plan lies in the goals that must be achieved. Each of those goals must be understood in terms of the various initiatives the goals really represent. This is a way to understand the work to be done in real terms that apply to business operations.
2. Translate Goals Down into Major Programs
Translating goals into major initiatives is the beginning of operational plan development, accomplished by mapping the goals laid out in the strategy to chunks of work. The next step though is to bundle or group initiatives into goal-aligned programs. This exercise makes the work to be accomplished easier to understand, manage and track.
3. Map Programs to Organizational Structure
With grouping of initiatives into programs completed, the question becomes, “How do initiatives impact the organization?” Profit and Loss accountabilities, organizational structures and resource control must all be understood as they relate to the strategy programs. Where will resources need to be shared? How will program funding effect budgets across the organization’s structure? This step requires an understanding of organization, its culture and budget controls.
4. Define Accountabilities for Programs
Accountability also must be clear in terms of expected timeframes. For accountability to exist, all who are affected by the plan must understand what is to be accomplished and within what timeframe. After all, it is impossible to hold people accountable for accomplishing a key outcome if there is no basis to measure. Similarly, if an objective that is not bound by time or if the team has unlimited time to complete it, the goal can never be complete, or its progress evaluated.
5. Break Programs Down into Projects
Operational planning is all about reality and execution, so estimating work effort and time-to-complete correctly for chunks of work is important. Programs are large and too unwieldy to be estimated and managed without breaking down the effort into smaller chucks, in this case, projects. Project-sized chunks of work can be more easily estimated, resourced and managed.
Projects that have been identified can now be planned for at the detailed level, including: timeframes, human resource requirements, technology requirements and in many cases, dependency on other projects or programs (groups of projects). Careful attention to detail at this level can help avoid collisions with other projects down the line. Even then, there may be inter-dependencies between these groupings of initiatives and shortages of resources where overlaps exist. Tactical planning must delineate to the maximum extent possible the timelines, dependency relationships, resource allocations and costs relative to the allocated budgets across operational areas to avoid as many collisions and conflicts as possible.
6. Define Accountabilities for Projects
Common wisdom tells us that achieving strategic planning and management goals requires an actionable plan that considers the people required to bring the plan to fruition. A plan is worthless without the staff accountability to bring that plan to life.
Sounds simple enough – yet, in practice both components (plan and people) have intricacies and uncertainties that must be carefully managed. People, in particular, must have accountability to accomplish the individual tasks that are required to achieve the overarching organizational goals. Projects that have been identified earlier in the process must be planned for at the detailed level. Operational planning is tactical and must assign accountabilities at the project level and delineate to the maximum extent possible the timelines, dependency relationships, resource allocations and costs relative to the allocated budgets across operational areas to avoid as many collisions and conflicts as possible.
For accountability to exist, the team and all who are affected by the plan must understand what is to be accomplished and within what time frame. After all, it is impossible to hold people accountable for accomplishing a key outcome if there no basis to measure. Similarly, an objective that is not bound by time can never be considered to be complete or have insufficient progress because the team working on it has unlimited time in which to complete it.
To be continued.....