What does strategic planning entail?
In an earlier blog we explored this question and determined that the concept of strategic planning is quite simple, as shown in the diagram below.
However, though simple in concept, each step may be less so in practice. In Step 3, functional departments are given the task of implementing strategic decisions in accordance with the methodology determined in Step 2.
It was noted that the Business Adept Cards system was designed to support the strategic planning process by adding intuition and subconscious knowledge, thus enabling speedy focus of effort on those areas that promise the best returns.
This blog examines more closely the 3rd step in the cycle – Do it, ie whatever activity has been included in the strategy and business plans. I’ll also give examples of how the BA Cards can be used to identify the best ways and means.
Step 3 - Do it
At this stage in the planning process we are concerned only with what has been agreed at the appropriate level of authority and is included the budget. All necessary action is detailed in the business plan or in project plans.
The categories examined in Step 2 are reflected here:
- continue existing operations
- implement modifications to existing operations
- implement radical change to existing operations
- implement a new venture
Activity a) will always be part of the scene, unless actions c) or d) require all or specific elements of existing operations to be discontinued.
Activity will be dictated by the relevant plans and overseen in accordance with designated responsibilities.
Standards, Targets and Milestones
An important aspect of the strategic planning process is the setting of performance standards, targets and milestones so that progress can be monitored. The groundwork will have been started in Step 1 and, for the main part, concluded in Step 2, with Step 3 adopting the standards etc as prescribed.
However, plans need to be dynamic and responsive to a constantly changing environment. Therefore some standards etc may be set, reviewed or adjusted during ongoing operations. This is particularly the case when an overall target needs to be decomposed and shared between several specialist activities.
Because data collection for monitoring and comparison can be costly and time-consuming, Key Performance Indicators should be selected with care. Make sure it is possible to take action if the results demand it, otherwise it is a waste of resource.
The frequency of monitoring will depend upon the type of industry and the technology. In some cases monitoring can be automated and data collected constantly. Exception reporting may be built in so that minimal intervention is necessary. As a general rule, though, progress should be reviewed at least monthly.
Issues and Responses
When the monitoring process indicates an anomaly or a problem is reported, the nature of the problem isn’t always immediately obvious. There will, no doubt, be diagnostic procedures available but these can take time. Business Adept Cards speed up the process by indicating where to start looking.
From a vast range of potential issues, I’ve selected a few examples to illustrate which BA Cards layout might be useful.
- Product quality is substandard, reject rates are high
It is not always easy to identify the reason for a process’s producing poor quality products or high numbers of rejects. In all probability workers in each part of the process will blame those working in other areas. Finger pointing will hinder any investigation. The BA Cards’ Problem Analysis will help reveal the underlying issue (not just the symptoms), the hindrance to progress and a possible solution. It those directly involved in the process are included in the BA Cards exercise, they should be able to talk sensibly about the problem and its solution. The cards depersonalise issues and are non-judgmental.
- Sales targets are not being met
An understanding of why targets are not being met is a necessary precursor to resolving the problem. Perhaps the targets are unrealistic, or service contracts are overrunning, or supplies are unreliable. The sales team may not be at fault. There may be more than one contributing factor.
Using BA Cards, one approach would be a Problem Analysis, as in a) above, to review a specific weakness. Another would be to break down the overall delivery process into key areas of activity, that are essential for generating sales, and use the Option Comparison layout as many times as necessary to consider the best and worst features of each activity. The ideas from this could be used to fine-tune the whole process.
- Job costs are frequently exceeding estimates
This problem is relatively common among small traders who are expanding and employing staff for the first time. There is a tendency to assume that others with the same training/qualifications will work in the same way and/or to neglect to pass on vital information, forgetting that employees may not have been involved in preparing the quote, for example. A breakdown in communication is usually the weakness and can result in considerable extra cost.
But where in the process is the discontinuity? A Problem Analysis can be used to pinpoint a specific issue and how to deal with it. An alternative would be a SWOT Analysis which could be deemed to highlight areas that need to be Strengthened or are Weak and where there is an opportunity to improve or a threat, if not addressed.
- Dispute between staff members
Most managers have had to address this problem at one time or another and it can be distressing for everyone concerned. In some cases the ostensible cause of the dispute is totally different from the underlying issue, which may be subconscious and outside the awareness of the person concerned.
For example, at a subconscious level Dee may feel threatened by new co-worker Kay. Kay may come across as super-efficient and self-confident, while Dee feels insecure. Without conscious volition, Dee may seek out a way to discredit Kay, who will in turn feel undermined. (Maybe her confident manner conceals her own anxiety?) Arguments about trivial and irrelevant issues are likely to escalate. Arbitrating these disputes goes no way to resolving the real problem.
The BA Cards’ Relationship Analysis is ideal for this type of situation. It can actually reveal the subconscious undercurrents. Use it with each party in turn as subject and see how they each view their own and the other’s role. They don’t have to be present. There is a risk they might see the exercise as trivialising them personally, though it isn’t the case. Understanding what is going on enables the manager to take the right action to diffuse the situation.
In the operational phase of the strategic planning process, there will be numerous day to day managerial issues like the examples above. Many will be resolved without the need for any impact on the plan itself. Activity will be adjusted to compensate and standards, targets and milestones will remain unchanged.
There may be instances, however, where the impact is significant. Perhaps example b) is a symptom of a serious failing in the delivery process which can’t be fixed without extreme measures. Such a situation triggers the Step 4 of the planning cycle – Review it. There will need to be a new strategy for any aspect of the business that is affected by the problem.
Although plans should not be changed frivolously, neither should they be rigid. Adjustments to meet changing circumstances should be properly reviewed within the whole business context before any decision to implement. Knock-on effects may mean that standards do not change but targets and milestones almost certainly will.
In the final blog of this series I address exactly how the BA Card system can enhance the last stage of the planning process:
Why not experience for yourself the benefit of using Business Adept Cards? FREE TRIAL
Laura Dziaszyk, BA Cards Co-creator
Strategy And Planning