The Annual / Quarterly Plan

Months of hard work can save you days of planning.

The Annual / Quarterly Plan

Its that time of the year again friends!

Now of course there are those amongst you that have already finished your AOPs for the coming year. You, my imaginary friend, were also the kid in school who'd arrive for the first day of second term with all the homework already done during the Diwali Holidays. To you, I have nothing to say. In fact, please get in touch there's a guest post I'd like you to write. For the rest of you lazy lowlifes, I know most of you were hustling till the very last hour of the last day of the last week of the last quarter of the financial year and will only just now be beginning your annual planning exercises – that is if you plan at all. This post is for you all.

For you and your hapless colleagues who're either sleep-walking through planning exercises, using it as political battlegrounds or engaging in performative planning, giving a false sense of certainty about the goals when you yourself are confused and divided inside.

But planning is boring.

Agreed. But why? Maybe you're doing it wrong?

After all, who amongst us here has not spent a childhood afternoon imagining what the future would look like? Of course when we did that they called it daydreaming and made us stop it and get back to conjugating verbs, but you get the picture. We are working towards a better future. Do we not want to imagine what it looks like and how we get there?

Adults simply ruin everything by turning it into a process. A periodic pause to assess one's situation and chart the future course ahead is so obvious and simple that sports teams do it in the middle of the damn game, hikers do it whenever they get tired or when there's a particularly interesting vista, everyone who needs to get anywhere does it. If you're not doing it and it's not fun it might be because of these reasons

  • you are not clear about what you want – in this case you should be doing more daydreaming, sorry planning, not less.
  • you know you're not going to like the hard choices that formulating a plan will throw up. Also, you're not looking forward to the hard conversations during the planning.
  • you feel powerless, that no matter what you want someone else's plans will be taken up – show this series to your leaders, especially the post about 'Bottom Up and Top Down Planning'
  • you don't care about anything and want it all to end – perfectly understandable, so maybe you can let someone else drive?

In this post (and subsequent ones if required) I will talk about planning, why it's important and how you can fix your planning process.

  • why plan?
  • the fundamentals of a good plan
  • top-down and bottom up
  • Explore, Expand or Extract?
  • Getting buy in.

But the first thing to do is to ask where you got your planning process from. If you got it from google, throw it away. In fact, if you got it from anywhere you should throw it away, especially if it isn't working for you. Evolving your own planning process is the first step to making it meaningful.

Done? Great, now we can start to talk about planning.

This post assumes you already have several pods/squads and have a few dozen people at least whose efforts need to be aligned. If you're a bunch of nerds around one conference table, none of this is relevant to you.

Why plan?

Well, when you go to the gym, do you have a plan for the workout or not? It is because you have a plan that you can execute without having to second guess yourself and all your energy can be spent on tactical issues, not strategic ones. This much is obvious. But there's more.

The truth of the matter is that identifying what one wants is a necessary condition for being happy. For the whole neurobiological system to kick in and find the path to achieving what we want, we have to clearly state what we want. And this becomes a thousand times more fraught and a thousand times more powerful when we multiply it by a team. It is a rare pleasure to be part of a team that is working as one towards a goal, with clarity and purpose. And it is quite stunning what such a team can achieve. And at the same time it can be hell to work in a team where no one is clear what the end-goal is and everyone's energies get dissipated in all different directions.

I've worked with leaders who tell me they don't need an org-wide planning process because they already know what they want, and they'll just parcel out the work into small tasks for the team. And additionally, the team isn't mature enough to handle 'strategic thinking'.

If you're like this please read Hammer Time!

So, we plan so that we can laser focus our attention and energy, as a team. Once we begin executing, we don't want to stop and ask big questions like – are we working on the right things. Those questions should be asked once a quarter at max. The rest of the time we're head down executing.

to be continued...

In the next episode, we will take a look at the how to plan. There's two kinds of planning – strategic and tactical. Since this is the first quarter of a new year, it's a good time to do some strategic planning. For example, my strategic goals for this year on sabbatical are to

  • be amazingly healthy.
  • record and release my music
  • write 100 blog posts
  • set up some passive revenue streams, however small, that can compound and grow

And when you have clear strategic goals, the tactical steps required to get there become self evident. If you're not clear what the next step is, chances are you don't know where you want to go.

...before you go

Don't miss the next post in this series – subscribe! And if you're on the mailing list and haven't upgraded to the Premium tier, consider doing so now.

For the most part, I offer all of these words to you the reader with no expectation in return, but purchasing a premium plan will allow the knowledge in these posts to percolate into the core of your understanding. That's just psychology. I don't make the rules.