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3 Ways Business Planning is Like Dribbling a Ball

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3 Ways Business Planning is Like Dribbling a Ball

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: January 24, 2013

Think of basketball or soccer. In both of these popular sports, dribbling is what the players do to move the ball in the right direction. It's not the point of the game, it doesn't score baskets or goals, but it's an important skill, right? I think of dribbling as a great analogy for business planning. And here are some reasons why—and some lessons I suggest we can take from that.

  1. Dribbling is a means to an end—not the goal. Planning is like that too. It's about results, running a business—not at all about the plan itself. Good planning is measured by the decisions it causes. It's about managing, allocating resources and accountability. I’ve written this in several places: “You measure a business plan by the decisions it causes.” And this: “Good business planning is nine parts execution for every one part strategy.”
  2. Think of the moment when the player gets the ball in the wrong end of the court or field. That’s either a defensive rebound in basketball or a missed shot on goal in soccer. The tall player gets the basketball and gives it to the one who normally dribbles up court. Or the goalie gets the ball and gives it to a defender. At that moment, in a well-coached team: 1) there is a plan in place and 2) the player knows the plan but is completely empowered to change the plan instantly depending on how the play develops. Business planning done right is very much like that. The existence of a plan—take the ball up the side, pass to the center—helps the team know what ought to happen. But changes—the opponents do something unexpected—are also expected. The game plan doesn’t lock the players in to doing the wrong thing or not responding to developments. It helps them make the instant choices, changing the plan correctly...and when they do, the other players can guess the next step better because of the plan.
  3. Dribbling involves simultaneously looking up, at the field, and developments going on; and down, at the ball, hands, and feet, to manage the details. Proper business planning, in very much the same way, requires looking up at the figurative horizon—­threats, opportunities, competition, market developments, etc.—and down at the details: tasks, deadlines, budgets, accountability, and of course cash flow and plan vs. actual.

I’ve always liked this analogy because it dispels the myth that having a plan reduces flexibility to react to developments. Planning isn’t voided by change; on the contrary, having a plan makes reactions easier. There is no virtue in following a plan just because it’s the plan. Proper planning means regular review and revision. 

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

Founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software and, on twitter as Timberry, blogging at His collected posts are at Stanford MBA. Married 46 years, father of 5. Author of business plan software Business Plan Pro and and books including his latest, 'Lean Business Planning,' 2015, Motivational Press. Contents of that book are available for web browsing free at .


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Excellent article and very informative! I love the title and the correlation to business
Thanks for this excellent post. I respect your experience and wisdom. You made the topic easier to understand especially with the help of football example.
I always like articles that can tie in sports. Especially basketball. Business is just like basketball. Everyone has to work as a team to accomplish their goals. Each person has their own roles and together they are able to do bigger things. I think that we all need to see articles like these to remind us that there are no one man armies.
I like football example in business - you have to play as a team, all against the goal, all with the same style of play .....
hi!,I love your writing so so much! That is a really smartly written article. I will be sure to bookmark it and come back to read extra of your useful information.
So true!! Perfect analogy for this topic. Great article thanks for the good reads!!
I hope you have a good business plan
This is so true!!! A great Financial Controller and a lawyer are a Must
Interesting analogy of business planning and dribbling a ball. But it's true, because for one thing, you are having to do two or more things at the same time with both. So as mentioned, it's important not to remain completely focused on the "now" but also on the future. Good tips.


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