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Whoever Said ‘Stick to the Plan’ Was Wrong

Whoever Said ‘Stick to the Plan’ Was Wrong

By Tim Berry, Guest Blogger
Published: April 28, 2015 Updated: April 29, 2015

Making Plans and Sticking To Them — Or Not!

Come the start of the year, whether that's the traditional New Year's Day of January 1 or the anniversary of your business startup date, most of us want to make better plans — and stick to them. So what holds us back? Is it the plan itself? Do we lack the tools? Are we weak in discipline?

Or is NOT sticking to a plan, sometimes, the better answer?

Here's my take.

There is no value in sticking with a plan "just because."

There's great value in a careful business planning process that keeps your business alive, thriving, refreshing itself, and growing regularly. But not every plan meets those criteria. You can outgrow plans, whether they're for improving your life or enhancing your business.

If your plan doesn't take into account the volatile nature of the markets, finances, or other exterior factors, it may cause you to stagnate, or worse. You should be learning constantly; if you are, you'll be tweaking things constantly, too. Just remember a couple of keys to good planning as you go:

1. Good planning is measurable, concrete, and specific.

The old saying is, "The difference between a goal and a dream is a date." Specific, finite, measurable goals you can easily track make your progress easy to see, so don't hesitate to "drill down" when you need to. Big concepts are great, but they work better when they're reduced to solid numbers. You can't track a concept, but you CAN track pluses and minuses!

Make your plan big on trackable milestones: sales numbers, cash flow, appointments, prospects, products, patents … whatever you deal in, make sure you're dealing in reality.  

And keep your plan lean. A lean business plan is just bullet points for strategy and tactics, plus concrete specific milestones and performance measurements, a list of assumptions, plus sales forecast, expense budget, and cash flow.

2. Good planning means frequent review and revise.

I worked for years with a plan-vs.-actual-reviews meeting on the third Thursday of every month, so we could close the books on the previous month. At every meeting, then, review your plan versus your actual results. Don't forget to challenge any assumptions that may be holding you back: when assumptions change, your plans need to change with them. If results are good, stay the course with minor tweaking. If results are bad, this is the time to analyze why and change your plan to correct problems.

3. What you do stick to is the planning process

Former president and military strategist Dwight Eisenhower had it right: “The plan is useless; but planning is essential.”

There's a difference between fluidity and a plan that seems to "slip through your fingers." Numbers, dates, deadlines, and real black-and-white data will help you avoid that slippage. Don’t stick to the plan, but do stick to a lean plan with regular review and revision as part of the process. 

About the Author:

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Guest Blogger

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