More and more people are realising the importance of having a plan, if you want to achieve something important. This is really fantastic to see. However, not all plans are created equal. There is a whole world of difference between a plan and a good plan and this blog is here to help you ensure you are designing good plans.
A plan can be almost anything, from a list of steps to a detailed action plan.
A good plan is designed to increase your chances of completing it successfully and achieving your desired results.
In order for a plan to become a good plan, there are a few things that you need to make sure you include and, because my aim is always to help you succeed, today I’m going to share the most important sections of a good plan.
There are all sorts of reasons for having a plan and therefore all sorts of types of plan. Anyone running their own business is usually trying to do a million and one things at once, so having a short-term plan for your day or week is the best way to ensure you are going to get the important things completed. If you would like to grow your business from where it is now, with more sales, more customers and more income, then you’re going to need a bigger, longer-term plan to help you do that.
The good news is that what you need to factor in, to make your plan a good plan, is exactly the same the same regardless of what type of plan you are producing. What might change though is how much detail you incorporate, depending on the scale of the plan you are working on. (I’m not sure I’ve typed the word plan so much in one place before!!)
Why are Plans and Projects so important?
I was lucky enough to qualify as a project manager very early on in my career (as a PRINCE2 Practitioner) and I still consider it THE most useful skill I have learned and the one I recommended to virtually anyone asking for career advice.
A project is a series of connected pieces of work that you need to complete in order to make something happen. Almost everything you work on in business can be considered as a project or programme. Understanding project planning, allows you to think about the jigsaw puzzle they create and design a clear plan in order to fit them all together in the most effective way. Having that clear plan is critical to managing everything that needs to happen. Without, you are kind of winging it! And, whilst winging it can be exciting and seem like a lot of fun, it also means you are free to be carried wherever the winds and tides choose to take you and, before you know it, you are miles off track with no idea how to get back without starting all over again.
As a business owner, you simply don’t have time for that. You need to work on things that you are confident are taking you forward in the right direction.
The 5 Requirements for a Good Plan
This blog will introduce you to The 5 Requirements for a Good Plan which will enable you to start considering your current plans and factoring in to any new ones. In a series of subsequent blogs, I will go into each of the 5 Requirements in much greater detail but, for now, this outline will be a good starting point to examine your existing plans or when designing new ones.
- A clear outcome or Goal.
This is the most common trigger for needing a plan in the first place. There is something you want to achieve and you need a plan to take you there. Without a clear goal, there is no way of evaluating whether your plan is taking you where you want to go. Without a clear goal we can find ourselves working really hard, being incredibly busy – and going absolutely nowhere. It feels frustrating, exhausting and can very quickly destroy the drive we had for our business.
On the flipside, when we have a goal, it’s gives the direction that underpins each decision we make and each action we take.
The very simple – but powerful – question I often ask clients who are in the midst of a dilemma is, will this take you towards or away from your goal?
You may well have heard the phrase SMART in relation to Goals. It’s a commonly used acronym to describe goals in a business context. It stands for:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Timely or Timebound
These are features of a goal that take it from being a wild ambition or a dream to actually being a defined target you are serious about hitting.
I like to think of SMART as a good start. Having a SMART goal means you have a goal you can achieve. To make sure a goal will be achieved, there are actually 4 other parts to a Goal that are required. Rather than overwhelm you with too much info at once, in my next blog, I will go through each of those 4 additional parts in greater detail – and you can sign up below to make sure you don’t miss it!
In reality, when running a small business, you usually need to target more than one goal at any given time. You may need to attract more customers at the same time as reducing the amount of time you spend on an aspect of your business. When this is the case, having all 5 of these key features of a plan becomes even more important – because you need good visibility of how all of the different actions and outcomes will impact each other.
Which brings us to…
An end goal on its own isn’t enough though I’m afraid, particularly if it’s a big goal. The next essential feature you’ll need in your plan are Milestones. These are mini-goals that you need to hit along the way to ensure you are on the right track. Without them, it’s very difficult to tell whether the things you are doing are taking you towards your goal and whether you are on schedule to get there in time.
Whenever I travel to London I usually end up coming back later much than expected, as I’ve met up with friends and found myself having a nice time! Then all the way home I have to check off each station to make sure I’m definitely on the right train and that I’ll make the last taxi from my station. Each time I arrive at an expected station on time, I breathe a little sigh of relief. Milestones in your plan are just like this. And if the worst happens, the earlier you realise you’re on the wrong train, the more time you have left to adjust your course!
Just as importantly, milestones are also what will keep you going mentally, physically and emotionally.
If you have a big goal that you are planning to hit in 3, 6 or perhaps even 12 months, keeping momentum and energy up for that length of time is HARD. It takes a lot of willpower and energy. Have you ever found yourself slogging away on something wishing you had never started? If so, consider milestones your new best friend.
Breaking the big goal into smaller milestones means now you are not aiming for one big, distant, possibly scary, goal. Now, you are aiming for something much smaller that feels much more achievable. And each milestone you can acknowledge and celebrate along the way, will reinvigorate and boost your drive to keep going.
- A Risk Assessment
Every plan has a danger zone of some sort. The hidden bend up ahead where things can take us by surprise or the competitor hiding in our blind-spot. If we have a good plan though, we’ve checked the road ahead and know the bend is there. And we’re aware of what’s going on around us and that we may have an unpredictable blind-spot.
Thinking about what risks you are likely to encounter, before you actually encounter them, gives you a chance to consider what to do about them if they were to materialise. As you work through your plan, you’ll get an increasingly clearer idea of whether those potential risks are becoming more or less likely to happen. When thinking about your daily or weekly plan, being honest about what could trip you up might be enough of a risk assessment. Knowing you have a family event that tends to take time out of your week could be a risk for example. In a business plan for the next 6 months, you could take a more formal approach to risk assessing.
Your assessment needs to look at 1) how probable it is that the risk will become reality and 2) how severe the consequences of the risk would be to you and your business. It’s like a health and safety assessment for your business. You may decide that risks that are very low probability or would have virtually no impact, will be dealt with if and when you need to.
But for risks that are more likely or could have a serious impact, having identified them up front means you can start thinking now about:
A contingency is your “what if…” or back up plan. Once you’ve done your risk assessment, you’ll know which are the risks you need to worry about the most. Except you’re not going to worry. Instead, you’re going to have a contingency plan that you can put into action as soon as you need it. You might even decide the risk is so big or so likely to happen that you’ll start with your contingency built into your plan. Or, you might decide to keep it in your back pocket and use it only if it’s needed. Having thought about all this up front, if your risk comes to life, you’ll feel calm and ready to spring into action rather than taken by surprise and thrown off course.
How well you handle the bumps in the road can be what set you apart from other businesses. A good contingency plan can result in you driving forwards whilst the same problem has sent them spinning sideways.
One of the most often quoted concepts in business improvement is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure – and one my clients hear me say all the time! I’ve heard this phrase attributed to various people over the years from the Peter Drucker to Michael Hammar, both of whom were experts in the fields of business and process improvement. Whoever officially said it first, the crux of the message is that if you want to stay in control of or improve something, then you’ll need to be able to measure it. Without measurements of some sort, how can you know what’s actually going on?
The same is true for your plan. Without something you can measure, how do you know if your plan is working? Remember the difference between a plan and a good plan. Your good plan exists to help you achieve something. If it’s not doing that, then it’s just a plan. This aspect of measuring fits alongside your goal itself being measurable but relates to measuring how well your plan itself is going.
What you choose to measure will depend on your plan and your priorities but it may be helpful to think in terms of time, money, direction and outcome:
How much time are you taking on your plan? How does that compare to the time you’ve allowed?
How much money are you spending? Are you on budget?
Direction and outcome are about checking your effort is worthwhile. It may be that you can’t measure the end Goal until the work itself is complete, in which case choosing something that contributes or is related to it can be just as helpful.
Measurements don’t have to be complicated, intimidating or boring. They just need to be simple and straightforward. Some of my own measuring tactics include a pencil case of colourful pens (and yes some may even be glittery…) and a squared notebook. You can get as creative as you like as long as you can pull useful information out of it.
Up and running!
And that’s it, those are the 5 Requirements for a Good Plan. Now you have them you can review any plans you are working on to check you have incorporated all of these elements. If you do need a bit more help, don’t worry – I’m here!
As I mentioned above, I will being going into each of the 5 requirements in greater detail in a series of upcoming blogs. To make sure you don’t miss out, you can sign up below to be notified as soon as each is published.
I also run a number of planning workshops throughout the year, with different focus themes depending on the time of year. The next round are about planning to ensure the busiest sales time of year (Oct – Feb) is a success for your business. If this is something you would be interested in, you can find more details and book your place here.