Take Time to Plan

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Take Time to Plan

It has been said that failing to plan is planning to fail.

Dwight Eisenhower said, “plans are useless but planning is indispensible.”  Helmuth von Molke, chief of staff of the Prussian army for 30 years and a major influence in modern theories of warfare, wrote “no plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength”, often paraphrased as “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

A Google search of strategic planning for small business yields a gamut of options from “Five Steps to a Strategic Plan” to “Why Small Businesses Should Scrap Strategic Planning.”  Planning may be the business practice generating the widest range of viewpoints.  I’ll add my opinion to the mix.

I believe we can learn from Eisenhower, who emphasized the process over the finished document, and from von Molke, whose main thesis was that military strategy could be viewed as a system of options since only the beginning of an operation can truly be planned. What happens once the battle begins is dictated by conditions on the field, so von Molke believed the task of leaders was to identify and analyze potential outcomes and prepare for a range of possibilities. Strategy was viewed as “a practical art of adapting means to ends.”

That is a good description of the challenges of growing a business in a competitive marketplace with limited supplies of time, people, and capital.

Planning in small businesses takes two forms.  The business plan, written prior to start-up, and the strategic plan, developed to chart the future of more established entities.  While many entrepreneurs craft a business plan prior to start-up, far fewer undertake strategic planning processes as their businesses grow and mature.  There is danger in getting lost in the day-to-day operation of the business and not stepping back to engage in strategic thinking.

Strategic planning should be a nimble, process-oriented exercise focused on identifying and maximizing opportunities while anticipating and mitigating potential downsides.   While some confine the process to a defined number of hours on a particular day, there is value in patience and a deliberate pace.  It is important to be thorough in identifying opportunities and constraints and truly understanding their potential magnitude.

While the process should end with some sort of output document, it isn’t necessary to hold fast to a particular format.

The bridge from planning to implementation is unfortunately too often neglected. The highest outcome of the planning process is focus and it is important to align daily activities with the essential, highest purposes of the business.  This may include saying no to some good opportunities in order to pursue the truly great ones.

Know a business that would benefit from planning? ISBDC advisors are trained in strategic planning and ready to assist in both plan development and implementation.

Alan Steele

Alan Steele joined the North Central ISBDC as a business advisor in 2008 and became the regional director in 2013. His education consists of BS in Business Administration from Indiana University, South Bend, and completing the Strategic Planning Program at Michigan State University. Alan's past work history includes serving as the Vice President of Industrial Services at Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc., the Director of Sales and Marketing at Fapco, Inc., the Director of Sales and Marketing at Filtration Products, Blocksom & Company, and the Sleep Products Sales & Marketing Manager at Kinder Manufacturing.
Alan Steele can be reached at asteele@isbdc.org.
Posted in: Business Planning, Starting a Business

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