Simple or complex planning processes

There are highly diverse opinions on what strategic planning methodologies are most effective. While the structure that houses the strategy is important, the larger issue is the quality of thinking and the consistency of understanding at all levels of the company. The latter of the 2 relates more to implementation, so I’ll leave that alone for the time being.

The question today is: Is it better to run a consistent and simple planning methodology across all divisions, allow management to plan as they please and manage only by the outcomes or run a highly customized and detailed planning process?

It is my opinion that organizations are “organic” to a large degree because they are just a collection of people and personalities. Because of this, “how things get done” has to be customized in order to suit. This is what challenges the idea of a cookie cutter approach to implementing a planning system. What worked well at one time in one company may not suit another company. Depending on the style and preferences of management, the preferred planning processes will vary. This being said, the information needs of the workforce will be equally diverse, hence the need to maintain some level of balance (between off-the-hip and highly detailed).

It is my experience that when organizations lack consistent strategic clarity, you have 2 priorities:

1) The executive needs to get clear on the direction and be able to communicate in a way that everyone can understand
2) Divisions and teams need to implement a planning system that is simple and consistent.

Simplicity provides the opportunity to get the program underway without confusing the company. Progressing from simple to complex supports a gradual learning curve at the management level and allows the company to progress without pushback. Consistency in the timing and format of strategic direction development across all divisions creates the opportunity for business units to share their plans in the same format and at the same time. This will help to facilitate better discussions at the senior management level around potential synergies and resource impact/constraints.

As the clarity around organizational direction increases, the complexity of the strategy should be a natural progression. Executive will recognize that existing frameworks lack the ability to say all that needs to be said and organize all of the elements that are at play in their discussions. This is your opportunity to increase the complexity. It is at this point that the organization will be prepared to work with a more highly detailed strategy.

Implementing complex planning systems in an organization that lacks experience is a recipe for widespread confusion and frustration. By answering the simple questions and then answering the complex ones, you’ll have better support and a better progression.

As a company once said… “First you get good, then you get fast.”