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Planning improves an organisation's success by bringing focus, clarity and collaboration

make things happen

Are you facing change? Do you have a simple outline of your options, but don’t know how to turn thought into action? Does your team have lots of ideas, but struggle to move forward?

Planning turns ideas into action and is easy once you know how to do it.

But taking time to plan requires patience, especially when every second not spent in action feels wasteful. But the gap between success and failure lies in the planning you do.

I’d love to avoid the cliches – ‘failure to prepare is preparing to fail’, and ‘particularly poor planning leads to particularly poor performance’.

You’ve heard them, you know they are true. But when planning is hard, or boring, you ignore your conscience and crack on. When there is urgency you may be encouraged to ‘just get on with it’.

Here are five steps to successful planning and tips for easier, more successful business change.

How do you turn your ideas into business success?

Step One - Reaffirm your Purpose

Reaffirm your purpose

Dashing into change is a splendid way to fail; take time to reflect on your purpose.

As hard as it sounds, the first step to successful change is stepping back. Sometimes you need to think on your feet and react to circumstances. When you do, you often have to go back, mend bridges, tidy up the mess and expand your original solution.

Start change by reaffirming your purpose, your why, your mission. I don’t mind what you call it. When you and your team have different beliefs, you head in different directions.

Reaffirming your purpose (not rewriting or, heaven forbid, wordsmithing your mission statement) doesn’t take long, builds powerful bonds within your team and helps you test your ideas.

Have you worked on a change that took you in an unexpected direction? Was it positive, or did you have to correct course?

Step Two - Define the Problem

understand the problems you have

The first step in planning agreed the purpose of your organisation.

When people get together to discuss change, the conversation can veer into a wish list. Stick to the problem (or opportunity) in hand.

The second step understands the problems you face. Without understanding, you could generate many superb ideas that don’t move you forward.

Get your team together and ask why your services must change.

Think about completeness and let people explore unique perspectives, but don’t problem solve, that comes later. Use categories such as ‘people, process, equipment, customers and suppliers’ or walk through your client’s experience to prompt thoughts.

List your reasons in categories or a mind map. Give each grouping a title – for example, “physical distancing makes our services more expensive to deliver”.

How do you analyse situations without being drawn into generating ideas?

Step Three - Choose your Direction

choose your direction

Building new products and services is exciting, but time consuming. If you can adapt and evolve instead.

The first two steps helped us remember our purpose and understand the problems we face.

The third step decides whether you can adapt current services or need new ones.
For each problem category (see step two) decide
– What you need to do
– Ease to fix
– Cost to fix
– Pros and cons of fixing

What you need to do:
Be honest and generate lots of ideas. For example, some retailers are not allowing people to try on clothes, but others will steam tried on clothes and set them aside for 24 hours. I will call these ideas ‘solutions’.

Ease to implement:
Use a simple scale – easy, difficult, impossible – to assess and compare the easiness of each idea.

Cost to implement:
Again, a simple scale helps (<£100, £100<>£500, £500<>£1000, >£1000), but you need to consider one-off costs and reoccurring costs separately.

Pros and cons of implementing:
Now it’s time to consider the implications of your solutions. Cons could include disappointing customers, reducing income, stopping you doing something else or taking too long. On the other hand, your solutions might engage customers, open fresh markets or help you shake up your competition.

Now agree which ideas work when you consider ease, cost and implications, discard the rest.

Have you ever plunged into a fresh idea and come across an unintended consequence?

Step Four - Select your Solution

Great ideas

It is easy to generate ideas, but generating value-adding ideas needs a bit more work.

In the first three steps you worked out whether you can adapt your current services. If you found you need a fresh service, step four has got you covered. Even if you can adapt your current services, use this step to enhance the value you offer clients.

Before getting into idea generation, agree your goal. You will use your goal to test your ideas and keep implementation on track. Write your goal, make it SMART and agree it. You can aim for multiple goals, but it’s easier to concentrate on one thing at a time. Record other ideas to work on later.

You probably know SMART-goals add value and dumb-goals add cost. I will add a link to a great explanation of SMART in the comments.

Now remind people of your goal and ask for ideas. To keep everyone involved
– use quiet periods
– share ideas
– take breaks.

When people finish generating ideas, explore the ideas and build on each other’s thoughts, fill gaps and address risks and issues.

Now you have lots of great ideas, but, unless you have a lot of resource, you must prioritise all these brilliant contributions.

Test each idea against your goal, using a scoring system to stay objective. Let your ideas develop and combine and re-score as they change.

You may have built one idea, but more likely you have several. Small teams need to choose one – return to your scoring system – large teams may tackle more.

How does your team generate ideas, do you have a general confab or use a structured approach?

Step Five - Scope Work


Once you have your solution, it is very tempting to just get started, but we all forget things.

You know what you want to achieve and now it’s time to work out your actions. In step five we seek completeness; I have a lovely method to help you think of everything.

Write your goal at the top of an enormous sheet of paper or a whiteboard (many digital equivalents are available). Your goal could be ‘Deliver our new service’ if you completed step four. If you were happy at the end of step three, it might be ‘Adapt our current service’. But be specific!

Ask ‘what do we need to do to’ and structure your answers as a family tree (see the post image). Try to write the answers as verb / noun, for example, Set up signs or Buy a bucket.

Keep going until you have a family tree of actions

If actions needs closer examination, move them to the top of the page and ask ‘what do we need to do’.

That’s the fifth step. Depending on the complexity of your change you can now create a simple schedule, agile kanban or full-blown Gantt chart. More on scheduling further down.

Have you ever set out on a piece of work only to discover you forgot an important action? How did you recover?

I hope you have found this 5-step planning journey and tips helpful.

Top Tip - use proven methods to plan quickly (and effectively)


Doesn’t planning take ages?

Many answers to this question exist and are contrite or smug about the value of planning.

What’s more, you know the advantages of planning. So, how about planning quickly, instead?

In the next tip we will see how collaboration makes or breaks planning. When time is pressing, you may plan alone or with a few select others; then announce your plans to the rest of the team. Leaving people out is a false economy, you are likely to promote resistance to change and miss out on the perspectives of each team member.

if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together

Instead, use proven workshop techniques to create a focus – timed sessions, clear objectives and a way of recording important or interesting stuff that isn’t relevant at the moment.

A facilitator can help you and your team make the most of your precious time, keep you on track and help quieter team members contribute.

Does your organisation use workshops or are they uncommon?

Top Tip - collaboration doesn't happen by accident, make time and space to go beyond working together

Collaboration is more than working together

Many teams work together but don’t collaborate. When day-to-day tasks are the pressing priority, collaboration takes a back seat. But change needs collaboration, so we must make time.

In the last post I talked about workshops. As well as maximising your time, they help people collaborate.

Many organisations use away days and workshops to get into collaboration mode. Here’s short video about an organisation that takes out time to collaborate at least once a week.

Many organisations use collaborative workspaces like Microsoft Teams or Slack for communication outside workshops.

Successful collaborations also have shared goal and values, respectful behaviours and fun.

How do you make time and space to collaborate?

Top Tip - engage stakeholders early to win their support and strengthen your plan


The five-step journey helps you plan, but doesn’t check your plans are viable or win support for your project.

Before acting, make sure you can afford your plans. Ask do we have the money and could we spend it better?

For simple projects you can tot up the costs using your family tree of actions as a framework and compare the answer to your benefits (increased income, reduced costs). Yes, a payback calculation. You may be planning for survival, then payback can show why your plans are better than other options.

If your plans make financial sense, you have to find the money. You might have it lying around, or may need to approach your bank or other funding source.

But talk of money isn’t convincing to most people. To get agreement you need to tell the story of your plans – why it is necessary, how your actions will solve a problem or realise an opportunity and how you will deliver the change successfully. The five-step journey helps you tell the story, especially if you built your plans as a team.

Involve stakeholders from the start.

Have you convinced someone to take action or spend money? How did you get agreement?

Top Tip - understand the difference between planning and scheduling and keep it simple


We don’t plan to produce a schedule, planning helps us think through our goals and how to achieve them.

And there’s the rub, scheduling is but one planning activity. And, unless your project is vast with lots of dependencies, not all that important.

Heresy!! Agile techniques and tools are popular for a reason, they work without the heavy lifting of creating a complex schedule.

When you have completed step five of the five-step journey, you can add people to each action (and timescales and costs if you are feeling fancy). When actions depend on each other, you can draw a ‘network diagram’. The diagram shows the links between actions and lets you sequence them. Another fancy bonus calculating the total time of your project and the ‘critical path’.

Then you can pick up a simple collaboration tool like Trello (many other tools are available and most produce Gantt charts for communications).

When you are planning a collaborative team activity (aka project) how do you help everyone know what they must do and when?

Top Tip - plan your innovation instead of reacting

red button

What triggers your decision to innovate? Are you motivated by opportunities or hazard avoidance? Do you spot gaps in the market or look at things differently? Do you respond or react?

Leading is fun, brave and risky. Many fail, but the leaders who win take the glory and are hard to knock off the top spot.

Many businesses prefer to take a more measured approach to innovation. They watch the market and introduce gradual changes to stay relevant. When competitors innovate, they respond by taking ownership of the innovation and adding their own touches.

Both these strategies are excellent, there is an element of ‘horses for courses’ involved in the path you choose.

But, some horses prefers to react. That means jumping in with both feet, dashing across the road without looking, or shouting ‘I want what he’s having’ (I am on a cliché roll). These horses fall at the hurdles. They may fail to innovate, they may design a poor product or service or they might be too late.

Reacting stresses your team. They disengage, perform poorly and, given half a chance, leave.

What is your innovation style? How do you innovate?

Top Tip - everyone has something to contribute, open a discussion to understand concerns

negative nancy

All groups have a person who raises issues with ideas. Because traditional workshops say ‘no judgement’ they silence these people. Is that appropriate?

We all have unique talents, some people have brilliant ideas, others intuitively assess those ideas and point out how you can strengthen them. We need the latter, even if they struggle to soften their thoughts and come across as negative.

Second, closing down critique stops the exploration and strengthening of ideas.

Next time someone sucks through their teeth, shakes their head and says ‘the problem with that is’, be patient and supportive, and use their insight to strengthen ideas and plans.

Then you might coach them to help them be heard – but that’s another subject.

Does your team have a Cassandra – someone destined to make true prophesies but never be believed? How do you help them contribute to planning activities?

Want to deliver benefits from Customer Experience Management, but not sure where to start?

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