To plan or not to plan? That is the Question

To plan or not to plan? That is the Question

When Hamlet posed his famous question “To be or not to be?” he was actually asking about planning. I expect you thought his point was whether to go on living or to end it all. He does say that, I grant you. But listen to another phrase of his “To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub”. Dreaming was to Hamlet what living is to the rest of us, you see. He feared getting out of this world only to find himself in another.

What Hamlet was asking himself – and about half the population of the world ever since – was whether or not to plan. Death was one alternative; there were plenty of others. In a VUCA world, there are more options than you can shake a stick at. Are there too many to plan? I don’t think so. A plan is not a cake – something that once you’ve baked it you must eat it. The plan you bake can be changed whenever you want to do so. But don’t half-bake it.

Why my enthusiasm for plans? “Plan beats no plan” said Timothy Geithner at the start of the 2007/8 crisis. A little late, you may think, but it is never too late to plan. It was a plan that then stopped the world from financial meltdown. “Plans are for the birds,” said Dwight Eisenhower when Supreme Allied Commander in WWII, adding “but planning is essential”. The fact that plans seldom turn out the way they are written does not invalidate them.

Most of the plans I see are written on the wrong premise. They start from the business objectives. Proper planning starts from the objectives of the planners. When it doesn’t you get the chaos of tactical tap-dancing. The present Supreme Allied Commander (as he sees himself) is a prime example of this. The All-White House spends its life trying to keep up.

Here’s how to set about planning.

[1] describe what each of the owners of the plan wants from the business or project to be developed and, most importantly, when they want it. Purposes and objectives differ from one person to another. You must be clear at the outset what those differences are and how you will implement your agreed compromise to achieve a common objective.

[2] reconcile the differences between the partners and write an agreement for all of them to sign. Sounds a bit kia-su? Don’t you believe it. People don’t always stick to their commitments – they certainly won’t if they don’t know what those commitments are. The partners’ agreement is key to making any partnership work. You must all formally review the agreement every six months.

[3] describe the business / project on one side of an A4 sheet of paper – max 350 words. Your first attempt to do this will probably be wrong – you will likely describe how you are going to run it. That is irrelevant until you are clear what the purpose of your business is. This description must be part of the partnership agreement.

[4] now write your “elevator pitch”. If the partners of a business cannot agree the elevator pitch the project is doomed. Practice it in real life.

[5] do your due diligence on competing products. You think that your product / service is unique. It isn’t. The world has managed without it for a long time and could continue to do so. How would the current substitutes for your product or service react to and deal with the competition you will provide? Work out what fixed and working capital has been – and still is – required by your competitors. Technological wizardry may be magic but it usually demands a lot of capital. Take this question seriously. It could save you bankruptcy. Undercapitalised is the single biggest cause of failure.

[6] Hooray, you are now in a position to start planning for your world-beating venture.

Many people ignore these steps. You find them searching for jobs.

If you are planning a new venture, be grown-up about it. It isn’t a toy.