Plans Cannot Predict the Future, but Planning Can Prepare You for It

Rob Millard, founder and partner of Venturis Consulting Group, once wrote, “All too often, I find myself facing blank stares from clients who want me to help them craft a plan that will lead them to greatness. This is only possible where the future is certain. Which, of course, it is not.”

The point is that strategic plans are based on assumptions about the future, and those predictions are too inaccurate to reliably steer an organization. Thus, if you unwaveringly pursue a plan based on those inaccurate assumptions, you will eventually implement the wrong strategy—you will “successfully fail.”
Now wait just a minute! We know that planning is one of the five things that distinguish successful organizations from the “also-ran” and the unsuccessful. Now you are telling me that following that plan will lead to successfully failing?
You got it. The “plan” must be to change the “plan”! Plans provide an essential fixed point for reacting to future events—for revising your assumptions, tactics, and strategies as the future becomes clearer. You can’t accurately predict the future, but by revising your predictions and your plans, you prepare your organization for it. Make sense?

The inaccurate character of assumptions is why planning must be a continuous
process. Through that continuous process of changing the plan as the future unfolds, successful organizations achieve that success by doing the “right things.” It is because of the continuous nature of the planning process that I emphasize that the tangible product of strategic planning, “the plan” should consist of words, phrases, and sentences, not paragraphs, pages, and chapters. It is the “play book,” that coordinates and shapes an organization’s actions and decisions, and that is changed by those actions and decisions on the front line in reaction to an unfolding future. Taking a line from the Pirates of the Caribbean about the Pirate’s Code, “It is more of a guide than an actual code.”

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“In this exciting age of fast-paced growth and innovative communication technology, Tom Collins has managed to incorporate timeless principles with modern advancements to achieve results-driven success in today’s business world. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't be enlightened by its contents.”—Jack Grant, Business Management Consultant

Tom Collins’ books include his book on leadership, The Language of Excellence, and his mystery novels including Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest mystery, The Claret Murders. For signed copies, go to the author’s online store. unsigned print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes& Noble, and other online bookstores. For an audio editon of The Claret Murders go to The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes’ iBookstore.

Structured Planning

Structured Planning:While planning is a continuous and dynamic process, that doesn’t mean it lacks structure.  It has to have a starting point; and then it is dynamically adjusted and communicated as conditions change, assumptions are adjusted, and temporary targets are replaced with new ones, etc.  The Structured Planning icon above conveys that one cannot develop operational plans or budgets without having a strategic view that those operational plans and budgets support.  Structure is a critical part of the planning process, and the one I have followed over the years involves nine main areas to be addressed—and continuously readdressed—by the planning team in the order listed.

Nature of your enterprise (business, division, group, etc.):  What it is and how it operates today:
History of the business (outline of important events); Organization, key management, committees; Billing methods and collection methods; Products, services, expense recovery method; Description of the market; Recruitment; Marketing, networking, referral practices, sales methods; Client intake methods and standards; Competition and market share; Quality control and client satisfaction.

Historical performance: Five-year financials which benchmark comparisons of key performance indicators such as days of inventory, days to collect bills, margin percentage, customer satisfaction—the key success drivers for your particular business, department or activity.

Environment in which you operate:
Economic conditions; Labor force; Technology; Governmental issues; Nature of market and competition.

Opportunities/Capabilities (SWOT):
Our strengths; Our weaknesses; Threats; Our best opportunities such as: new products to existing clients-same products to new markets-new products to new markets-performance improvements.

Economic; Labor force; Technology; Governmental impacts;Nature of market.

Objectives—Mission/Strategic Thrust:
Mission, goal and/or objective; Main things required to achieve objective; The main opportunities and the risks and/or weaknesses that require action; Strategies for achieving those main things; Tactics or programs to implement or support strategies.

Policies/Procedures (changes or new ones needed):
Existing policies requiring change, New policies needed.
Strategies/Programs Summary:
Main things for success of each strategy; Tactics (programs) to implement strategies; Key indicators (measurements) of achievements.

Priorities and Schedules:
Programs; New processes; New assets or resources; Measurement capability.

Organization and Delegation: Organization Chart; Who is responsible for what? Job or position descriptions.

Once the overall strategic plan is developed, each major department or group should go through the same planning process, and that planning process becomes input into the firm-wide plan.  Which comes first the chicken or the egg--the strategic plan or the operational plan, the enterprise-wide plan or the segment plans, etc.?  The answer is each is shaped by the other over time.  Since planning occurs continually, it is impossible to tell.
Planning is a discovery process.  Sometimes it is a discovery of the obvious and sometimes it breaks new ground.  The one thing you can count on is that we are far more likely to get there if we know where we are going and how we are supposed to get there.  I refer to that as I65 North.  I65 North is a reminder that the business is a journey and that leadership’s job is to get all of the firm’s people traveling in the same direction.  Planning gets the team playing from the same playbook.  It prepares the team for the future, equipping it to capitalize on its opportunities. 


Mysteries by Tom Collins include Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer and the newest, The Claret Murders.   For signed copies go to Print and ebook editions are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online bookstores. The ebook edition for the iPad is available through Apple iTunes' iBookstore.