A business is very much like a sailboat – it needs up to the minute direction
While business plans may be out of date before the ink dries, the orderly progress of a growth business still depends on having a coherent game-plan. The key is to create a dynamic feedback loop, to keep things on track and up to date. Here are some other benefits of the planning and feedback loop.
1 A daily journal
A project plan can provide a guide for dally efforts. By keeping project notes in a loose-leaf binder new ideas can be added and daily efforts guided in a kind of journal. On those mornings where we struggle to get moving, there will be a document of your thinking up to 7 pm the day before. The notes could be taken from online project management software, which suffers in this regard from being a public document. A personal loose-leaf binder of notes creates a “personal project plan” – we still believe the pencil and paper has a place in the project office!
2 Small organisations favoured
Project plans can be more relevant to small business than mega-corporations like Citigroup! Large entities may be ungovernable as events in recent years have shown. The benefits of “going through the motions” of planning and reporting may be dubious at best, and at worst a sham. On size alone, small businesses are still at a stage where benefits can accrue as there is less scope for politics.
3 A tool for promoting the business
A business plan is a crucial sales document. Like it or not, banks, investors, employees, suppliers, creditors need the message a plan carries.
4 A ready-made tracking structure
Why not go a step further and treat a growing SME as a project?
A project provides a ready-made structure for tracking progress. By breaking up the tracking into best practice categories such as cost, time, quality, activities, dates and so on there is a ready reporting format. A project plan typically includes elements such as:
A scope plan
The scope of an SME project could include a roadmap, a list of milestones, and goals for operations, sales and costs.
A time plan
The time plan might be in the familiar MS project format.
A cost plan
The investment required in each phase of a project can be tracked against the accounting records
A communications plan
The communications plan will schedule a program of messages, their timing and format to all stakeholders in the project – directors, employees, banks, customers and suppliers as necessary.
A human resources plan
This will provide estimates of employees and contractors needed to develop the business.
An issues and risks log
The project planning discipline provides a mechanism to capture and deal with all issues and risks arising.
A quality plan
This allows a standard to be set for the development of product and processes.
One page Status reports
Status reporting can be brought to a fine art by instituting a one page report policy. Under this, all necessary commentary would be contained on no more than one page. This promotes a concise way of capturing progress for weekly / monthly reporting with minimal time overhead. It provides a continuous flow of information between the team members. Milestones, issues and risks, objectives, tasks, timelines, costs, and headline or “take-out” news will all be covered.
5 End to end accounting
While the roadmap and business plan will not be at a detailed level, the big picture will provide the basis for a detailed operational budget as appropriate to feed into the accounting package. The key is continuity; the strategic roadmap is translated into a robust business plan, and then broken down into detailed sections in operational budgets.