How to Tell if Your Plan is Structured for Execution

By Jonathan Morgan

plan-structured-for-execution

How to Tell if Your Plan is Structured for Execution

Have you ever created a plan that wasn’t properly executed? Whether it was a strategic or other business plan or for a personal goal, it may have been difficult to understand why this meticulously-made plan with all its potential died in the process of execution.

While there are many reasons for failure to execute (how you define success, time management, or the planning fallacy to name a few), one I’ve recently seen more and more is that the basic structure of the plan is weak.

As a leader in your organization, the actual building of your plan can be done following any number of methodologies, but in the end, your plan has to address certain key elements to set your team up for successful execution.

Complex Terminology is Making Your Plan Weak

Earlier this week, I read a great article by Graham Kenny in the Harvard Business Review. In it, he discusses how most organizational leaders can’t properly develop a “strategy,” just by putting pen to paper. When asked to write down a “strategy,” most leaders instead give an “objective” or “action” instead of a true strategy – multi-layered, results-driven, actionable, and addressing the who-what-when-where-why-how of achieving each goal.

I immediately related to the scenario of an executive setting out to author a strategy; it’s something I see more frequently than I’d like to admit. What a lot of leaders may not understand is that strategies must be built, layer by layer, with the help of employees at each level to be able to target the specific challenges your organization is facing.

There are many specific planning methodologies – like Balanced Scorecard, OKRs, or Lean Six Sigma – that are touted as the end-all solutions to plan management. However, these approaches are usually bogged down with so much particular vernacular that too often leave organizations with a plan with language that’s jumbled by buzzwords and trendy phrases that aren’t fully understood or thought out.

The result? These plans could lack clear definition masked behind all the terminology.

Ground Your Plan in Strong Structure

As Graham Kenny mentioned in the HBR article, developing a plan should involve system design and conscious thought into how it cascades properly throughout the organization.

This is the only goal leaders building business plan should aim for.

The words and language you use don’t really matter.

When I uncover this exact plan formulation problem with customers, I’m often asked for recommendations on a proper structure to enhance execution. With so many prescribed methodologies and techniques available, what’s the best way to plan?

This may sound blasphemous to some in the strategy world, but for me, I don’t care if you call something a goal or objective, strategy or initiative. As long as your organization knows what each term means, your plan will gain its strength from structure, and not the terms.

So, what do I recommend then? I’ve outlined a basic 5-level structure below that will enable success.

Note that while there are levels to this plan, all five levels may not apply to every organization. You may find your company doesn’t need the broad-sweeping focus of level 1, while others may not need the detail in level 5. Its about finding balance and the proper approach for your organization.

Level 1 – Organize Your Plan by Theme

Theme is the top, most organizational level of your plan. Themes are used to bucket the rest of the plan into organizational categories of the business.

You might choose to segment your plan based on departments, areas of focus, or geolocations, for example. The theme you choose will give you those breakdowns.

Some smaller plans or organizations may not need this additional level.

Level 2 – Define the Goals You Want to Accomplish

Goals define what your business is striving to complete. Statements at this level are generally a sentence or two, outlining where you want to be in the future.

Think of it as a miniature Vision statement. An example of a good goal would be, “To become the top service provider in the Southeast,” or “To be top 5 in patient satisfaction.”

Every type of plan – even plans for personal goals – must have these definitions of success.

Level 3 – Quantify Objectives with Metrics

Objectives are the quantitative outcomes that will help you reach your goals. Assign the KPIs, metrics, or measurements to your goals that will signal when you’ve “become the top service provider in the southeast.”

As discussed previously, quantitative metrics are crucial to measuring the success of your objectives and your plan. An objective shouldn’t be to implement, develop, or deploy something – it should be to increase, decrease, or maintain a certain figure.

Again, most types of plans will need this level of detail to know when you’ve reached your goals.

Level 4 – Define Your Strategy or Plan of Attack

As the HBR article outlines, the strategies in your plan will be the adjustments you make in order to accomplish your objectives.

These could be traditional business strategies, or in some organizations, they could be the initiatives and projects meant to steer the organization in the right direction.

Level 5 – List Your Tactical Action Items

The last level of the plan are your tactics. As expected, these are the smaller items that make up your strategies. They are the bite-sized pieces that allow you to realize your strategy.

These could be referred to as milestones, deliverables, or something else altogether – again, it’s not the vernacular that’s important. Whatever you call them – these are the action items your team can take to make your strategy happen.

A Plan by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

Remember, at its core, a strategic plan will help guide your organization to achieve its goals.

If you start to get hung up on “correctly” defining your future state during the plan creation process, remember that your plan is only a series of bets placed around the organization. From the bottom level up, you’re hoping the bets you cash in increase exponentially as you cascade up the plan. By accomplishing your tactics, you complete your strategies, moving the needle in the right way on your objectives, and positioning you to achieve your goal.

Since you are placing bets, it makes sense to give yourself and your organization the best chance of winning. That’s why organizations create plans structured for execution and use AchieveIt to properly track and monitor.