Plan Optimization: The Last Mile of Strategy

By Amanda Shelley

plan-optimization-the-last-mile-of-strategy

Plan Optimization: The Last Mile of Strategy

At AchieveIt, we constantly talk about the gap between planning and execution. Organizations create great plans but often fail to realize those initiatives. While this is tremendously important, there’s another significant problem that many organizations face – finalizing a plan.

It’s not uncommon for organizations to get to the 10-yard line when creating their plan, but then struggle to make it to the end zone. In many cases, the last 10-20% – making minor optimization adjustments – is the most important part of the planning process, as it drives the ability to execute the plan itself.

We regularly help clients push through this late-stage resistance through our Plan Optimization Workshop. In these sessions, we focus on driving five key elements:

1. Quantitative Outcomes

If you are a big sports fan, you likely know plenty of statistics about your favorite team. Whether it’s in-game or post-game, you have the statistics at your fingertips to diagnose the team’s performance, as all good armchair coaches do. But what about people who aren’t as knowledgeable or as big of fans?

No matter how big of a sports fan you may or may not be, there’s one thing all individuals can easily identify the same: the score – who’s winning and who’s losing. While the detailed stats (RBIs, FT%, YDS/A, A/GP, Saves, etc.) are extremely important to understand individual performance, just looking at acute metrics makes it challenging to know which team is winning overall especially if any information is missing.

Just because LeBron scored 46 individual points, doesn’t necessarily mean the Cavs won the game (though it probably does).

The scoreboard principle applies to organizations too. There is plenty of data available at the fingertips of individuals throughout the organization. But, this data overload causes two primary problems: 1) not everyone has or understands all the data; and 2) there’s no “score,” no one metric under which everyone is aligned and measuring against to determine overall success.

Identify the quantitative outcomes that will drive your strategy to success. Move away from terms like develop, implement, and deploy when they can be replaced by increase, decrease, and maintain. By identifying what numbers you have and where they need to move to, you will be on your way to knowing the “score” and identifying the success of your plan.

2. Defined Accountabilities

Everyone has been in the situation where a team meets to discuss progress of initiatives, only to find out that the action items weren’t completed. Why did that happen? Most likely because the “team” said they would do it.

When items aren’t assigned to one person, it’s often left to a “team” and when it’s left to a “team” it’s often left to no one.

To finalize a successful plan, make sure each item in the plan (whether it be an objective, goal, project, or other task) is assigned out to one person. It’s always great to include the others as “members” on the team, but you need one single accountable party to drive success. This chosen leader should be the one closest to the work and most likely to provide a comprehensive update.

3. Firm Due Dates

Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a natural procrastinator inside of all of us just waiting to get out (when they get around to it). While it may be a more severe challenge for some individuals, many people across organizations struggle with prioritizing work and initiatives, especially over longer time frames.

Many organizations make the mistake of aligning all their work over the full course of their plan. One-year plan? Everything starts Jan 1 and ends Dec 31. Multi-year plan? Well, it just gets worse from there. Improper generic start and due dates will plague your plan at the hands of inevitable procrastination.

In the process of finalizing your plan, be sure to check the accuracy and practicality of your start and due dates. Conduct the proper due diligence to spread the work over the course of the plan and ensure that you are not overloading any team or individual over certain time periods.

If you do end up having goals that spread over a longer period (e.g. long-term metric goals), be sure to establish periodic benchmark goals to compare. For example, if you have an annual revenue target, instead of just tracking towards the annual goal, add in quarterly or monthly targets to gauge your success throughout the year.

4. A Cadence of Accountability

How often do you typically review the progress of your plan and initiatives? If you are like most organizations, the answer is typically either “we try to do it monthly/quarterly/etc.” or “whenever we are asked for an update.” In both situations, you are left with ad hoc discussions and piecemeal execution, limiting the visibility into true performance and trends.

To improve this scenario in the final planning process, establish a cadence of accountability for how often updates are requested across your plan. It’s also important to ensure the timing of these requests is consistent and reasonable. If results are only available quarterly, don’t ask for updates each month. Vice versa, if you have access to monthly updates, don’t rely only on quarterly progress updates.

Not sure where to start? Begin with a monthly update cadence and adjust from there. Unless an initiative is extremely urgent and pressed for time, I wouldn’t recommend updating more frequently than every month until a strong culture and process is in place.

5. Alignment

Plain and simple, alignment is connecting all your plan items together. Alignment displays the hierarchy/structure of you plan, ensuring initiatives are connected to each other, to overall goals, and to individuals’ tasks – and that you aren’t open to white space risk.

Does your plan naturally cascade work with Objectives, Goals, Strategies, Projects, or a similar format? If not, be sure to set your plan up like a “family tree.” In addition to helping keep you organized, individuals will now understand how their daily roles and workload align to the overall priorities of the organization.

Crossing the Finish Line

It’s easy to be excited about getting all your ideas down and finishing a play. It can be tempting to get to work right away, but without making sure these last-stretch plan items are in place, you’re setting yourself up to fall into the same traps over and over again.

Our hope is these 5 tips will move your plan across the goal line to be prepared fully for successful execution.

Still struggling with finalizing your plan or getting the execution efforts you hoped to achieve? Let us know! We can connect on driving success forward and conducting a
Plan Optimization Workshop
for you and your team.