There may seem little point in medium-term 1-3 year strategic planning during a crisis. But decisions taken today have ramifications down the line, so having a plan with stated objectives is helpful to making the right ones.
The problem is that standard strategic planning is time-consuming and requires a baseline and stable environment to be effective, neither of which are present in a crisis.
You need a strategic planning technique that can handle uncertainty in both current and future states and be developed quickly and updated frequently.
Minimum Viable Business Planning
Also known as MVBP, combines agile principles with a strategy execution process to enable planning in highly dynamic situations such as the COVID crisis.
An MVBP is developed quickly and virtually by management teams through a series of discussions:
Discussion 1: Current State
- What is the cash position?
- What key issues and decisions we are facing?
- Which parts of the business are most challenged?
Discussion 2: Future Perspective
- What are the best-case and worst-case market scenarios for the next 18 months?
- What new growth opportunities are there likely to be?
- What do we collectively think is going to happen?
Discussion 3: Strategic Options
- What are the options for scope and size of the business over the next 18 months?
- What does each option look like financially?
- What are the external dependencies of each option?
Discussion 4: Choice and Implications
- Which option do we feel most confident about and committed to?
- What does that option imply we should stop and start?
- What changes to the existing plan and budgets are implied?
These four discussions can be completed in one day, given some high level financial and market input.
The key to initial MVBP is speed. Limit the time for each discussion and individual contributions. Limit any PowerPoint presentations to 2 slides. Do not get bogged down in elaborate future scenarios. The business leader has the final say on which option to take forward into plan development.
Following the meeting, translate the preferred option into a set of 4-6 strategic objectives and assign these to owners. Owners should then define initiatives and indicators, as well as delivery commitments for the next 2 weeks. Document the plan in a spreadsheet or strategy execution software tool.
Review the plan every 2 weeks
The power of MVBP lies in a plan-do-review cycle of 2-week sprints:
- Meet every fortnight for 2 hours
- Start with an overall business financial and market update
- Establish if any fundamentals have changed that invalidate the plan – if they have, then repeat the process from the beginning
Then spend 15 minutes reviewing each strategic objective, with each owner providing an update on:
- Actions completed in the last fortnight
- Objective status against indicators
- Recommended revisions if any
These meetings act like retrospectives in agile software development, by capturing lessons learned from the sprint and identifying what elements of the plan need to be adjusted for the next one.
As the market stabilizes post-crisis, alter the cadence of review meetings to monthly and introduce a quarterly whole-MVBP review.
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There is no contradiction between having a plan and being responsive to change. The current business environment demands both. MVBP exposes the key planning assumptions to test by experience. Implementing MVBP helps develop a more agile approach to strategy that balances planning and entrepreneurship.