What distinguishes a great business plan from a good one?
This is the last of four questions posed to me last week by an MBA student, who asked me to help his research by answering his questions. The other three are in my most recent, previous posts. The better question than this one, and therefore the better answer, is 8 Factors that Make a Good Business Plan that I posted here last week.
So I have several answers to this question:
1. I don't know.
Paintings can be great, but maps can't. Novels can be great, but directions can't. Businesses can be great, at least at times, or at certain moments, but business plans can't. I've seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of business plans. I've never seen a great one. I think.
2. Great Results
This is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for business plan greatness. Great results doesn't mean it was a great plan; but anything less than that means it wasn't great. "Great" is a strong word. Still, if the plan didn't produce great results, but would have had it been implemented, then it just wasn't great. Great plans get implemented.
That's not just casual coincidence. Great plans include manageable, concrete, measurable specifics that lead the team gently down the way to successful results.
Successful implementation of a plan doesn't make it great. It's a necessity, but alone not sufficient to warrant the appellation great. It's a cop-out, I know, but "great" is a very powerful (and overused) word, and a business plan that doesn't get results can't possibly be a great plan. No matter how good.
3. Synchronicity = magic = invisible inevitability
This is when things come together, at exactly the right time, so that what was entirely hidden before, now becomes so obvious that it seems like it was always inevitable. This is the complete surprise that seems a moment later like it had always been completely obvious.
I've seen only a very few business plans that might be considered candidates, at least for flashes of greatness. One that comes to mind was in 1983, when JRT Pascal had gone bankrupt selling product at $29.95 while Microsoft Pascal cost $450, and Philippe Kahn brought out Turbo Pascal at $49.95. Perhaps Google, when Yahoo! had made a new search engine seem impossible. Maybe it was Federal Express reinventing "absolutely positively has to be there." The Macintosh, perhaps, or the iPod?
4. Repeat Number 1
It's not the plan, it's the planning process, the people, the idea, the moment, the market, the innovation.