Yes, I admit; I’ve used “business plans are always wrong” a few times in slides, blog posts, and even in both of my two latest books. It’s an important concept. Way too many people misunderstand the point of business planning and assume that because we can’t predict the future, we shouldn’t plan.
Which prompts me to ask: does the fact that flights are often delayed and sometimes cancelled suggest you shouldn’t make reservations to fly? Does the fact that weather or traffic jams might change the optimal route mean you don’t want to plan a driving trip? How can you justify not planning your business with the fact that things change?
I say take that a step further: business plans are always wrong.
That’s because we’re human. Business plans predict the future. We humans suck at predicting the future.
Paradox: nonetheless, planning is vital. Planning means starting with the plan and then tracking, reviewing progress, watching plan vs. actual results, correcting the course without losing sight of the long-term destination.
Planning is a process, like walking or steering, that involves constant corrections.
- The plan sets a marker. Without it we can’t track how we were wrong, in what direction, and when, and with what assumptions.
- Use this marker to manage the constant conflict between short-term problems and long-term goals. You don’t just implement a plan, no matter what. You work that plan. Use it to maintain your vision of progress towards the horizon, while dealing with the everyday problems, putting out fires.
- So the plan may be wrong, but the planning process is vital.
The truth is that forecasting is hard. Nobody likes forecasting. But one thing harder than forecasting is trying to run a business without a forecast.
A business plan is normally full of holes, but you fill them, after the fact, with the management that follows. That’s what turns planning into management.
Good planning is nine parts implementation for every one part strategy. And you heard that one from me first.
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