With 2016 just around the corner, I’ve recently had an epiphany about the importance of strategic planning. After years of being challenged by friends at smaller companies about why I spend so much time planning, I can now definitively prove why planning is not only a good investment of time, but actually critically important to running a scaled organization.
The epiphany came while I was talking to the leader of a different team. I was asking for her help on a specific project. It was a very important project – critical for our success in the New Year – so I thought for sure she would be able to help out. Unfortunately the leader told me that she could not afford to take on the project due to resourcing.
This really irked me – surely the leader of the other team could see that this was a critical project. Why didn’t the team have the resources I needed? Well – the truth is – the reason they didn’t have resources for me was because they didn’t know earlier that those resources were going to be necessary. Until I asked, they had no idea that I wanted to get the project done. Because they didn’t staff to support me, it became a zero-sum-game. In order to help me with my project, they would have to make a hard tradeoff against other projects already in flight.
Aha! Epiphany. Two problems with this situation.
- The leader of the other team didn’t understand my strategy.
- I had not asked upfront for help with the project, so the right people were not hired to support me.
On #1: it’s not essential for the leader of the other team to know every intricacy of my product strategy – but she does need to know enough so that she can resource her team appropriately to support me. The more she knows, the more she will understand the importance of the projects I propose and the more she will be able to reasonably predict which projects will come along and when. Heck – if she understands the strategy well enough, she will almost certainly propose projects that are even more valuable than the ones I thought of!
On #2: as org leaders, the two of us need to agree well in advance (start of the quarter or start of the year) on what major projects we’re going to work on together so we can have the right people in place to complete the work.
If the other leader had understood my strategy and we had agreed on the plan at the beginning of the year, she could have written her plan so that we would have the right people to get the critical work done.
Planning is all about counting on other people to do things. Agreeing up front on what we are going to do – so we don’t have to fight one-off skirmishes with other leaders regarding what the team should be working on at any given moment. When we are all aligned to the same strategy and agree (high level) on the projects that need to get done, we are all pushing forward together as one unit in complete alignment.
When it works well – it’s a truly beautiful thing.