Business planning - decision making

Your Operating Tempo Determines a Strategic Plan’s Timeframe

Defaulting to a standard five-year business plan may not necessarily
match your organisation’s decision process.

Upon moving into the private sector, I was surprised to see the designation of five-year business plans as standard. Why?

Some consulting companies recommend 10- or 20-year plans with shorter initiatives included. Three-year plans for start-ups seem to be the norm, and across the board an annual review is recommended.

So, what is right? In answer, I pose some other questions:

  • What is the length of your senior management’s decision cycle?
  • How long does it take your organisation to step through the observation of a major issue, its implications, decide on a plan, and most importantly action the solution?
  • How rapidly could your organisation capture a new opportunity?
  • How quickly could you grow full capacity to do so?

For start-ups:

  • What is the acceptable timeframe to transform an idea into reality and achieve initial product release?
  • How much effort and time will each stage take?
  • What risks are you willing to accept?

Additionally, you may require different timeframes for the review of particular initiatives. When I was running a training school, it was usual to have quarterly reviews with the leadership team. For my tenure of two years, I had five goals to either achieve or which I could initiate lasting change. A quarterly timeframe suited both the review of current operations and issues as well as progress of the goals. But not all goals were necessarily discussed in detail. I tailored my reviews to either the priority of effort or resources that were being put behind objectives at that time.

I maintained a watch to ensure no goal was being neglected, but two of the five goals had to be achieved in the first year, so that was obviously where priority initially lay. This approach worked well for me.

Depending on your business, the solution will most likely be the three- to five-year time period. But for others, the best way will be a 10- to 20-year timeframe with shorter step-by-step initiatives that will require their own strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Strategic plans and review must be tailored to your operating tempo and the nature of your organisation.

About the Author:

Jason Thomas is the Founder of de Montaigne Strategic Planning, which provides robust strategic planning and training services to small to medium-sized enterprises, not-for-profit organisations and government departments.

He has over 30 years’ experience in senior leadership, operational and planning roles across the military, public and private sectors. In addition, Jason holds numerous degrees and qualifications including Gold Mastery Certification with the Haines Centre for Strategic Management.