I am guessing some of you have worked with some planning activities for where to move the business next. Be it your next yearly budget, defining the goals for the next strategy overhaul, or some form of a business systems planning. People spend too much time, and effort in hypothesizing some future according to their projections and the data skewed to in that favor to be walloped by the reality that things don’t work as intended. And the recourse from that is yet set up new meetings, explaining we did our best but didn’t succeed, and in most cases, the management will ask to fix the problem and move on. And to no surprise, the cycle will continue, and the same will happen in a form I like to call the organization dementia.
I have engaged in many enterprise architecture initiatives where the sole purpose of projecting the future based on the current business needs. I spend a couple of weeks or months in understanding the business, drafting its architecture, finding systems that realize the architecture, and then proposing a road map to reach that said future. But guess what, I have never seen anyone realizing that future, aside from core system development. And after all of those experiences, I believe that there might never be a perfect situation where the future is realized according to plan. It is like Marx said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.“
So what makes any prediction impossible to achieve? Well, it is the fact that we are living in an ever-changing world; flaps of butterfly wings can cause the weather change around its surroundings. But let’s scale it down and look into it from a business perspective, what causes our expectations and planning to fail continuously? One thing is that people tend to weave expectations based on their narrow experiences and desires. This is human nature and will never change whether we liked it or not.
Another thing is that people change and organization remains, that is if they don’t collapse, get bankrupt, or merged. What planned placed in a couple of months back might be refactored due to new management in place. It takes a couple of clicks from the organization chairman to change the whole management personnel and to retract and develop new strategies.
Markets, or extended enterprises, play the most crucial factor that wipes the whole organization’s ambitions and actions. Things like having a new competitor entering the market, a vendor leaving the market, new regulations, or the lack of it, and the presentient of anti-clients can destroy years of the organization effort in no time. Just a new technical innovation can render the organization value proposition to an absolute state.
So among the many challenges foreseeable or unforeseeable, how should a business plan for its future? I tend to suggest a couple of points for my clients follow as a prelude to any planning activity:
- Be adoptive: The fine ingrained element of any business in this era is to structure itself to become adoptive to any charges imposed. I know the term agile is much better to describe the situation, but that term is widely overused to the point it is becoming a marketing ploy.
- Utilize strategical scenario planning: Among the strategy discipline, there are the processes of developing multiple possible scenarios that occur to disrupt the strategy and what are the mitigations plans at hand. Of course, I will place an empathizes on the mitigations cause many of the best clients I have met don’t elaborate on the mitigations if, with the stroke of luck, they do have the scenarios at hand.
- Reduce expectations: This one is quite clear as the worst enemy of a man is himself. If you have set among shareholders or their CXOs, you will often see them congratulating themselves on the idea that they just brought at the table, and the remaining part is to translate those ideas into projects that real money.
- Follow a more lean organization decision making and actions: I tend to set the Chinese CCP governing model as an example for such point. Once the CCP decides on its strategical direction, it will cascade each of the objectives to every state head in China, and the administrator has full autonomy on how he/she could achieve the goals (Centralized decision making and distributed delivery mechanism). Of course, this is set with a robust governing model to ensure that no one jeopardizes the whole organization.
- Follow the Value: This one is quite clear, but never have I seen organization backtracking on how the value is created. Any decision should be associated with the value proposition the organization provides to its end customers. Let all the plans explicitly state its role in enhancing the value proposition to place a compass on moving the enterprise.