09 March 2010

Fractured Planning Processes

In a report entitled Retail Merchandising: Buckling Down in a Tough Economy, authors Paula Rosenbaum and Steve Rowen of Retail Systems Research (RSR) tell us that nearly half (47% on average, but 55% of performing laggards in the survey) of respondents to their survey said that their leading business challenge was “fractured [inventory] planning processes.”

Unfortunately, in the published report to which I have access, Rosenbaum and Rowen do not elaborate on just what the respondents consider to be a “fractured planning process,” although the accompanying prose tends to suggest that this description relates to business processes tied to inventory planning that are not unified or even in good end-to-end communications across the enterprise and beyond.

A common problem

While this survey deals with retailers and inventory specifically, it does highlight a problem in small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) that I have observed for nearly 30 years: that is, the lack of “planning” at all. For sure, most SMBs do develop plans for special projects. If they are going to purchase new or upgraded technologies, build a new or extend existing facilities, open a new location, or add a new product line, then they do prepare and plan in a more or less formal way.

What executives and managers do not do on a regular basis is develop a plan for making more money – both now and in the future. Most executives tend to get their business rolling and then set the “cruise control.” Then, with the vehicle barreling down the road, they spend their time fighting fires and trying to keep up the organization’s momentum with little or no thought about how the terrain (read: business environment) has changed until something big hits (like a recession or big competitor appears on the horizon).

So, what keeps executives from “planning” more frequently and more effectively for business improvement?

My experience suggests the some blend of following key components comprise the answer:

  1. Many executives developed a business plan once, and now they have a business. It never occurred to them that planning for “improving” the business is required or would even help. Being entrepreneurs, they tend to manage by the seat of their pants and trust their “gut” for what will bring improvement.
  2. You can’t drain the swamp when you’re up to your neck in alligators. Many executives spend the bulk of their time being reactive, rather than proactive. There time is spent taking care of things that others don’t get done or fighting fires so people can return to doing what they need to do to keep the business running.
  3. Unless something big is happening, most executives don’t think time spent in “planning” – rather than “doing” – is a good investment.
  4. Far too many executives do not know of – or know how to apply – a good “tool” for effective planning. In the absence of a good tool, most executives feel that time spent in planning is not going to be effective anyway.
  5. Things are changing too fast. We just need to do the best we can to survive, right now. Of course, in good times, or when things were not “changing too fast,” these same executives used other excuses for not planning.

A POOGI: A Process Of On-Going Improvement

In times like these – challenging economic times – it is more important than ever for executives and managers in companies that hope to survive despite the economic upheaval to make a concerted effort at ongoing improvement. That is, to start a POOGI within their firm.


Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete for the consumers dollars.  If you are not improving your value proposition in a process of on-going improvement, then day-by-day your products and services are losing out. Dollars that used to come your way are now going to other businesses – and I don’t mean just businesses that you see as your competitors. I’m talking about dollars that consumers used to spend for your goods and services are now going, instead, to buy groceries, fuel, or pay off credit cards – anywhere but into your bank account. That’s why you need a plan to increase the value of your offerings in an on-going way.

How to begin

How should you begin a POOGI?

You should begin by figuring out your present situation. You need to unlock your organization’s “tribal knowledge” and understand your current reality. Naturally, the right tool for doing this is called the Current Reality Tree (CRT).

For more information on Current Reality Trees, including step-by-step information on how to begin constructing one, click here. If you would like to have help unlocking your firm’s “tribal knowledge” effectively and in constructing your CRT, then contact me directly.

Next steps

Once your CRT has given you and your management team a clearer view of what needs to change, the next step is to decide what should the change look like. In other words, if you and your team took steps to reduce or eliminate Un-Desirable Effects (UDEs – pronounced: YOU-dee-eez) revealed by your CRT, what would your organizational cause-and-effect flow look like? The Thinking Processes tool used to expose this future state is called the Future Reality Tree (FRT).

Other of the Thinking Processes may also be applied, including:

  • Evaporating Cloud
  • Prerequisite Tree
  • Negative Branch Reservations

However, for your “planning roadmap,” the tool that will you and your team move from where you are today (your CRT) to your planned future state (FRT), you will want to build a Transition Tree (TrT).

Again, if you’d like to have assistance in effectively applying the Thinking Processes and in creating a POOGI in your organization, then feel free to contact me directly. But, whatever you do, do not sit and do nothing and let the recession drive one more enterprise out of business.

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

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