I'm optimistic about business planning for 2010, and I'm expecting it to be a good year. People are going to do more and better business planning. This is the year for getting key planning elements defined and understood, for regular plan review and course correction, and for more focus on the planning process. All of which means, in a nutshell, that more businesses will benefit from better planning processes. Ultimately, that means more businesses, more jobs and more success.

Why? Three factors:

Factor No. 1: The natural backlash of the 'don't plan' fad
It's silly, really, but contrarian is cool. So if you look, you can find people (who should know better) bashing business plans. Investors supposedly don't read them, and some of the most successful startups didn't have one. The logic here is a lot like saying healthy eating and regular exercise aren't valuable because some people exaggerate one or the other.

Of course, the kernel of truth in all this is that real business planning is about management, not about a one-time-use document that's drafted and then left in a drawer. So the whole bit about the misuse of the document is irrelevant.

This underlying truth is precisely why I'm saying business planning is coming up in the world. The more you see experts harping about the straw-man business plan that wasn't that useful, the more we're going to see people turning to real business planning because they need it. Business planning isn't creating a one-time-use document; it's about managing better and navigating a company through dangers toward long-term goals.

Factor No. 2: Back to planning fundamentals
Trends are taking us back to fundamentals. In the case of business planning, it was never really just about the plan. Consider these two basics of business:

  • Form follows function. When you get down to business basics, the plan should only be as big as it takes to meet the business need. If you have the need to show a plan document to some outsider, you might have to do the full formal thing. But most of us just need to manage better. For this, a much smaller, simpler plan coupled with a planning process to build in regular review and course corrections is sufficient.
  • Planning is about managing change. Laughably, some anti-business-plan sentiments argue that a business plan reduces flexibility. In truth, good planning increases your ability to manage change by providing you clear visibility of how everything links together. For example, when sales are different than projected in the plan--and they always are--you have tools for making adjustments to expenses, which means that good business planning helps your company manage rapid change better.

Factor No. 3: New age of accountability
Recently, some smart person said we can drop the "virtual" from virtual business, because it's just assumed these days. We work online from different computers. We travel. We work remotely. It's part of the age.

Meanwhile, what happens to accountability? What has to happen is metrics, measurement and keeping track of things. You can't assume that showing up is enough anymore; things have to get done. And that means getting done remotely, or virtually, or wherever and whenever.

And that is a matter of planning: real planning, tracking, managing and following up. Set the steps down somewhere accessible, and then meet regularly to review and revise.