For Real Planning, Start With the Review Schedule

Stop letting all your management plans slip through your fingers with efficient meetings that track progress.

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By Tim Berry

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

My favorite suggestion for your business plan this month is that you go--right now--into your plan and set up its review schedule.

That's right--I hope it surprises you. Why worry about the subtleties of an executive summary, language or a market analysis if you don't have the most important element for actually using and working a plan?

Planning isn't complete unless you've planned for review. People in management should know that initiating any plan is only one part of managing that plan. Much like steering a car, you also need to make necessary course corrections every now and then without losing track of the long-term goals. Without plan reviewing, your business is like a car with a locked steering wheel.

To establish consistent review meetings, schedule a particular day for it, like the third Friday of every month. Make sure the main people involved are invited to those review meetings.

When you set the schedule in advance, it is harder for key team members to come up with reasons not to be there. Sure, occasionally there is some command performance that can't be helped, necessary business travel, people sick, or whatever; but having the dates ahead of time makes the plan review more likely to happen.

And if you're running your business alone, or there's just two or three of you, it's still a good idea to set the review schedule. People need reminders. It'll also help you to remember review key points, your main assumptions, and where you want to go with your plan. We all forget sometimes, so we need a reminder to take a step back, and look at the larger picture.

Here are some tips for making your plan review as useful as possible:

  • Start your review meetings by discussing key assumptions. This is why it's so important to list those assumptions so they're fresh in your mind.
  • Keeping changes in strategy and changes in assumptions related to one another.
  • Keep review meetings as short as possible. One of the biggest threats to an effective planning process is spending too much time in meetings discussing the same things.
  • Emphasize metrics. How do actual metrics compare to plan metrics? Discuss variances, the differences between the planned and the actual numbers. The obvious metrics are the financial results, but don't let those be the only metrics.
  • Be aware of the "crystal ball and chain" phenomenon. Don't let planning become a no-win game in which people commit to future metrics that come back to bite them. Make sure planning is collaborative, so that it's always understood that change can happen and when managed, is good. Planning helps us manage change; it doesn't keep track of how bad we are at predicting the future.

Even though it may feel unnatural, the plan-as-you-go technique I described in last month's column will soon become second nature. Sometimes people don't want to record their plans for their peers. Setting the review schedule in advance sends the message that this plan will be tracked, reviewed and managed, which makes it that much more important to every employee involved.

Tim Berry

Entrepreneur, Business Planner and Angel Investor

Tim Berry is the chairman of Eugene, Ore.-Palo Alto Software, which produces business-planning software. He founded Bplans.com and wrote The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press. Berry is also a co-founder of HavePresence.com, a leader in a local angel-investment group and a judge of international business-plan competitions.

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