Are business plans relevant any more?

Are business plans relevant any more?

Are Business Plans Relevant Anymore?


Are Business Plans really Relevant Anymore?

Some would say that business plans aren't relevant anymore because the business environment is too dynamic and unpredictable. They would say the business plans are at risk of becoming outdated as soon as they are published, so therefore they are not relevant and can be a distraction.  Instead one should should have a "rolling direction or individual plans". 

And there is an element of truth in these observations - but please "don't throw the baby out with the bath water"!

Our business environment is truly dynamic -- which is requiring businesses to at time "pivot" and respond to the changes.  However responding to the changes should be done in a way that is informed by the market data and not just copying others or capriciously changing course.

The concept and implementation of "lean" and "holistic" business plans give companies and organisations valuable guidance which deflects "knee-jerk reactions" that could distract or take the business in a sub-optimal direction.

"Lean" means that the business plan does not have a lot of "wastage" or unnecessary detail that doesn't add value -- and instead focuses on the key issues and actions.  


"Holistic" means the business plan doesn't just focus on the financials (which are an important foundation!)  A special focus is on changes in market understandings and updates on customer preferences.

One of my clients/Mentees was a unique catering business which didn't have a growth plan -- and therefore the owners remained working in the business and not on the business -- and could barely take a breath.

Another client/Mentee had a "successful" design business -- but now needed to have input on their re-branding and pivoting to their more lucrative markets. Business plans can help put all of the moving pieces in one place to ensure a comprehensive,pragmatic and holistic plan.  Without that, there would be considerable "false starts" and re-work!

If you would like more insights in how lean holistic business plans can contribute to your organisation, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation.  You can schedule a time with the following link:  Free phone consultation:   


What is a "Lean" and "Holistic" Business Plan?

Tim Berry is an Entrepreneur, Business Planner and Angel Investor, and has written and developed some of the best software for traditional and more contemporary business plans.

He has identified five ways to help make your business plan leaner:

1) Make strategy the heart of your plan.

Do the hard thinking of a focus on specific target markets using specific products or services.  "You can summarise strategy in bullet points, using charts or even with a series of images". 

My experience with some clients/Mentees has been that they sometimes neglect the important positioning of their product/services relative to competitors.  It is helpful if companies can simply articulate their unique selling proposition easily and effectively.  Sounds easy -- but sometimes isn't!

2) Summarise more, elaborate less.

I was previously a Past Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Management Consulting Services, and was trained in and helped clients deliver beautiful and well-written business plans -- which with hindsight (always easier) were at times and in portion over-engineered, with too much detail that didn't respect the "window of certainty", i.e. closer events you can estimate with better certainty than those further out.   So my learnings are that effective business plans provide just the level of detail that allows management and should be flexible to be reviewed in a planned way and revised -- to listen to what the market is telling you!

Your business plan is supported by eight key core concepts:

  • Market
  • Product or services
  • Production/delivery
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Distribution
  • Management
  • Finance

As Tim notes, "lean business planning means using more bullets and less text."

I also believe that it is helpful to have a brief section on "Risks and Risk Management" and, at times (and sometimes separately) a section on "Exit strategies".  These additional sections can evolve over time, but are often important anchors to remember and that inform key actions.

3) Track progress and manage course corrections constantly.

One can "track your progress with lists and tables...that you can use to course correct".  Make sure that these numbers are specific, concrete and measurable.

One of the "most important part of this is a list of milestones.   These are scheduled achievement and activities, each of which ought to have dates, budgets, performaance measurements, expectations for spending and sales received, and specific assignments for task responsibilities".

"Good planning also needs regularly updated projections of sales, costs, expenses and cash. The projections should be just detailed enough to offer good plan-verses-actual analysis for better management. For example, monthly projections are probably essential for at least the next six months, and usually 12 months is better; but monthly projections beyond a year are most often a waste of time. The goal isn't guessing right (which never happens) but rather laying out the probable results and connecting the dots (like expenses to sales) so you can track progress and make useful changes."

Putting in these "feedback loops" and involving the appropriate management in this process help to make the lean holistic business plan alive, relevant, and valuable in its guidance.  It also provides an audit trail of decisions and accountabilities -- which are to be seen as positive and value-adding.

4) Dress up your plan with descriptions.

"Descriptions you use to dress up your plan depending on the audience might include market details, technical or scientific background, company history, bios of the management team, generic market research, proof of concept and competitive analysis. Like clothes, you make these descriptions appropriate to the occasion. For example, you might need to prove a market to assure investor or to prove financial stability to assure bankers."

Again the key takeaways are to "not document for documentation sake" but in the lean tradition to provide only the documentation that adds value and not wastage.

Tables and figures can tell a thousand words, and the table should have the appropriate legends and sources -- but don't overwrite these sections.

5) Be consistent about updates.

The important part of lean holistic business plans are the periodic and planned updates, e.g. quarterly.  This makes these plans valuable in changing course based upon data and trends. 

"Planning for a startup is a lot like diet and exercise. Business planning is a process, not an event. Like diet and exercise, the key to staying lean is regular repetition over a long time to generate real positive benefits. You don’t do it once, or even once in a while. You review and revise your plan regularly."

The end result is a lean holistic business plan that evolves and changes as the market and customers change -- but in a planned and accountable way.


How Does One Implement an Effective Lean Holistic Business Plan?

With clients -- from start-ups to mature companies wanting to appropriately pivot or prepare for scaling -- I have found that simple 2 hour workshops with the key stakeholders can be very valuable.

That is, a partially filled out set of Powerpoint slides that contain some of the background information or relevant information to date are used for for then obtaining input and suggestions from the stakeholders.  

The ground rules are that there is no "topic" or input that cannot be proposed -- so there is respect and courtesy and honesty of all members.

For start-ups, we sometimes begin a workshop with a draft set of  business plan slides (some slides initially empty!) that include:

  • Introductions
  • Objectives and deliverables of workshop
  • Methodology of a "lean and holistic" business plan
  • Review & workshop of priority sections
    • Problem that service/product is trying to solve
    • Marketing and Sales
      • Size 
      • Competitors
      • Unique selling proposition
      • Customer acquisition strategy
      • Pricing strategy
    • Business model (simple calculations for profit)
      • Staging (as appropriate)
    • Operations model strategy
    • Resource strategies
      • Management team (including advisors)
      • Growth plan
    • Milestones, schedule and working capital requirements
    • Risks and risk management (including governance)
    • Exit strategies 
  • Some initial observations
  • Feedback on today's session
  • Next steps

Many of my client companies (e.g. including one which has created an innovative software/messenger-type app that can be easily tailored to business requirements) have found these collaborative workshops with the Team to be very helpful in helping to remove the "fog" associated with the future, to get everyone's input and buy-in, and to create a living document that evolves as understanding of the market and customers evolves.

As you can see, there is "breadth" in the holistic look at the business and its plans, and again these sections lend themselves to "simple" tables and graphs to describe the current thinking.  Again - these don't have to be (and usually aren't ) complete at the beginning evolve over time with the appropriate conversations and workshops.

If you would like more insights in how lean holistic business plans can contribute to your organisation, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation.  You can schedule a time with the following link:  Free phone consultation: 

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