A Business Technology Place

A manager’s guide to the annual plan

Creating the annual plan is like solving a puzzle.

Participating in the annual plan has always been a challenge to me to a certain extent for two reasons:

  1. In the past, I viewed the activity as more forecasting than planning. The plan was a list of goals and objectives that we hoped to achieve but we never knew what changes in the business might alter the plan. Inevitably something like customer mergers, acquisitions, unplanned results, or even customer defections would alter our plan. For me it was puzzle challenge number 1.
  2. The annual plan received focused attention before starting the year and then became a dead-document.  In this sense I’m referring more to the goals and objectives. I worked many years where we didn’t relook at the goals and objectives again until it was time to write the annual performance reviews. It was always a mystery to me why we didn’t go back and look those plans. This was puzzle challenge number 2.

Working the puzzle.

The good news for me is that I like working puzzles. I’ve always enjoyed the journey of solving puzzles even more than the end result. As with most cases in business processes and management there isn’t one best way to create an annual plan. There are many variables such as culture and industry that will influence the approach. As my responsibilities have grown over time I’ve been able to influence the annual planning process more with my thoughts and learnings.PlanDoCheckAct

I like the A3 problem solving method that is used by lean practitioners. The method looks for root causes with an attempt to prevent recurrence. It addresses the dead-document issue by including steps for checking and following-up on the solution. The approach is also attempts to simplify the whole process by focusing on what is most important. Get the plan on a single page and then execute it.

Creating the annual plan.

For the 2016 year I used past learnings and tried an approach to put the annual plan in A3 format (source:Lean.org).

Step 1 – Get input from other department heads to focus on alignment.

Nothing spells dysfunction like an IT department out-of-synch with other business departments. I’ve always said that IT is a service organization. It exists to enable the other business functions to be successful. Asking for input on business objectives from marketing, operations, customer service, sales, and finance should be a natural first step to create the IT plan, roadmap, and budget.

Step 2 – Learn, repeat, and stretch.

The A3 approach for planning focuses on a structure approach to thinking about the plan. It allows us to state what was learned, repeat what works and to stretch to set new baselines.

Plan Template

Step 1 – Targets/Goals for the coming year (where are we going?)

Step 2 – Results from last year (where we came from , hits and misses )

Step 3 – Reasoning for new plan and targets (what we learned)

Step 4 – Action plans for the coming year (how to get there)

Step 5 – Unresolved issues/questions (items that need more clarification and research)
Big plans are complicated to write and can leave the audience overwhelmed. The A3 approach keeps the message concise and focused on the most important things. When I wrote the A3 based plan it required that I make decisions about what to purposefully include. That doesn’t mean that our group doesn’t have other planned actions, but those actions should support the larger initiatives. The plan is intended to give business partners a chance to see a consolidated statement of how the IT group intends to contribute to the overall business objectives.Step 3 – Get the story on one page.

Step 4 – Review the plan with other department heads to check and confirm understanding of alignment.

The plan ends right back where it started. The best way to check understanding is to confirm the plan with the other department heads. It’s a quality check. But it’s also a touch-point for IT-business alignment and the start of the momentum to execute the plan activities.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Jurgen Appelo

 

Technology Constipation

We all want to be regular.

Something we all have in common at work is the desire to have a regular and predictable cadence of work output. Doing so just makes life easier. It’s rewarding to our customers when they receive their goods and services within expected boundaries. It’s good for the well-being of our team dynamics and mental happiness because everyone achieves the goal together and feels the satisfaction of customer acceptance.

Work methodologies agree on this concept as well. Systems such as Agile software development and Lean aim to create flow and eliminate unevenness in a system.  Unevenness brings excess inventory within the system that is apparent when materials, supplies, and outputs start to collect in areas while waiting for the next step in the flow to process them.

Technology Constipation.

I had never really thought about excess inventory like constipation before this week. But while looking at the portfolio of technology work and the length of time some projects had been in the system, I started to see the pains and strains of organizational team members to keep up with the work. When technology projects don’t keep a regular cadence the tendency is to continue to start new work to meet stakeholder expectations for delivery. That’s a recipe for technology constipation.

Warehouse

Warehouse

Finding relief.

Pushing more work is analogous to painful straining. It gives the allusion that the team is working harder, but in the long run it will only make things worse.  Work system methodologies like Agile and Lean have a manual describing the steps for better workflow and reducing inventory. These steps require management support, team culture fit, a common approach, and persistence over time. But you we can’t let the symptoms of the problem overwhelm us and paralyze the team into inaction.

Here are some good initial steps for technology teams to find relief:

  • Communicate with internal customers about the build-up of inventory and future demand. It’s more than being transparent with your customers it’s also about involving them in the decision making of priorities.
  • Focus on current work in progress to finish what you’ve started while not taking on other work. This is like telling a person with large credit card debts to stop putting more purchases on the card until they are paid-off. Otherwise the cycle continues. Stakeholder support is required for this!
  • Start to analyze existing work streams with an eye for implementing agile and/or lean tactics. Iterate, review, reflect, and repeat.

One thing is certain; it’s good to be regular and painful to experience back-up of solution delivery. That’s reason enough to start or continue working towards better flow of work.

Onward and upward!