WHY BUSINESS PLANNING IS NOT POINTLESS (a second opinion)

(In response to Ron's post "Business Planning Is Pointless")

Dear Ron,

Despite our longstanding friendship and work together as co-authors, I must weigh in with Alan Gleeson on this topic and argue (mostly) against you (I always did this anyway, so what’s new!).

I agree that it is increasingly difficult to predict the future, to know where opportunities, challenges or threats will come from, and to determine how best to move one’s company forward. But that doesn’t mean that planning is pointless – as Alan points, rather the reverse is true – more planning is needed.

My experience is that most entrepreneurs find writing a business plan to be one of the hardest things they have to do in the journey of starting a business – and so they avoid it for as long as possible, until it becomes absolutely inescapable and incredibly urgent. And then the resulting pressure is used as the excuse for a poor quality output.

And, yes, there is a skill in writing a business plan – in communicating in this very rigid format – that most entrepreneurs lack, not having had previous experience of this kind of communication.

But the real, deep down, core reason that entrepreneurs have problems in writing a business plan is that they haven’t done enough thinking and planning to be able to write anything down – let alone a complete business plan!

And that’s why our books focus on a step-by-step approach. I always likened our approach to business planning to “painting by numbers” – the result might not be beautiful or win any prizes but, by colouring within the lines, you end up with something recognisable. If you are an artist, with the special skills of a Picasso or Mozart, then you don’t need lessons or a step-by-step approach. Sadly, most of us are not artists.

Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software (Alan’s company), once said: “Business plan is a verb”. Note “business plan”, not the expected “business planning”.

I agree with your call for action, for immediate short-term movement – there’s far too much procrastination among would-be entrepreneurs, who sometimes wait for other people to shoulder the load for them and pull them through to success (this is a separate rant: I think we have replaced a grants-dependency with a permission-dependency). But movement in which direction? How far? Why? At the cost of what resources? Which will be acquired from where? With what result? These are the questions that business planning tries to answer.

And just because we are not good at (or, dare I say it, too lazy to do) the work involved in business planning is not a reason for substituting immediate action for business planning. All that does is provide a smokescreen of apparent activity.

I give the last word to my pension broker, Ted Dwyer of City Life in Cork: “The main advantage of not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, and is not preceded by ay period of anxiety or worry”.

Post by Brian O'Kane, Managing director OAK TREE PRESS

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