One of the real core values of business planning is filtering ideas to pick out the opportunities. Ideas are of little or no value, and opportunities are potential businesses only if somebody actually makes it happen. In “Beyond Eureka” at BusinessWeek.com, Amy Barrett has an excellent summary of how that process really works in actual cases. She explains:

On the pages that follow, we outline the methodology followed by successful entrepreneurs to find, vet and develop their ideas. We’ll show you how to outline your goals for the business, brainstorm possible concepts, screen opportunities and test your ideas’ viability. Sure, you could wait for a bolt from the blue–but isn’t it better to create your own?

The story breaks it into five steps. For each, the story goes first for the theory, then examples in practice. The following is just a bare summary:

  1. Set the stage: Basic parameters, such as lifestyle vs. high-end high-tech, establish your strengths, and directions.
  2. Brainstorming ideas: Quantity first, sorting for quality later.
  3. Picking a winner: This is selecting from those ideas–based on more research and planning–the one that has the best chance of working.
  4. Feasibility: Answer three questions: Can we do it, do they want it and what will they pay.
  5. Prototype: Make it real, put it up, get customers, get feedback, get going.

The rest of the story is a good review, step by step, with examples from real people and real companies. And I like this different angle on business planning, which goes right back to some of the core concepts. You might notice, as you read the details, that the planning is very much there; but there’s no talk of the actual plan document.

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Tim BerryTim Berry
Tim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.