I often use steering as a metaphor for business planning. Even when you have a steady highway, steering takes attention and constant small corrections. When the road gets curvy, corrections are more drastic.
So too with running your own business, or starting a new one. You don’t just set a course; you watch results, review often, and revise as needed. That’s what turns planning into management, with a cycle I call P-R-R-R, for plan-run-review-revise.
Taking steering one step further, let’s suggest that good planning, with milestones and metrics, is something like steering with the aid of a GPS.
Your plan in that metaphor is your destination, and route and milestones are destinations along the way. Metrics are like dials on the dashboard, indicators of how you’re doing, tracking your progress toward goals. They also serve as real-time updates, like on traffic and weather.
Metrics alert you to problems and lead you toward the review and revise cycle that is so vital.
Which is exactly why you want to focus on milestones and metrics in business planning.
Milestones make a plan real, specific, and concrete.
Milestones are dates, deadlines, tasks, and budgets. Being human, we tend to work toward milestones much better than just toward general goals.
Milestones are when we launch the product, open the new store, hire that missing person, change locations, start a new marketing campaign, and so forth.
Milestones list and categorize what’s supposed to happen—and when it’s supposed to happen—for ongoing tactics related to products, services, marketing, administration, and finance. They include launch dates, review dates, prototype availabilities, advertising, social media, website development, and programs to generate leads and traffic.
The milestones set the plan tactics into practical, concrete terms with real budgets, deadlines, and management responsibilities. They are the building blocks of strategy and tactics. They are essential to your ongoing plan-vs-actual management and analysis, which is what turns your planning into management.
As you need tactics to execute strategy, so too you need milestones to execute tactics. Normally you’ll look for a close match between tactics and milestones.
You develop your milestones by thinking through strategy, tactics, and actions you need to take. Here’s an example for a sample bicycle retailer.
Metrics give you tracking and accountability.
Developing performance metrics is a critical part of developing accountability as you steer and manage your business.
Good business planning sets clear expectations and then follows up on results, and compares results with expectations. People on a team are held accountable only if management actually does the work of tracking results and communicating them, after the fact, to those responsible.
The most obvious metrics are in the financial reports: sales, cost of sales, expenses, and so on. Most people in business understand how assigning specific responsibility for those financial numbers, and managing those numbers closely, builds accountability in a business. Those are classic performance metrics.
“Metrics” is my favorite word for performance measurements that you track as part of your regular planning process. They are numbers people can see and compare.
Make them explicit as part of your plan. Show them to the management team as part of the planning and then show the results again and again during your monthly review meeting. Management often boils down to setting clear expectations and then following up on results. Those expectations are the metrics.
However, with good lean planning, you can look for metrics throughout the business, aside from what shows up in the financial reports.
For example, marketing is traditionally accountable for levels of expenses in the financials, but also generates metrics on websites, social media, emails, conversions, visits, leads, seminars, advertisements, media placements, and so on. Sales is traditionally responsible for the sales reports in the financials, but there are also calls, visits, presentations, proposals, store traffic, price promotions, and so on. Customer service has calls, problems resolved, and other measures. Finance and accounting have metrics including collection days, payment days, and inventory turnover. Business is full of numbers to manage and track performance.
When metrics are built into a plan and shared with the management team, they generate more accountability and more management.
The illustration here shows the simple metrics for the bicycle store business plan:
Developing the metrics required to bring your people into the planning process is very important. Involve the team in deciding what metrics to use. The people in charge often fail to realize how well the players on the team know their specific functions, and how they should be measured, and the people executing want explicit objective numbers they can track themselves.
Of course, the starting expectation numbers alone aren’t enough. For real accountability, management revisits those numbers regularly, to track progress and make people accountable for results. This is a critical part of planning: steering the business and planning as management.