Anonymous Career Advice

Is there a better way of quarterly planning?

In this week’s anonymous career advice column we tackle the dreaded planning phase, a team lead asks how to improve their planning

Dear Focus, When it comes to planning my team hate it, they struggle to complete the required documents and prefer just to do it. Is there a better way of planning? 

Almost every company has a slightly different approach to planning, whether thats campaign, projects, monthly, quarterly, annual or long range planning. 

Many businesses create this top-down and from a ten thousand feet view, with the objective for teams to roll into these goals, this is not necessarily wrong, however, this does challenge many teams to put the ‘we’ (company first) hat on versus ‘the me’ hat on and this can be challenging for many different reasons. 

A quote that has always resonated with me is:

“By Failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
– Benjamin Franklin.

Teams that prefer to do than to plan often are setting themselves up to fail, typically it is because they hate the steps in planning or do not how to plan effectively.

If you and your fellow department leads run different ways of planning there will be a likelihood of misalignment, some business leads are out of loop from the day to day often the week to week, so it is essential that you and your fellow leads attempt to connect, align and have agreements on how you created your plans and how they connect. Waiting until leadership meetings or management meetings often cause the biggest problems. 

At Focus, we are crystal clear businesses can only ever have one company-wide strategy, you then have plans of action from each departments that map out their cross functional connections and dependencies. 

Each team within a department must roll up into the departmental action plan, if these do not align and call out where they are connected you company will struggle to to hit any goals.  

Here are a number of steps you can review and implement into your department.

Collaboration First 

When it comes to quarterly planning, you are challenging your team to collaborate and connect to goals they might have little to no input in. This often frustrates many teams especially those in middle management roles has they believe they are in a better place to “tell and then request”. 


Tackling your specific issue you will need to undercover the root cause, from experience there needs to be a compass, something for everyone to know guides them and leads them to success, have you been able to supply a compass? 

If you have not shown what the end goal(s) are and the expectations for the company, department or team you will struggle to gain alignment, provide the 3-5 goals the team is expected to hit and show them what success looks like, the how and the what is up to the team with your guidance. 

(Read the unfollow button, the catalyst, hidden leaders and secret weapons to understand how you get the most out of your team or individuals)

Before Action Reviews (BAR) & After Action Reviews (AAR)

BAR’s and AAR’s are techniques I have used and borrow from the armed forces. AAR techniques help any team review the last set of work, be open, transparent and honest discussing and logging previous campaigns and quarters and highlighting what went well, what didn’t and the areas that need improving. 

BAR will help you quickly review previous lessons and learnings, apply the feedback and insights from previous quarters and collaborate together on these areas. Something that I advocate is keeping an ongoing shared and open record of these and then review, there are often traits that reappear or bubbling up. It could be resource, it could be skills, it could be confidence, all of these are signs to tackle collectively. 

Scrap Spreadsheets & PowerPoint In Initial Planning 

Nothing kills planning like a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint slide deck, this is not how you get the most out of your team, it kills creativity, it kills connecting goals and is very transactional and not how people work and very often in planning phases x + y does not = z. 

If you are running remote sessions miro, mural or are tools that help you facilitate, collaborate and build out visual maps. 

Some of the best planning sessions happen with post-it notes, crazy 8 scribbles and walk and talks, you should know your team, their preferred ways of working and collaborating, encourage different methods to really galvanise the best steps forward. 

Titles Bias 

If you are running these sessions with just managers or your most senior and they do not do any delivery it is important to bring in your delivery team, they will understand specific requirements or nuances, specifically in specialist areas like digital marketing, technical product management and architecture. 

Feedback > Opinions

It is essential to note you will need to limit the number of opinions that are provided, ensuring people are heard is important, removing noise and opinions and actioning qualified feedback is the most important action to take in planning.

This is the hardest part of effective planning, deliberate feedback and structured feedback is helpful, just stating my opinions are not. If you have tens of pieces of feedback you will never be able to align. Everyone should be heard but calling out opinions and the differences with feedback will help you succeed.

The more concise you are in your planning, the better you can explain and map out the steps and make them stick. 

Even the smallest and most agile companies and startups struggle here. 

Remember some successful startup businesses are between ten and thirty people, some departments in large businesses are easily double that size and you misalign quickly. 

Map Then Spreadsheet & Slides 

Once you have built towards goals and connecting the teams with each other, with the goals and the activities then start to map against the finance spreadsheet and add into the PowerPoint slides or Google slides. This will then require 

List Vs Map

Some people are tables driven and conditioned others are map driven, they either need a list of actions they need to take and follow, others need a map with directions and visuals to help them, especially if they are not involved in the planning phase, show both views but show how they are connected and interdepend, this enables everyone to align and commit to the plan. 

Across two decades of doing this, there are very few times everyone aligns even in the smallest of business and the largest of businesses, it is how you guide and storytell that will enable everyone to connect. 

Captain & Champions

There are two roles i truly believe help in everyday development and adoption, these can be formal, they can be informal but the captain and champion are vital parts of teams. 

These roles do not have to be title based, so senior people within your team do not become the captain or champion by default. 

The captain is the everyday leader of the goals and the activities, they can wear the captains arm band and connect with the teams on their goals and see how they are getting on and where there needs to be support, the captain also connects with other teams and departments to align the teams togethers and ensure there is collaboration and focus. 

The champion is the person who helps to push these goals, helps to teach those around them and their counterparts of the work, the importance and the pace it requires. 

If you have a large department and number of teams underneath you can have a number of champions (say 4 ideally within large departments) and one captain. 

One of the important hires I recommend to many execs who have asked in recent times is the Project Manager, although the Project Manager went out of fashion a few years ago, a good project manager can be the difference between delivery and success and failure to deliver and a bad year.

Arrange Check Ins 

Before you kick off for the quarter activities, have reasonable check in slots, have the measures of success and the tools you will update and connect on, asynchronous is best however many are not geared to centralise around documents or a tool so start with in person and then transition into async. 

Goals & Deadlines 

One of the biggest issues is goals and deadlines are hard to predict and can be challenging to hit, if you miss the first goal or deadline it can deflate teams quickly, the important part here is to have reviews and understand how the data is mapping and how you can ramp up or reassign resource. 

If you are staging roll outs you have to call these out early and have sprint updates these include: 

  • Product updates
  • Product releases 
  • App updates
  • Marketing activities (including all funnel activities) 

I strongly recommend your captains and champions align many times and show on your plan when these will connect and how it will impact numbers, without this your teams might be creating internal fear without a requirment

Steps To Introduce & Take

  • 6 weeks ahead of the quarter start mapping process 
  • Have two session booked in to shape, build and iterate 
  • 4 weeks out have a draft to complete and sign off as leaders 
  • Build depenedices and have sign off by other department leads 
  • 3 weeks out align on captains and champions and call these people out 
  • Sign off 2 weeks before the start of the quarter 
  • 1 week out present (record on video a tool like loom) what you are going to do, where everything lives, why and show the logic of how. Explain the successful steps you will take and how you have a captain to talk to and interact with regularly and champions who will be there support, guide and train
  • 1 week in check in “in hybrid person” 
  • 2 weeks in check in 
  • Weekly updates from leads, captains and champions 
  • 4 weeks align around the asynch document 
  • Weekly async updates 
  • 6 weeks in start process again

Best of luck with this quarters planning and remember creating a different environment with steps to succeed will answer both planners and do-ers.

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