Retrospective planning ensures a solid basis for forward planning
Retrospective planning allows a degree of useful and objective observation, where the emotional component can be suspended: the future for your business may look uncertain, but you can be certain about how you got to where you are today. Retrospective planning ensures the benefit of hindsight!
Planning is simply looking at the future and discovering alternative courses of action. It provides a structure for examining possibilities for immediate or short-term action or direction, and choosing particular steps and stages to aim for the chosen action or direction.
Strategic planning is the process of reducing ‘possible’ alternatives to selected and specific courses of action over a medium to long-term period which are most likely to achieve and enrich the future of your business. The purpose of strategic planning is to become aware of future needs, opportunities and trends and – as far as possible – avoid dangers and difficulties.
Retrospective planning is the ability to direct your attention back over a series of actions taken over a period of time after the impact and effect of those actions have become tangible and measurable.
All planning is useful – and retrospective planning is particularly useful for any business, and especially useful for entrepreneurs.
Planning is closely linked to your business life-cycle. A frequent quote is that if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
The fear of failing is far greater for a micro, small and medium business than for a large, multi-national or transnational business – where failure is often toted as a desirable experience.
Fear can be an immobilising factor, and the likelihood of failing is a genuine and real fear. These are some of the fears that people in business have shared with me over the years which they feel may lead to – or result from – failure:
a) becoming ill or indisposed, therefore unable to keep up with my commitments,
b) competitors closing in with similar or better products or services,
c) failing to produce a product or service that sells well,
d) feeling inadequate and uncertain about myself or my product or service,
e) not finding a financial backer,
f) getting in ‘over my head’, and perhaps losing current assets such as my home or car,
g) having to ‘win’ contracts by competing with other businesses,
h) losing confidence and credibility,
i) losing motivation or direction,
j) losing someone else’s money,
k) having to market myself,
l) not having sufficient personal time for family or friends,
m) not being able to take a holiday,
n) not being confident to negotiate financial arrangements, prices, discounts, etc.
o) over-committing myself and ‘feeling stranded’.
Fear can be managed and dealt with by having a solid framework in place to support retrospective and forward planning. Such a framework would ensure that you:
- know and understand the nature, extent and value of your current resource base – which means what you currently have to work with, eg skills, abilities, experience, knowledge, track record, qualifications, credibility and the state of your business,
- keep up to date with available business methods and systems. Choose and use wisely, and ensure that those you choose keep you closely and accurately informed about the health of your business.
- your own business library. You’ll need books of substance to guide development of your product or service, ensure competency and confidence with business methods and systems, provide practical tools and checklists on core business strategies – with a few books that will motivate, comfort and challenge you as well.
- adopt project management strategies separately to your ‘business methods and systems’ and to your ‘product or service’. Add at least one book on project management to your business library – a suggestion is The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management (Eric Verzuh, 1999), published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
- give equal planning time to your (a) product or service, (b) business methods and systems, and (c) business and personal survival strategies.
- ensure the most appropriate legal and organisational structures for your business that will enable you to meet your legal requirements, monitor your progress, control your affairs, manage risk, and ensure a consistent level of quality in all you do – without excessive costs.
- develop a consistent and reliable process and procedure for making complex or contentious decisions – whether you are making these decisions alone or with others. This will stand you in good stead in all aspects of your business activities, and be particularly useful in protecting both you and your scarce resources.
- deal with unshakeable facts – and when you know and understand the facts, then – and only then – consider how you feel about the facts. This allows you to deal with fact and emotion separately.
- take careful steps to find a business mentor who respects you and your plans, and can provide you with a listening ear as well as support: this person needs to look at every possibility you share with him/her, and respond from the perspective of likely benefit to you and your business.
Retrospective Planning Checklist
This planning tool is both simple and effective, but only if you are consistently honest with yourself. Choose a specific situation that has influenced or affected your business experience – either negatively or positively – and work through these questions:
- What was I intending to do?
- What did I (or others) actually do, and why? And which things did I have control over?
- How did I do these things?
- When did I start and finish?
- Where did it take place?
- Who did it – did I do it myself, or did somebody else do it for me?
- Who for – who benefited?
- At what cost – what were the costs (including money, time, distance, space, technology, opportunity cost, etc) either in the process or as a result – and how was it financed?
- Did this turn out to be an investment for me?
- What was the return on this investment – in measurable terms: was this the best use of my scarce resources at the time, and did it add real value to my business (a) then, (b) now, and (c) into the future?
- What went wrong – or didn’t work out as intended – this is a ‘risk check’, and it’s highly likely that some risks had been identified and assessed early in the process, and other had not.
Honest answers to these questions provide a factual analysis of how you got to where you are today – which is the best possible starting point for immediate, short-term, medium and longer-term planning.
An extract from my 2008 book, One Man Show – the smallest of small business
There have been many peaks and troughs in my One Man Show experience since 1985. The troughs almost always have resulted in or contributed to a new or different service, product or market which has then led to a peak – although not always as rapidly as I would have liked.
When times have been tough for any reason, I have always found that my need has been greater than the challenge – in other words, when I’ve seen no alternative but to create something new, or to improve or change the way I’ve been working in or on my One Man Show. The degree of need or the hint of opportunity was always sufficient to overcome the fear or trepidation associated with any challenge. I have found reserves of inspiration, initiative and courage at such times, and made approaches, taken action and moved far beyond my ‘comfort zone’.
As a sole operator, my business has been built on – and is entirely dependent upon – my own energy, confidence, tenacity and what may indeed be audaciousness. My business has continued – mainly because I have always produced something of value to those who are prepared to pay more for that something than it has cost me to prepare it for sale. My basic business practice has been that people who spend time with me will be able to do something that they value differently or better the very next day – ie immediate practical benefits.
Retrospective planning has been my most consistent business skill. But, on reflection, it has worked for me simply because I have actively and positively responded to my retrospection – by making plans based, not only on what I have done or not done, but on what I have learned through my retrospection.
There is plenty of wisdom available on the benefits of failure: and it’s not unusual for something that feels or looks like a failure at the time, later contributing to or transforming into an unanticipated benefit or achievement.
Imagine a lone rock climber studiously and strategically working their way up the face of a steep and jagged cliff toward a ledge where they would be able to rest, appreciate their efforts and enjoy the view. A One Man Show is like this rock climber, with their face to the cliff, focusing on the cliff to find the best places for their hands and feet in order to safely continue their climb.
Retrospective planning enables you to look over your shoulder, see how far you’ve come, and use the experience of how you got to where you are today as a basis for planning your next move.
Tools for this Core Business Strategy are provided in:
- Jean Roberts Update – November and December 2009
- Competitive Tendering – how to write a competitive tender
- Managing Governance in Nonprofit Organisations in Australia – book/CD ROM
- One Man Show – the smallest of small business
- Successful Submission Writing for Business and Nonprofit Organisations