I'm involved with several companies whose people are spread all over the country, and in one case, all over the world. Most of us have to do some degree of traveling each year. And when you travel, your business plan should go with you.
Why? These days, real business planning is a process, not just a plan. It requires regular reviews and revisions, metrics, tracking and accountability. To make this new kind of planning work, you have to be able to access a plan, review, revise and share at a moment's notice. Here are some tips I collected from successful startups, good managers and business owners on how to make your business plan a living, evolving entity that is available anytime, anywhere.
1. Keep it modular. A business plan that travels is a collection of related components, not a single plan. The component depend on the unique context of every business. A strategy summary is common. So are concrete objectives, specific activities to execute on strategy, responsibility assignments, dates and deadlines. Measurements are important, and typically include projected basic numbers like sales, income and cash. It should also include performance measurements.
2. Optimize components with form following function. Different components can live in different forms. Some are lists of bullet points, some are spreadsheets and some might be in pictures. A slide deck could be great for keeping current on strategy, while a spreadsheet minds the financial numbers.
The various components have different shelf lives. A strategy needs to be subject to review and revision, but usually remains consistent over several years. Some work well as lists, while other may belong in a slide deck. Some people keep all of that in a single computer file, and many others collect related files.
3. Know what and what not to share. One of the huge benefits of good business planning is accountability, but that takes sharing. The planning process gives us a format to work with team members on establishing numerical goals and then tracking and managing performance using the established projected numbers. However, for that to improve accountability, the performance numbers must be available to the people involved and shared flexibly and fluidly. Company cultures vary on how much to share sideways, with peers; some companies build peer pressure by sharing more about individuals' performance. Others restrict individual numbers to the individual and the supervisor. Either way, to work, the tracking has to be regular, trusted, and readily available.
Sharing takes thinking. Not all content is supposed to be available to all people involved. A business plan is a combination of owners-only content, team-only content and outsider-friendly content in special cases, only when needed. So, for example, I would never recommend sharing projected salaries beyond owners and people who absolutely need to know. And I've seen mixed results on having the marketing team look at the development team's metrics and vice-versa.
4. Use available technology well. Getting into specific apps or tools here would be inappropriate because I'm not objective and don't pretend to be. But I will say that whatever tools you end up with, make each person's performance metrics and tracking available all day and all night every day. People like knowing their numbers, and with today's selection of apps, you can share specific information with specific people, and keep that live and always available.
Breaking the plan into its components leads to sharing components differently. That big picture strategic slide deck might be one shared file. The individual-person-specific performance data like sales or traffic or conversion might well be in a different app and shared in a different way. And salary data and salary plans might not even get to the cloud, since that information stays with a few people.
5. Keep it practical. A business plan is worth the decisions it causes. Don't think of it as just a static document. Manage components separately, and remember that it's about planning, not just the plan. Use the planning to establish and integrate accountability, steer your business and keep a view of the long-term strategy and the short-term specifics at the same time.
Tim Berry is founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, co-founder of Borland International. Tim's main blog is Planning Startups Stories and he also appears on other blogs including Small Business Trends, Business Insider, and Huffington Post.