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We used to be able to devise a three-year plan and expect to stick to it. Those days are gone. Now, a three-month plan may be too long, if we’re not staying on the lookout for ways to pivot.
To meet their demands for agility and results, leadership teams need to move to a hypothesis-driven approach, with validation along the way. We need to set objectives for our companies, and then check back frequently to ensure we are taking the best route to meet our goals. This doesn’t require new methods or frameworks. There are plenty of proven models we can choose.
A Proven Approach: Plan, Do, Check, Act Cycle
According to Wikipedia, the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle “is an iterative four-step management method used in business for the control and continuous improvement of processes and products.”
At the leadership level, PDCA helps us understand how to change behaviors to stay focused on reaching our goals and objectives, rather than simply finishing plans. Here’s an analogy for how this process works:
Think of your objective as a mountain summit. All teams have the same goal: To reach the summit as quickly and efficiently as possible.
We give teams some guiderails, such as: The west side of the mountain has already been determined to be the better side.
The teams each look at the mountain, assess their own skills, and determine what they believe is their fastest path to the summit. Some might choose the shortest, but steepest route, others might choose a less steep but longer route, believing they can move more quickly.
Every week or two, leaders meet and compare notes, discussing what worked, what didn’t, which plans achieved better results, and where progress was inhibited. Based on the learnings, teams can evolve plans and guidelines.
Repeat the process. Do not let teams go months without checking in. The retrospective and learning parts of this process are extremely important to its success.
Every team in the organization operates in this way, creating a business with consistent objectives, while enabling teams to determine their best guess at how to reach those goals.
What we assume during strategic planning, especially this year, may not be valid for the business over time. By taking a hypothesis-driven approach, we can take these uncertainties into consideration and enable the business to pivot quickly.