A Good Plan: How Much Detail Do I Need?
In this guest blog series, Anaplan partner Spaulding Ridge will examine what they have found to be integral parts of a good plan: the level of detail, the process, the people involved, the timing, and pitfalls to avoid.
What does a good plan look like? The core of planning is anticipating the future to the greatest degree possible based on past events. It is looking at how people and their behavior have produced a specific outcome within specific circumstances and trying to reproduce the results.
Level of Detail
So, where to begin? Before you begin to plan for your business, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “What level of detail (or specificity) does my plan need?”
While it may be tempting to dive right in, prudence dictates that we first assess what level and type of detail is needed to make a good plan. If your plan has too much detail, people can get lost in the weeds. If your plan has too few details, people may struggle to compare their performance against it. Either way, it could be hard to execute the plan or know whether the organization is successfully following it.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but there are many different factors to consider in this process that can help you determine what’s best for your organization. Let’s look at some of them.
At What Level Am I Equipped to Forecast?
Believe it or not, many people struggle with having too much data—they don’t know what to do with all of it, but they feel like ignoring some of it is a waste of resources. Data volume and variety are important but being able to make effective use of them with your available systems is crucial.
You must first evaluate whether your organization has the technological infrastructure to support your desired level of planning in order to determine the level you are equipped to forecast. Do you have the infrastructure to manage the data volumes that you have? Or are you handicapped by antiquated data warehouse solutions—or non-warehouse solutions (how many spreadsheets are you using that are the only source for that data)?
For example, if you are in retail and you want to plan at the SKU level, you need to be able to readily access that level of data. It is not uncommon for this to be contained in several different systems that all house them differently—especially because mergers and acquisitions are common and have a knack for leaving data integrity in tatters.
I consulted for one company who had undertaken a couple of acquisitions within the past decade. After attempts to integrate their newly-acquired organizations’ data sources into their own had failed, no one had the desire (or courage) to attempt it again. When we began implementing Anaplan for them, we had a large amount of technical debt to handle. This company wanted to take their entire customer roster (which contained millions!) into account in their planning process. While this sounded good in theory (as it would provide a robust data model with which to plan for the future), they were significantly handicapped by their multiple source systems that kept data in multiple different structures. Much time was spent simply reconciling these two systems that could have been saved, either by setting different expectations for the level of planning or by accounting for the multiple systems earlier in the process.
Beyond technological considerations, evaluate the readiness of your people for a new level of planning. If you have been developing plans for the past two decades at a regional level, are people ready to go down to a territory level and increase the nodes of planning three-, four-, five-, or ten-fold? Having more specificity in your plan is generally good, but if people are not prepared to plan with more detail, either because of lack of available data, inexperience, or lack of buy-in, it is going to hamper your planning process.
How Much Detail Do I Need (and How Do I Know)?
It is highly valuable to assess if you are planning at too high or low of a level of detail. Striking the right balance of detail (and input) is often the difference between your plan failing and succeeding.
When you are finished with your planning process, you should come away with S.M.A.R.T. goals. While your plan will not guide each footstep you take, it should include specific, measurable actions to realistically achieve your goals in a timely manner. In other words, you should know what to do, how to do it, how long it should take, and it should not feel like shooting for the moon.
Plans with too little level of detail are generally easier to recognize than those with too much, due to the (usually obvious) lack of clear action steps. It may be tempting to look at your plan and say, “Well, it has data points all over the place with a number to hit by the end of the year.” That may be true, but do your people know how to achieve that number? Can they measure their performance throughout the year against it? Will it give them a good indication of when they need to ask for help? If you cannot answer these questions about your plan, then it is likely in need of improvement.
More from Spaulding Ridge:
- Three Tactics for Efficient Collaboration in the Forecasting Process
- How to use Anaplan to Maximize Salesforce Data
- How do you Bridge the Planning Gap? Connecting Sales & Finance
Plans with too much detail, on the other hand, can be harder to spot, but there are signs to watch out for: do people regularly struggle to provide all the necessary inputs, thought, collaboration, and finalization needed to create your plan? While there certainly may be other factors, it is always worth considering if you are asking too much from your organization.
I consulted for a client who was a pioneer in the technology industry. They had been around for a while, so they had a bevy of data at their disposal—and boy, did they use it. They had well over 100 different metrics they used to assess the vitality of their business! While that may sound appealing to our inner planner (who cherishes paging through well-crafted data), the reality was that there was a phenomenal amount of resources being spent on incorporating all of those different metrics into a plan. Their Anaplan model for planning began to grow too unwieldy for either administrators or end-users to be able to construct their plans and execute on them. We learned just how important it is to deliver a specific, relevant, and crisp message to the team for whom the plan was being developed.
So, What Does the Right Level of Detail Look Like?
Planning has a lot of science behind it, but there is a larger degree of art to it than many of us may suspect. Those who master that art distinguish themselves and their organizations from those who do not, gaining a strong competitive edge in their industries.
Let’s go back to the original question: how much detail do I need? As we have seen, that depends on the nature of your business, your available technology and people, and your overall goals. However, the questions and principles we have explored should help you create a plan that will guide those affected by it in what they need to do, how to do it, how to compare themselves against it as they make progress, and when to ask for help in achieving their goals from the plan—without over-complicating the process or over-burdening employees.
How has level of detail affected your plans? What other questions have helped guide you in determining level of detail? Please leave your tips below!
Aaron Overfors, manager in Performance Management at Spaulding Ridge, LLC, has been working with the Anaplan platform for five years in various roles at Anaplan and Spaulding Ridge, including product support, customer success, premium support, and solution architecture. He has extensive experience working in sales performance management (SPM) use cases of Anaplan and couples it with his deep knowledge of the Anaplan product to help companies construct more robust plans that engage stakeholders and deliver tangible value across their organizations in a dynamic competitive environment.