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Business Planning Without Killing Your Dreams

Put a gear stick into R position, (Reverse) Symbol in auto transmission car.

I am not a planner, at least not in the strict sense of the term. I’m more of a “visionary.” I get a picture of something I’d like to do or accomplish, I imagine it fully-formed and beautiful, I think about the first steps for heading in that direction, I describe the benefits to myself of doing this new thing, and then I GO!

In many cases doing this has turned out just fine. But it can also be a bit stressful because I often find myself, like the folks in this ad, “building the plane while it’s flying.” This can work well when it’s a small project, but when it comes to building a business, well, as the guy in this video getting sprayed in the face with coffee, it does have it’s flaws.

So, of course, we know that a business plan has the potential to make our lives better and to keep us out of trouble. But most of us still don’t do it. Why?

Because it’s painful!

A few years back I wrote about my own business planning adventure for a goat prescribed grazing business I was considering. I took a course where we learned how to set up a business, think about taxes, and then the nitty gritty of all the parts of a plan. I wrote a mission statement and goals, looked hard at my potential customer based, and potential income and costs. It wasn’t just that thinking is hard. It was that, in the process of putting all this information together, my juicy dream dried up. As my friend Jenn Colby said, there was just too much left brain planning for a right brain creative idea.

Is there a less painful way?

I wondered about this recently because I was set to do a short presentation about business planning for the American Solar Grazing Association. So I looked for some other ideas that might allow more creative thinking and problem solving and would also lead to a good plan. I found two possibilities: Pressure Testing and Backward/Reverse and Forward Planning.

Pressure Testing

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Liz Baker, a trained scientist turned financial planner, describes using “Pressure Testing as a method for finding weaknesses in a proposal.” She says that when she worked in the corporate world and someone pitched a new idea, her first instinct was to “list all the things that would and could go wrong.” This earned her a reputation as a negative person against change, but that wasn’t her intent at all. From her perspective as a trained scientist, she was doing what scientist do:

“Back when I was working in the lab, once a week our group of scientists would get together for an hour and we would take turns presenting new data. It could be our own data, or it could be data recently published in a scientific journal. Then the fun (or rather, horror) would begin.
“All of us would rip the data apart. Perhaps the data didn’t represent what we (or the authors) think it did? Perhaps the design of the study was flawed? Perhaps measurements were off? Perhaps conclusions were faulty. Perhaps. . .
“This is part of the scientific method. If the data is questionable, then what additional experiments need to be run in order to make the data better?

“So now I pressure test everything new. A new process at work? Sure, it may work as advertised most of the time, but it might not work in this one situation or this other situation. . . In another scenario, it may cost more time and money than it saves. Again, my intention is not to shoot down the new thing but identify obstacles to success ahead of time.”

She describes Pressure Testing as playing the “What If” game. “What if I quit my steady job and started a new business venture? What could go wrong? If you’re like me, you’ve already formulated a list. A long list.” The next step is to take the long list and for each item on it, you ask these questions:

What is the probability of this thing going wrong?
If this thing goes wrong, how easy will it be to manage?
Given this thing that can go wrong, can I tweak my original idea to prevent it?
If this thing goes wrong, does it really matter?

Backward/Reverse and Forward Planning

As Roger Sherrin writes in this article, backwards planning starts with where you want to be. Next, you think about what steps need to happen to get there. Forward planning starts with where you are and the steps to be accomplished in order to get to a desired outcome. He says,

“The U.S. Army describes the process in FM 3-21.10 Troop Leading Procedures as, “Reverse planning involves starting with the operation’s end state and working backward in time.  Leaders begin by identifying the last step, the next-to-last step, and so on. They continue until they reach the step that begins the operation. It answers the question — Where do we eventually want to be?” 

“Contrasting with Backwards Planning, FM 5-0 Army Planning describes Forward Planning as “…starting with the present condition and laying potential decisions and actions forward in time, identifying the next feasible step, the next step after that, and so on.”  Forward planning helps determine what is feasible in the short-term.  In any planning or goal setting process, you will come up with multiple sub-goals or tasks that must be accomplished along the way to reaching for the big desired end state, this can become overwhelming and lead to distraction of focus or even immobilization, so prioritization is crucial to success.”

How This Could Work For You

While these methods won’t give you a business plan that you can take to a bank and get a loan, I like the way they encourage us focus on solutions to challenges. They acknowledge the potential for problems and challenges and then draw on our creative brains to find ways around them – to look at a problem in new ways. In contrast, when I built my “normal” business plan, finding solutions seemed much more difficult.

It also allows for thinking of all kinds of solutions, something that I write about in this week’s Scoop.

I hope this helps you plan, whether it’s developing a business plan or just doing some goal setting. Explore, be creative, and enjoy.


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