Agility is the watchword in today's volatile business environment. Organizations that are most likely to thrive are the ones that can quickly adapt to change without compromising their strategic vision.
To achieve this degree of agility, you need a non-stop approach to strategic planning – an approach that is dynamic, continuous and fueled by accurate, real-time information. The tools you use can support or sink your organization's efforts to deliver on its vision.
Excel spreadsheet devotees may claim they have a process that works, but strategic planning software advocates can attest that an enterprise-class application is the solution.
What are Planners’ Greatest Concerns?
Microsoft Excel and other desktop spreadsheets are the most common tools used for strategic planning, according to Ventana Research. The firm's benchmark research found that 7 out of 10 midsize or larger companies use spreadsheets across a range of planning processes.
Given this entrenched position, you might expect favorable reviews. On the contrary, 58 percent of companies with more than 1,000 employees report that spreadsheets make the planning process hard to manage. As one researcher observed, planning processes that are not well managed produce less accurate plans.
Nothing undermines strategy faster than a plan with inaccurate information. There is some debate about how to make strategic plans more accurate. Some planners think they need better tools, others think they need a better process, and most agree that it may take a combination of both.
About 56% of the Ventana Research respondents cite improving accuracy as the main reason for changing the planning process.
Here's why: Shifting from an annual planning process driven by spreadsheets to continuous strategic planning enabled by enterprise-class software not only makes plans more accurate but also improves business agility.
Adopting a continuous strategic planning model along with the appropriate toolset can solve the problems planners are most concerned about by making the process easier to manage, more accurate and more agile. Although Ventana Research confirms that spreadsheets cannot support a continuous planning effort, they do have their place in conjunction with purpose-built strategic planning software.
Use Spreadsheets to Analyze Data and Visualize Results
Spreadsheets are integral to the financial planning component of strategic planning. They help organize data and crunch numbers using your own formulas. Most users agree that spreadsheets are the go-to application for creating the tables, graphs and charts that help analyze data and visualize results.
Because they serve as a common reference format for collecting and analyzing data, spreadsheets can also be used to consolidate information and export that data to other planning tools. Excel spreadsheets work so well for financial modeling that there are countless templates available for strategic planning purposes.
That said, when they are used to perform functions that are beyond their capabilities, spreadsheets tend to break down. For example, consider how you would use spreadsheets to manage an investment portfolio. Strategic planning translates high-level objectives into specific investments necessary to realize your organization's strategy. To get an up-to-date view of the investment portfolio, you need to collect, consolidate and analyze the data. The longer that process takes, the more likely you're using outdated information to make reactive decisions.
Spreadsheets also make it difficult to manage the impact of changes in the strategic planning portfolio, because each change has a ripple effect. If you try to align resources, you eventually must maintain the alignment manually. If you want to optimize the portfolio, you have to jerry-rig a series of linked files that could generate hard-to-find errors and bad data. And, if other users access the files to update their own progress against plan, they can inadvertently introduce errors by adjusting formulas, or overwriting or deleting data. Reporting progress updates becomes an exercise in interpreting reams of spreadsheets when the contents are suspect.
Planners looking to move beyond an annual planning process with Excel spreadsheets to a more continuous process can find a solution in strategic planning software with portfolio management, capacity planning and financial planning capabilities.
Use Dedicated Software for Continuous Planning
Strategic planning software significantly reduces the time required to collect data and analyze the potential impact of every ripple. An enterprise-wide solution uses a centralized data repository to provide accurate, real-time reporting and analysis capabilities that support proactive decision-making.
Unlike Excel spreadsheets, a purpose-built solution can help optimize and prioritize a portfolio plan by identifying the most efficient use of resources in the face of rapid change. Through each iteration of the plan, the software enables you to continuously manage the portfolio to achieve strategic goals.
Strategic planning software provides one of the most critical planning tools you will use, strategic roadmapping. Roadmaps connect strategy to delivery of the programs, projects, products, applications, services, and technologies that need to be developed. They provide access to the information you need to pivot the strategy based on market conditions, regulatory changes, competitor launches and technology advances.
Enterprise-class strategic planning software provides the access to information you need to understand the impacts of changes to parts of a plan or the full plan. You can analyze various options for driving plan value and deciding what to fund, delay, kill or continue based on targets and capacity. As you compare scenarios, you can ensure the optimal solution will be aligned with strategy and assigned the right balance of resources to execute on time and budget.
A continuous planning process using the right software can empower you to pivot with extreme agility toward new or modified objectives, knowing that decisions are being made based on the most up-to-date and accurate information available.
Capitalizing on Individual Strengths
Making the leap to planning software doesn't mean you have to leave your Excel spreadsheets behind. A good planning tool will not replace spreadsheets. It will help make the most of their functionality.
Strategic planning software that can easily exchange data with spreadsheets will allow you to import data to and export data from the centralized repository. The best applications store data in a way that is accessible through spreadsheets, so you can store queries, create pivot tables and easily generate your favorite visual reports.
Creating a Central Source of Truth
Having a central source of truth not only ensures that your strategic plan is founded upon accurate data but also ensures that the plan evolves with changing conditions.
An annual plan quickly becomes outdated when new information becomes available, projects are delayed, and new projects are launched without regard to other priorities.
Most organizations can't keep up with the pace of change when they revisit the plan quarterly or fewer times a year.
Shifting from annual to continuous planning can help your organization respond to market shifts with agility and be smart about identifying priorities, choosing optimal scenarios and making the right trade-offs. To decide which initiatives will return the most value, you need to create multiple scenarios, performing what-if analyses and comparing trade-offs in time, cost, risk, margin, value, capacity, competitiveness and other factors. This gets unwieldy if not impossible using spreadsheets. Inaccuracies multiply when replicated spreadsheets become multiple versions of the truth.
Strategic planning software allows you to draw upon a central source of truth to compare scenarios, prioritize initiatives, monitor progress and iterate and execute to achieve your strategy. A continuous process empowers your business to pivot in response to rapid change.
Benefits of Using Strategic Planning Software
Organizations that use an enterprise-wide solution for strategic planning experience wide-ranging benefits, from day-to-day productivity gains made possible by having a central source of truth to market dominance achieved through rapid delivery of a strategic vision. Customers using Planview Enterprise One strategic planning software have reported measurable returns (with strategic planning software, such as Planview Enterprise One):
- Grew portfolio value by prioritizing development of innovative new products and delivering those products 12 months faster than previously possible.
- Widened profit margins by shifting 20 percent more time to strategic roadmapping and creation of winning products for financial services.
- Saved $900,000 by automating the capital forecasting process for an education company, reducing the time to evaluate strategic capital plans from weeks to minutes.
- Gained the transparency required to analyze and optimize current and future plans for a global transportation company, with 80 percent of projects currently running and 20 percent of projects new every year.
- Increase agility by developing portfolio management capabilities for a major manufacturer, delivering products more quickly.
- Went from capitalizing 10 percent of an international airline's IT labor to 20 percent, which equated to a net positive impact on its balance sheet.
Planview Enterprise One accelerates strategic execution enterprise-wide, across all work and resources. This cloud-based solution provides the critical tools you need for a more accurate and agile continuous planning process. When you connect strategy to delivery, you can:
- Increase revenue by reducing time-to-market.
- Grow portfolio value by prioritizing winning initiatives and killing non-strategic projects and technologies.
- Mitigate risk with improved visibility into technology and work portfolios.
- Optimize resource utilization to create capacity for innovation and transformation.
- Decrease costs with improved efficiencies from repeatable processes and streamlined reporting.
Although Excel spreadsheets have their place, strategic planning software enables organizations to deliver the transparency and agility to realize their goals. The capacity and financial planning capabilities empower leaders to define roadmaps, set plans, and measure progress. Teams across the enterprise can collaborate to manage plans and drive the process.