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Business plans and business cases are common terms with many meanings. As businesses become digital our business planning and cases need to evolve. I have found it useful to guide teams by relating to the structure of university curriculum. An analogy anyone with a business degree can relate to.
Why old models for business plans and cases struggle
The basic idea behind business plans and business cases is to lay foundation for investments. Deeper and deeper analysis the bigger the investment is.
Models following a logic flow from market analysis and leading to a wanted position and clear long term ambitions. Often resulting in thorough market analysis results but thin on execution plans.
The classic business models and business case building approach struggle when
- The opportunity input develops as multi-dimensional iterations, rather than a logical waterfall.
- Needs are vague from the beginning and developed with hypothesis as basis for solution prototypes.
- Large initial uncertainties with regards to revenue, volume and cost projections.
Define your vision and BHAG
Your studies were likely driven by the vision to graduate with a certain profession. A clear target 3-4 years out and a lot of hard work on the road. Developing a new business often start by the vision and the long term goal. A goal often stretching the imagination of the possible. A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) that you and your team work towards.
Break down the job into semesters
The key to successful studies is to focus on the study modules in each semester. Low single digit in number of modules per semester, with a duration of 8-12 weeks.
The execution plan for a new business is dependent on execution in small blocks. In the best plans you know what you should do first. With a horizon of 1-2 semesters with clear focus in activities and concrete results. In a similar way most of us approached our studies.
Weak plans and cases struggle to articulate the first mission critical steps. By adopting 3-4 areas of focus in each semester you increase the odds of reaching the destiny.
The sequence of activities matters
The courses in a curriculum for a degree come in a particular order. Laid out with easier subjects and harder and harder as you develop. And skipping a subject in a semester lead to immediate consequences for classes in the following semester
The same principles apply in business. You need a clear idea on how to structure a new business with a 3-4 year perspective. Well defined blocks that are characteristic for how a business develops. Built from experiences in previous ventures. And with a clear idea what is part of the initial semesters to get you off the ground.
Pulling it all together as a success plan
Build your plan towards a well-defined modules of activities. Split the market analysis task into module with gradual build of insights semester by semester. Engage launch customers around your market hypothesis and solution prototypes. Expect business models to be a moving target,
Great questions to ask you and your team
- What can you apply from your own university years – think about the target (degree), layout (curriculum) and semester activities (studies).
- What was your drill each semester to allow you to pass the exams – expect similar execution patterns for your 4/8/10 week sprints.
- What happened when you missed an exam and had to double down to recover – with high focus and intensity each semester it is hard to play catch-up.
- How was your energy and productivity distributed over each semester – useful insights for planning of your plans for each semester.
- What is the optimal length of a semester for our business – expect it to vary with market and type of offering.
- Who can we steal a proven business plan master curriculum layout from – study is hard enough, designing curriculum on the fly make it impossible.
Additional reading suggestions
- Transformational Journeys: Modern business planning [ARTICLE] – by Harvard Business Review
- Skip the business plan, focus on execution [BLOGPOST] – The Wall Street Journal
- New business plan format is precise and personal [BLOGPOST] – by Business News Daily
- 6 innovative alternatives to traditional business plans [BLOGPOST] – by InvestInTech
- How to write a business plan in under an hour [BLOGPOST] – by Bplans
- Why your project estimations are always wrong [BLOGPOST] – by Auth0
- Your numbers are always wrong [BLOGPOST] – by Smart Consulting