Why Traditional Business Planning And Agile Must Coexist

Traditional planning and linear project management were the foundation of business strategy for several decades before agile methodology (where change and progress are delivered in small, progressive increments via short-term “sprints”) came along and provided business leaders with a new way to effectively manage change.

So should traditional planning be simply tossed aside in favor of this more flexible approach?

It’s common for newer business executives to view traditional planning as slow and inflexible, but establishing a linear process to reach your long-term goals will always be necessary in some form. While many companies have been quick to recognize the benefits of agile and incorporate it into existing business processes, it’s important not to abandon the concept of traditional planning altogether.  In fact, forgetting about traditional planning in favor of agile can actually detach your organization from the bigger picture and lead your teams down the wrong path. Both agile and traditional planning have their benefits and we’ve seen successful clients unlock the best of both worlds – agile and traditional – at the same time. Striking the right balance between agile and traditional business planning is the ultimate key to driving the best business outcomes.

What Is Agile?

Agile is an iterative, flexible process methodology for completing projects and initiatives. It essentially allows teams to break large concepts or projects down into smaller, incremental steps that are constantly reevaluated and prioritized. With agile, the ultimate goal is to be able to quickly work towards a deliverable while remaining in a position to adapt to changing environments and conditions. While agile was initially developed for a software development methodology, today it can be deployed across nearly every aspect of the business including sales, marketing, finance, and leadership.

It is critical to also point out that listening to the CUSTOMER or END-USER is crucial to a successful agile strategy.  The customer’s needs, wants and desires are the focus of each cycle in the agile process, and thus change often.  Keeping customer-centric agile processes requires agility; but all of it must fit within the company’s goals to deliver on business results and profitability, planet and people-focused goals.

How To Combine Traditional Planning And Agile

Some believe traditional planning should become more agile, and others believe agile can’t exist without some degree of traditional business planning. The truth is that a hybrid of traditional planning and agile can actually help you achieve the best of both worlds. Combining these two approaches may seem a bit contradictory to your employees, but they can actually thrive in tandem. Here are some tips for integrating a hybrid planning model into your business culture.

Keep Traditional Planning At A High Level

As a business executive, you’re constantly juggling current priorities while keeping one eye focused on your five- or ten-year plan. While companies of all sizes need to remain agile at the executive level due to market shifts and unexpected events, a certain portion of your long-term plan (typically mission, vision, values and goals) should remain fixed. Frequent changes to your mission or values will negatively impact stability and lessen employee engagement. As a result, traditional business planning can remain an important tactic for steering your organization towards your desired results. However, how you get to that desired result will likely need to change and evolve (typically your goals, objectives, strategies and tactics) along the way, so you might simultaneously benefit from a more iterative approach at the execution level.

Traditional Planning Must Align With Agile Practices

Agile, by design, enables input and direction to come from multiple areas of the organization. This sense of collaboration is one reason why agile is so successful when it comes to overcoming short-term hurdles and challenges associated with a project. However, in a 100% agile environment, it’s easy for teams or even entire departments to stray from your company’s overall goals and vision. On the flip side, when leaders maintain traditional business planning practices at an executive level, their direction may not always align with priorities identified by individual agile crews.

The solution likely lies in a hybrid approach known as agile planning. Pull together the leaders of each product or project agile crew with company leaders in order to maintain transparency around company goals and objectives. By holding this type of planning meeting, crew leaders can continue to ensure agile teams remain focused on the big picture. For this process to work, ongoing and frequent communication both from a top-down and a bottom-up perspective is required. In this manner, traditional business planning can still take place albeit through a different process.

Be Open To Using Hard And Soft Data To Drive Decisions

Data-driven decisions are often at the heart of traditional planning practices. Leadership teams have leveraged hard data, such as sales trends, historical performance, and market research to drive strategies for decades. On the other hand, agile relies on soft data. Agile teams frequently are more likely to use exploration, quick decision making, and learning on the fly. 

Both hard data and soft data play an important role in driving business outcomes. Soft data should be used to brainstorm, put forward ideas, and develop theories, while hard data should be leveraged for validation. If your organization exclusively relies on hard data (traditional planning), you may experience a lack of innovation as a result. With too much reliance on soft data (agile), you might drive down the wrong path. By balancing the two, you’re likely to see the best results.

Allow For Compromise

For leadership teams who are reliant on traditional planning, agile forces organizations to give up some degree of certainty in exchange for flexibility – a crucial characteristic in today’s fast-changing competitive world. Those implementing projects through an agile framework will find traditional planning to be restrictive. In order for planning and agile to coexist, there has to be some level of compromise between the two.  To achieve this, frequent communication is key. Striking the right balance between rigidness and flexibility means teams should meet on a regular basis to prioritize projects, goals, and objectives. Both leadership teams and agile crews should always take the time to measure progress against the long-term company goals.

Agile has undoubtedly become a widely used strategy and for good reason. Taking an iterative approach in any area of your organization better positions you to adjust to unexpected challenges and to customer-focused priorities which can change rapidly. However, agile doesn’t necessarily work at all levels of your organization. Traditional planning will always be a useful strategy for executives as they steer the organization towards a long-term vision. Learning how to appropriately combine agile and traditional planning within your organization will ultimately bring you the best of both worlds.

Combining traditional planning and agile methodology into the same culture can be difficult without experience, which is why businesses often turn to an experienced consultant to help their teams learn a process that achieves quality results. If you’re looking to implement a hybrid planning approach, contact us at Lilly Consulting Group today.

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