How to develop an effective business action plan
Any business idea, in order to achieve success, must translate into concrete action (or, rather, a series of concrete actions). Planning, from this perspective, is crucial because in order to implement a business strategy effectively and profitably, it is absolutely necessary to know precisely what steps need to be taken and when. In other words, an action plan is essential.
To understand the importance of this paper, it is possible as of now to quote the words of David Allen, coach of so many top managers of various multinational corporations:
“The world increasingly expects people to be able to make things happen, to realize them. Inspiration and innovation are crucial, but if a company or individual is unable to realize the plan, goal or vision, the best ideas and strategies become useless”.
In the next few lines we will go into more detail about exactly what an action plan is and what it is needed, with particular reference to the field of startups. Only once you have clarified these aspects will you be able to understand how to identify and define the steps necessary to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
What is the action plan and what is it for
A business action plan can be defined as a document that puts down on paper the goals that you want to achieve and the actions that you need to perform to achieve them. In more concrete terms, in this particular document the business strategy is broken down into several steps, for the implementation of which there is also a precise time frame.
The benefits for companies and, in particular, for startups are many: you must consider, first of all, that a properly drafted action plan provides you with a roadmap to follow, a particularly valuable tool for managing time and resources more efficiently (i.e., without unnecessary waste). By giving you the ability to understand what the most relevant aspects of your business are and thus focus specifically on them, the action plan allows you, in addition, to speed up your decision-making processes.
A comprehensive and detailed corporate action plan is also a great way to provide a shared vision of the company and outline goals that are clear within the work team, so that all employees are aligned and ready to take proper action in any eventuality, according to the responsibilities of each of them. For this reason, it is very important to involve the work team, from an early stage, in the development of the action plan.
While it is true (and it is) that the perfect plan does not exist, it is equally true that a well-designed action plan shields you from the even serious consequences that can result in the possible missteps, hiccups, and setbacks from which no entrepreneurial activity is immune. Indeed, to function egregiously, the action plan (and, especially, a startup’s action plan) must be flexible and provide the right guidance to respond to any unforeseen event in the business development process.
The first step: getting to know the company (SWOT analysis)
Before taking any action, it is necessary to know the starting scenario; in your specific case, this means knowing your startup and, to be even more precise, it means knowing its strengths and weaknesses, as well as also the threats and opportunities that it may have to manage. It is worth reminding you, in this regard, that the most valuable tool you have at your disposal in this regard is the SWOT analysis (the acronym SWOT stands, not coincidentally, for “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities” and “Threats.
SWOT analysis is a particular strategic planning tool that examines both the internal environment of a company, analyzing what it excels or lacks in, and the external environment, helping to better understand the behavior of competitors and the state of the market (as well as its evolution over time).
Because of the information it is able to bring out, SWOT analysis makes it easier to build the pitch deck or business plan around a company’s strengths, which are also considered based on the opportunities in the market.
Now that we have talked about the business plan, you are probably wondering how this relates to the action plan. It’s a short step: the business plan outlines the company’s main goals, the strategic plan defines the broad outlines by which to achieve the goals (and, that is, implement the business plan), and the action plan describes the precise steps to be taken to put the company’s strategic plan into action.
Assess the context (market analysis)
As already pointed out, in order to create an action plan that can prove truly effective, you need to know your company, but also assess the external context in which it operates. Knowing how to conduct a market analysis is crucial in this regard because it allows you to build a data-driven (i.e., driven by hard, real data) plan of action and, in light of this, to make more informed and functional decisions with a view to achieving your goals, perhaps in an unexplored niche.
The advice for comprehensively assessing the operating environment is to take a multidisciplinary approach, combining quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Whichever method you choose, remember to identify precisely the objectives of your market analysis and define exactly the areas of research, segmenting the target audience and choosing the communication channels through which to dialogue with it. Not only that: be very careful to choose the questions you ask carefully and spend the right amount of time analyzing the results.
Define goals and steps needed to achieve them
It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty and figure out how to make an action plan more concrete. To know what actions you need to take to achieve your goals, of course, you must first determine what they are: one of the most common methods of defining the right goals is what is known as SMART, an acronym that stands for “Specific,” “Measureable,” “Attainable,” “Relevant” and “Time-based.”
A “specific” goal is one that is defined in detail, not in a general way. The goal must also be “measurable,” i.e., it must be possible to use measurements that can allow you to check the progress made. Being ambitious is very important when it comes to launching yourself into a new business, but keep in mind that your goals must be “attainable”: this means that your goals must push you to get better and better, but they must also be anchored in reality and calibrated to your actual possibilities. Clarity should also be given on the concept of “relevant”: your goals must be relevant both to the scenario and to your specific skills and competencies. Finally, goals must be “time-based,” that is, defined so that they can be achieved within a specific time frame.
The time sequence must also include key steps to be achieved throughout the process. As with goals, you need to set realistic time deadlines in relation to the resources you have available. Once the time sequence is set, it is time to focus on each individual activity, identifying for each one a person responsible, the resources needed for its completion, and the precise steps to be followed. As mentioned earlier, it is essential to monitor progress and, if necessary, make adjustments to the action plan. To do all this, regular meetings should be scheduled with all those involved and responsible for the proper execution of the action plan.
Building a table for writing the plan
To make your action plan even clearer (and, consequently, effective), it may prove very useful to construct a table so that it can be represented graphically in a more concise and immediate way. In this regard, you must take care to include within it, for each objective, a number of key points: specifically, we refer to the actions that you need to take to achieve it, the personnel involved in the process and the figures responsible for it, the resources specifically dedicated to the objective and all operations related to it, and, finally, the time deadline by which you need to achieve the set goal.
(How to) ensure that the action plan is followed.
The following aspect has already been mentioned in our analysis but it is important to emphasize it again: the entire work team must be aligned on the action plan. Informing employees is not enough: you must also make sure that all employees understand the rationale behind it and its benefits to the organization and to the workers themselves. An action plan may also require drastic decisions and radical changes, and it is important that you are able to capture any concerns employees may have and reassure them, making them feel comfortable with the new scenario on the horizon.
Measure progress and adjust goals
It is important to monitor progress regularly so that you can identify potential problems or opportunities for improvement. Monitoring progress also allows you to stay abreast of your action plan and ensure that each activity is completed in a timely manner. Measuring progress, in practical terms, helps you identify areas that need specific adjustments, which can also result in a reevaluation of the previously set goal.
Always keep in mind that the validity of an action plan is not immutable and eternal, since your goals and actions are inevitably intertwined with the changing environment surrounding your startup. In order to achieve success, therefore, you must take care to reevaluate your action plan at regular intervals, so that you adjust your goals to new scenarios.