Operational planning and fast-growth companies

I’m meant to be coming up with an operational plan.

I HATE this task.

Here’s what I want to say to the guy who told me to make one: “Can’t we just get on and grow the company, rather than focussing on imagining exactly how many widgets we might be selling in two years’ time if ten unknowable factors all turn out exactly as we plan? Can’t we just make decisions for the next couple of months and then pivot if necessary, rather than commit ourselves to forecasts that might as well be based on sales to unicorns and pixies for all their connection to reality? Do I really need to delay contacting potential customers for three days just so I can write a work of fiction to appease you?”

I think it’s going to be a losing battle. My shareholders are not fans of no-planning. They’re used to predictable returns from a mature business, and they’re not very receptive to my argument that a fast-growth business is different.

Here’s why I think a fast-growth business shouldn’t have an operational plan: A fast-growth business needs to be able to change course frequently without any sense of losing face. I’m a big fan of handbag entrepreneur Anya Hindmarch’s advice, ‘Fire yourself every day and come back as your successor’.  Committing to an unnecessary operational plan is the exact opposite of this advice. It tempts you to define implementation of the agreed plan as success in and of itself, even if circumstances have changed or you’ve learned something important. It tempts you (and others) to view deviation from the plan as failure, even when that deviation is completely warranted. It tempts you to stop trying to learn about  your customers, your products, or your geographies, in case you learn something that contradicts the assumptions in the plan. And this is precisely the opposite of what a fast-growing company should be doing, particularly when it’s in uncharted business waters. The main job of the CEO is to help the company learn and flex as it’s delivering to its existing customers. If you’re not changing course, you’re not learning. And if you’re not learning, you might as well stop trying.

I’m tempted to buy my shareholders copies of The Lean Startup, but I think this might lose the diplomatic war in addition to the operational-planning battle.

The worst thing is, I’m not sure I’m right about this. Maybe there’s a whole other side to the coin that I just can’t see right now. Maybe deep down I’m just being lazy, or naive. Maybe it is a good use of my time to plan out where we might be in two years. It’s just that I can’t see any benefit in it.

What do you think?

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