We spend so much time on preparing yearly budgets, company resource allocations and meeting intermediary targets. But why? The problem with yearly budget cycles is that we end up working many months to prepare a budget based on detailed planning of the specific activities we want to undertake, and then spend the remainder of year explaining why we ended up deviating from the plan. Why engage in any medium term planning at all if the only certainty you have is that the plan will not materialize? The medium term – those yearly budget cycles, for instance – is too uncertain, and too dependent on chance events. It depends on external societal and political dynamics, competitors’ moves, and the volatile environment we all operate in. Moreover, it depends too much on what happens to the scarce leadership talent we have within our organization.
The desire to create predictability in business through mid-term planning is strong, and for operationally driven teams “Gantt chart”-based linear planning is practically reflexive. As teams deviate from the plan – which is inevitable – project managers get nervous. As time goes on and the team continues uncovering new insights, but not proceeding in stepwise Gantt fashion, that nervousness becomes acute. Problems arise when the linear process envisioned by a Gantt chart differs from the less-than-linear innovation process – this is called the “anxiety gap.” Companies get stuck between the expected straight-line progress and the meandering path that jets up to the finish line on almost every innovation project.
Besides frustrating project managers, Gantt-fashion planning saps the energy and creativity of project teams. Explorative business and innovation programs are projects of discovery, where curious findings lead teams in directions that were unknowable during initial project planning.
Venture Capital and Private Equity firms understand the futility of such planning, much preferring short-term action plans combined with the release of further capital as soon as a milestone is reached (instead of at planned intervals). So why not stop all the medium term planning, and focus on long-term vision, combined with short-term action orientation instead?