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Quarterly Planning: Let’s make it quick and painless.

Quarterly planning conjures up about as much excitement as a trip to the DMV. But it doesn't have to be a dreary chore. Done right, quarterly planning can be quick, collaborative, and energizing. In this post, we'll walk through how to create a lightweight planning process that aligns your team and sets you up for an awesome quarter. Let's do this!

Tenets of Effective Quarterly Planning

First, the essential tenets to keep top of mind as we design our quarterly planning process:

1. Focus on the Critical Few

Quarterly planning shouldn't revisit everything. It should focus on the handful of metrics and priorities that are real inflection points for that quarter. Less is more.

2. Look Back Before Looking Forward

Reflecting on past performance gives context that helps us plan smarter. We should incorporate retrospectives into our quarterly planning cadence.

3. Gather Insights Broadly

Like any good planning process, quarterly planning should tap insights from across the company, not just execs. Different perspectives produce more robust plans.

4. Make it Fast and Furious

Quarterly planning shouldn't eat up weeks of time or grind progress to a halt. The process should be fast and lightweight.

5. Communicate Clearly

Bookend planning with communication to the broader company about process, priorities, and roles. Alignment and transparency are key.

Ok, with those tenets in mind, let's walk through the phases of an effective quarterly planning process.

Phase 1: Reflect on the Past Quarter

Start by looking back at performance over the past quarter. The data team should analyze results across metrics and share insights on where we over or under-performed against goals.

While data provides the scaffolding, the retrospective should also gather qualitative insights from the team through project debriefs or anonymous surveys about what worked well or poorly. Document the key takeaways.

Pro tip: Designate a Slack channel for teams to share retrospective insights to create an easy, centralized place to collect feedback.

Phase 2: Determine Critical Few Initiatives

Next, it's time to look ahead and determine the handful of key initiatives that will be our focus for the upcoming quarter. The leadership team meets to align on the 3-5 critical company-level priorities for the quarter based on the context from Phase 1.

Pro tip: To facilitate alignment, have each leader distill their priorities before the meeting so you can look for themes and quickly synthesize the critical few.

Phase 3: Define Team Initiatives and Goals

With the company-wide priorities defined, the focus shifts to the department leaders to plan at the team level. Each leader should outline their team's specific initiatives to support the company priorities and identify goals.

Pro tip: Make it cross-functional! Have leaders validate initiatives and goals across departments to check for alignment and identify dependencies.

Phase 4: Create Quarterly Roadmap

Now it's time to get tactical and map out how we'll execute on the plan. The program management office should oversee creating one unified roadmap that sequences the initiatives and goals from all teams into a master execution guide for the quarter.

Pro tip: Identify milestones and key results upfront for each initiative to create measurable markers of progress.

Phase 5: Align Resources to Priorities

As we move forward executing our roadmap, priorities may shift or plans may need to adapt. We need a lightweight process for quickly realigning resources to emerging needs.

The finance team should host monthly or bi-monthly business reviews with department leaders to assess progress and collaboratively adjust resourcing like budget and headcount to support priorities.

Pro tip: Use real-time budget management software to have transparent visibility into resource allocation and make nimble shifts.

6 Things That Make Quarterly Planning Quick and Painless

Take these tips to heart to create smooth quarterly planning in your organization.

1. Distribute Pre-Read Materials - Share goals, metrics, and context in advance so meetings can focus on planning rather than getting up to speed.

2. Timebox Discussions - Set firm time limits for each piece of the planning process to avoid rabbit holes.

3. Have Clear Owners - Each phase should have an explicit owner to drive progress and follow-through.

4. Limit Attendees - Don't include everyone in everything. Tailor the invite list for each piece based on need.

2. Use Collaborative Software - Tools like Supernormal enable real-time collaboration and keep a record of meetings that you and your team can go back to.

5. Reuse Prior Documentation - Evolve past plans rather than starting from scratch each quarter to build institutional knowledge.

6. Cadence is Key - Planning should quickly follow quarter close so insights are fresh and there is time to execute plans before next quarter kickoff.

Planning for Impact

There you have it - a framework to make your next quarterly planning process focused, efficient, and energizing. By sticking to the critical few initiatives, aligning goals across the organization, and maintaining cadence, you'll drive greater impact quarter after quarter. What tips do you have for quarterly planning success? I'd love to hear what works well in your organization!

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