Do You Know How to Structure Long-Term Plans? Start Here.

Strategy

Do You Know How to Structure Long-Term Plans? Start Here.

Goals are only as attainable as the plan to get there. Here’s how to construct a clear, realistic blueprint to keep you and your team on task and on time.

CREDIT: Getty Images

Recently my team and I began planning an important long-term project. There was general agreement on how long it would take and what was involved, people invested time brainstorming what the whole thing would look like, and there was quite a bit of discussion on strategy. With clients, I often find this is where planning for long-term projects stalls. It’s ok to talk about difficult, long-term goals that are going to take a ton of time and energy, but some people don’t like to get too specific, lest they actually have to start working on the project. The project may get done, but it won’t be until the last minute and after a great deal of stress.

Not my team. I am a fairly meticulous planner. When you have a carefully crafted schedule with lots of cyclical and routine structures built in, you’re putting yourself in a position for success. Inevitably, things will go awry and plans will change. But if you have stuck to your calendar up until that point, you’ll be better able to handle the challenges, and won’t slack on other projects while you focus your energy on whatever problem has arisen. Control the things you can control, so you can handle the things you can’t control. You need to have a meeting of the minds where you establish steps, timelines, and accountability.

Here’s the step-by-step process my team uses at planning meetings for long-term projects:

1.     Prep Brainstorming

Everyone needs to come to the meeting prepared. That means team members have done research on what the project will involve. They have some understanding of what is necessary to achieve the general goal, and they understand what they may be able to contribute. They’ve also examined the status of other long-term projects so they already know about potential conflicts and busy periods where they may have less capacity. Even without specific information on issues like exact timeline and precise indicators of success, they are prepared to have a robust conversation.

2.     Agree on Specific Elements

Now that you’re together at the meeting, you have to establish the specifics. What exactly is the goal, in real terms? What does the best outcome look like? Without a specific vision of success, you’ll never know how to get there. Once you’ve identified the goal, what are the steps you’ll have to take to get there? What needs to happen before you can claim victory? How much does the order of events matter? Does that work with the general timeline you’ve established? The more specific the milestones along the way, the better you can understand how to achieve each.

3.     Chart It Out

Be visual and meticulous. Get a whiteboard and draw out the timeline you’re establishing. Does that work with everyone’s individual calendars? Decide on deadlines for each milestone that will push you along the path to success. What exactly needs to happen between points A and B? For example, I recently facilitated a meeting for a client on long-term sales prospects. I drew a table on the whiteboard with the headings Lead, Owner, Product, Likelihood, and Next Step. Then as each potential client was discussed, the team stayed on the same page while also making related decisions such how much time to invest in each lead.

4.     Be Skeptical

Charting it out is the most important part of the planning process, and it requires your special attention. Do you think an element of the timeline is way too ambitious? Does it seem like someone has overcommitted themselves in a certain area? Do you anticipate client pushback on one of the steps? Speak up! Consider obstacles and work out as many potential complications and roadblocks as possible right now, so you’re not caught in a bad position later. This may require more honesty than you’re used to sharing, but that’s good for your team anyway!

5.     Check In

Goals are only as good as the plans to get there, and plans are only as good as the accountability they enforce. You need to build routine checkpoints into your plan where each team member shares exactly what’s been accomplished towards their responsibilities and what’s going poorly. You’ll never stay on track without real consequences. As you progress, working on these problems together will lighten the load and make the project altogether better as you more fully understand every element that’s going into it.

Published on: Jun 6, 2019
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