When a CEO decides that it is time to shape the annual plan and chart a path for growth, they must think agile and not stiff. An agile annual plan takes preparation, process, and execution discipline. Learn how top CEO’s use the power of agile planning to mobilize the organization to make the number.

Is all of your hard work, team offsite meetings, and weeks of collaboration leaving you with a rigid annual plan that looks too much the one from last year?


No CEO wants to shape a plan that is too stiff to drive business results.  Instead, they desire an agile plan that is dynamic and primed to accommodate an ever-changing set of circumstances.  The real test is how the organization responds after the plan is launched, and things start to change.  Using an agile planning tool is critical to driving growth faster than your competition.


Agile planning is different from annual planning in crucial ways.  Think of annual planning as stiff and running the risk of not getting the organization ahead of the competition or outpacing the market.


  • A deep fact base must be built that goes beyond repeating the process from last year.
  • A set of “big bets” must be created and prioritized based upon growth impacts.
  • An operating cadence must be put in place that drives execution and the ability to change direction as needed.
  • It is dynamic, evolving based upon learning, and can stand the test of bumps in progress.


Let’s look at the main ingredients of agile planning first to create a foundation.  Excellence in agile planning includes the following:


  1. Vision – Organizational alignment on exactly what the end of the road looks like. It must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
  2. Roadmap – Clearly depicts the plan with milestones, defining the steps that will help the enterprise move closer to the goal.
  3. Release Plan – Defines the initiatives that will be addressed within the decided timeline and includes one owner for each item.
  4. Iteration Plan – Teams commit to delivering and how they plan to handle the process of changes that will inevitably happen.
  5. Daily Stand-Up – The entire team meets, usually at the start of the day. Each team member shares details such as: What was done yesterday? What are the plans for today?  Any impediment/issues that are currently being faced. This will be highlighted so that the meeting master can help to resolve the problems quickly.


A CEO, running any organization looking to stay ahead of the competition, outpace industry growth, and beat the number must lead from the front with agile planning. They should not accept a rigid plan that looks like “shelfware” the day it is finished.  A well-executed process ensures that the organization thinks big enough and helps the CEO enable the leadership team to execute after the plan is built.  The plan is 50% of the goal, execution is the other 50%, and some would argue that this math is wrong.


Engage the Organization to Build a Fact Base


Building the fact base is a critical step to avoiding any uninformed decisions in later stages.  While that may sound incredibly basic, the fact base is needed to quantify exactly what the organization needs to do in order to make the numbers.  Key items to consider are:


  • Define the EBIDTA target
  • Top-line revenue number
  • Company valuation – Here is a great tool to help you assess company valuation
  • Retain top customers and limit churn
  • Brand positioning
  • Increase market share and share of wallet
  • Make the number? (organic, acquisitions, new logos, etc.)
  • Lower CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) and shorten sales cycle length?
  • Increase CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value), win rates, deal sizes


Brainstorm and Align on the Organization Big Bets


Think of the big bets as the growth levers the organization can pull to make the number.  Remember, there are usually dozens of things a large enterprise can do. A list of big bets must be prioritized and shortened down to what can be done with excellence.  The CEO should not allow for too many big bets as it dilutes the process and limits execution success.  Key items to consider are:


  • Budgets and clear ROI for each bet
  • Coverage of ideal customers and prospects
  • People plans (A Players)
  • Customer satisfaction – This article can help you think through CX (Customer Experience)
  • Marketing and messaging to clients and prospects – Here is a great article that will help you think through your marketing efforts.
  • A data-rich decision process


Establish a Clear Agile Cadence That Masters Execution


This is a key differentiator from an annual plan.  Agile execution demands a regular process of “doing the work.”  Too many annual plans are only looked at when they know they must be, and this is a critical error.  An agile plan evolves and is part of the fabric daily. Key items to consistently track and manage to on the agile plan cadence are:


  • The right talent and accountabilities
  • Capacity of key people
  • Territory potential and goals
  • Account performance
  • Marketing funnel analysis (attribution)
  • Customer satisfaction scores
  • Benchmarking against industry and competitors


A full measure of caution is recommended when it comes to execution.  KPI’s should be identified that give a clear vision into the health of the agile plan as this allows for the ability to stay flexible and react quickly to the demands of the business.  Excellence emerges when the organization has clear sight to:


  1. Behavioral Indicators: Behaviors we can expect to see, happen, or change as a result of the agile plan and big bets. This informs exactly what people should do differently.
  2. Leading Indicators: These are markers that begin to that our behaviors are leading to early results. They can be a combination of qualitative and quantitative.
  3. Lagging Indicators: These are the outputs of the behavior change and the leading indicators. They will take longer to develop fully, and the organization must exercise patience in fully recognizing the ROI.


The agile planning tool will help you kick off the process, use best practices in building the foundation, and allows for proper measurement along the way.  Remember this key concept: being agile is all about being flexible and not rigid. Your team will perform much better this way as you outpace the competition and see your big bets take life.


SBI also invests heavily in making sure we bring commercial best practices through our annual research on what top companies do to drive the number.  Download our annual research report here.



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