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Continuous Planning

Move beyond a set-it-and-forget-it annual planning model to a more agile, continuous planning approach.

An agile approach does not necessarily mean 100% Agile execution. The Tri-Modal reality makes traditional planning obsolete. What’s needed is a portfolio management technique that allows you to control all work throughout the year, regardless of how it is executed.

What is a Continuous Planning Model?

Continuous planning is a dynamic approach to project planning that constantly assesses events, both internal and external, to help drive decisions and adjust the plan. In practice this planning model relies on data inputs, triggers, and alerts to dynamically update the plan based on both outside influences like changing economic conditions and internal factors, like a shift in strategy.

Reimagining what planning really is

But using the same annual planning processes and just applying them them more frequently isn’t really continuous planning. If you truly want to adopt continuous planning, then you’ll need to actually change how you plan. This of course assumes that you’ve already embraced the trimodal reality of traditional, agile and informal project delivery, and you’re ready to expand your delivery models from traditional projects and programs to include products and capabilities.

There’s a lot of work being done, and it all needs to be planned

It doesn’t work to simply use the same kind of planning you’ve always used with an accelerated cadence, because that still hat still doesn’t provide a comprehensive view of all your investments. Worse, it could just be prioritizing a list of projects that may or may not align with your strategic priorities. Effective planning today must be a little more complex, because when it’s done right, it becomes far more relevant and will deliver improved performance.

Bulk funding and governance

Your budgeting may remain an annual exercise. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be adjusted during the year as circumstances change. Indeed, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to set discretionary investment budgets annually to align with your existing budgetary process for the entire organization.

Continuous planning enables the organization to constantly adjust to the realities on the ground.

Portfolios don’t magically end because the year changes, they continue with ongoing investments from the previous cycle. If those investments were important on the last day of the previous year then they’re still important on the first day of the next year and can be funded accordingly. Similarly, there will be mandatory initiatives that you have to fund whether you like it or not. Regulatory and compliance work, maintenance and upgrades, that work still needs to be done no matter what happens, so you may as well fund it.

Allocate at the product or program level

Instead of allocating pockets of funds to business units to be used at their discretion, you allocate funds to major products and programs. This product and program driven approach more closely ties the funding of work with the strategic priorities of the business and also helps to elevate oversight and governance to the product / program level instead of being lower down in the business at the project level.

As variables change, funds should be reallocated

As variables change – which is the very reason why you need continuous and adaptive planning in the first place – it’s easy to reallocate funds directly at the product / program level, with less issues trying to ‘claw back’ departmental level funding. And make no mistake, when it comes to the truly discretionary investments – those work items you choose to pursue to achieve your strategic imperatives – your planning approach must be constantly evolving. Situations are always changing, and you can’t assume that previous decisions are still valid.

A continuous process that must also be adaptive

Your business has limited capacity and capabilities. There are only so many parallel pieces of work that you can undertake, so many initiatives that you have the people to work on, the skills to be successful with, and the funding to invest in. That’s where continuous planning comes in. Not quarterly, not monthly, continuous. Which means embracing the process of constantly asking yourself whether circumstances have changed and altered your investment decisions:

  • Do the currently funded initiatives still make sense?
  • Are the highest priority items in the portfolio backlog (work awaiting funding) still the right ones?
  • Are the goals and objectives still appropriate and realistic?

Sometimes, the answer to those questions will be “no”. And that’s where the adaptive element comes in. Continuous planning can’t be a feel-good exercise – an opportunity to confirm previous decisions. It has to be a real opportunity to adjust the work you’re doing and the priorities you have – as realities on-the-ground change – to ensure total
alignment with what you need to achieve and what is actually happening.

Limitations of Traditional Planning Models

The traditional annual ‘set it and forget it’ approach to planning relies on a static plan, created once per year, primarily driven by the needs of the enterprise financial team. Once approved, the plan goes into execution-mode, with scant attention paid to changing variables like market demand or a shift in strategy. If the static plan is never revisited in light of these changes, the initiatives risk not being aligned with enterprise strategies. 

Agile Organizations Require Dynamic Planning

Organizations and their practitioners are growing increasingly frustrated with the old, static approach to annual planning. PMOs need to be armed with tools and planning techniques to dynamically adjust plans as variables change. The old set-it-and-forget it approach doesn’t provide an organization with the agility needed to turn on a dime and adapt to changing variables or evolving market conditions.

Benefits of Planning Continuously

Smart organizations are choosing to move to a continuous or rolling-wave planning model that supports quarterly, annual and multi-year planning and re-planning. This technique, when married to the right program-driven or capability-driven investment approach, ensures the organization is able to effectively manage near-term and long-term roadmaps of investments which are always aligned to strategic imperatives.

Make better decisions, on-the-fly

A more dynamic process allows you to continuously assess your inflight portfolio performance, conduct cost vs. benefit analyses and make both near-term and long-term changes to ensure all investments align with strategy. When done right, this process provides all stakeholders – including the strategy, finance and execution teams – with the right controls to assess the value of each investment without impacting any team’s ability to execute the way they want to.

Ben Chamberlain

Ben Chamberlain is the Chief Product Officer and is responsible for the strategic direction and worldwide go-to-market activities for UMT360’s Strategic Portfolio Management (SPM) software solutions. He is an accomplished enterprise software executive with more than a decade of experience of building innovative SPM solutions that have helped global 2000 companies drive business transformation and increase their business agility. Ben joined UMT in 2002 and was responsible for the in-market success of UMT Portfolio Manager which was acquired by Microsoft in 2006. Ben has a degree in Business and Sports Science from Surrey University (UK).