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The Most Important Phase Of Your Major Initiative Is Pre-Planning

Michael VanBruaene

Michael VanBruaene

By Michael VanBruaene, Guest Blogger

Many times we are too quick to jump to planning a new major initiative without adequately considering its key elements and our motivation for it.  Before we start to plan a complex major initiative we should clearly know what we want to achieve and why.  We also want to have a high level view of how it will be planned and implemented. And certainty that we should move forward to a formal planning phase.

It’s common to inadvertently fuse the conceptualization and overall perspective required for a successful initiative with the actual concrete planning.  The result is a rocky start and/or we go down the wrong path in planning and then implementing the initiative.

In our pre-planning phase it’s important to identify key elements of the initiative, in broad and yet also concrete terms; and also begin a dialogue with key customers or the population to be served, delivery and production participants, stakeholders, and revenue sources.  To do this we should have a flexible Pre-Panning Framework to guide us.

Pre-Planning Framework

The pre-planning framework includes the following items, keeping in mind that this is an initial framework that is subject to change as you work through this process, and is to be followed by formal and more in-depth planning.

  • What do we want to accomplish? What is our objective?
  • Why this initiative?
  • Who are the customers/population to whom the product/service will be sold and/or delivered?
  • What is the size of the industry and target market?
  • How do we intend to deliver/sell the service/product?
  • What is our pricing strategy and structure and why?
  • What are the revenue challenges?
  • Who are important participants for delivering/producing the service/product?
  • What are the risks that could impair achieving a successful initiative?
  • Continue, stop or change objective and rationale.

What do we want to accomplish.  What is our objective?  This is the starting point and most critical step.  It will guide the initiative’s planning, structure, operations, and how it is ultimately evaluated. We will be focusing on the objective when we introduce the initiative to others.  It’s also key to recruiting and keeping their interest and involvement.

Spend a lot time on this step.  Document it, review it, let it go for a while and then go back and reconsider it.  How does it sound when verbalized?  Is this what we really want to accomplish?  Is it reasonably feasible and realistic?  Will it resonate with future partners, participants, customers, clients?  Is there enough flexibility in the wording to accommodate others who while very interested, may have a slightly different approach to implementation?  Do we have in mind how we could modify the objective’s wording if necessary?

Note that this is not a mission statement, it’s more concrete.  It’s OK to change it along the way.  But the wording should be relatively concrete.  If the wording is too vague the input from others may also be vague as they are not fully knowledgeable as to what we want to accomplish.

Why this initiative? What is it about, why is it important?  What will it do – in general?  What are the most important facts about the initiative?

Answering these questions will help to confirm the initiative’s objectives and what it will accomplish.  This information will also be used when we start to interact with others and want to influence them about the initiative’s importance.

Who are the customers/population to whom the service/product will be sold and/or delivered?  What do we know about them? Have we talked to any of them informally or formally? Do we have tangible and relevant experience with them?

Rigorous analysis of these questions will help to determine if the objective is appropriate and makes sense and/or how it should be modified.

What is the size of the industry and target market? And what are important trends (i.e., is it growing? shrinking?) What share of market do we think we can address, deliver to, and/or capture? What are the high level sales/delivery projections?

Answering these questions will help to determine if there really is a need for the initiative, and to what extent it will have to be scaled.  This in turn will affect time required for implementation, and resources.  We might also consider a relatively small initial target market to fully test out the initiative and then at a later date expand it.

How do we intend to deliver/sell the service/product?  How do we intend to reach the target market identified? What is our plan to promote the product/service? How centralized/de-centralized will it be?

What is our pricing strategy and structure and why?  How does this compare to competitors or other providers?  If this is to be a public sector initiative, might we still want to have a fee for the service?  It may not cover the entire cost of the service, but at least a portion of it; and might also help us determine the real need and/or desire for the service.

What are the revenue challenges?  How does this enterprise make/obtain money? What are the revenue streams – sources and types of revenue? Sales, grants, and/or contracts for example? How strong and stable will they be?

Who are important participants for delivering/producing the product/service?  Will we need partners at various stages who will be integral to the initiative’s implementation?  Who should we involve sooner rather than later?  Who can we contact later?  These questions may also apply to our suppliers of important components for the initiative.

Why are these entities important?  If we anticipate many participants, we may want to create categories to use in analyzing their involvement and importance.  Possible categories could be: operational, supplier revenue, start-up capital, key influencer, relevant expertise and political,

What will be the planning time span and what will it entail?  How long should it take to develop a formal implementation plan, with the next step being initiative start?  What should be the categories, elements, steps, etc. of the plan?

What are the risks that could impair achieving a successful initiative?  What is the likelihood of the risk occurring and what would be its impact?

Risk identification for an initiative is sometimes done ad hoc as part of a planning process.  However, when done as a formal process there is a much greater opportunity to fully identify the risks and determine how to manage them.

Risks could be related to these categories:

  • Competition, direct and indirect
  • Revenue, e.g. including the amount, timing, restrictions on use
  • Suppliers
  • Production
  • Delivery
  • Initiative planning and implementation team(s)
  • Regulatory
  • Political
  • Desire to use or purchase the service/product, level of interest

Continue, stop or change objective and rationale.  This framework also helps us to determine if our original objective and rationale is appropriate, and that what we want to achieve is feasible.  As we move through the framework we should be asking ourselves:  Should we continue or stop, should we modify our rationale, will implementation be successful?

Michael VanBruaene was a KPMG Director and blogs at “Michael VanBruaene – Pragmatic Approaches To Move You and Your Organization Forward”.  Go to his website for additional articles, tools and information. He can be contacted at

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