Painfree Action Planning: Core Elements

The maxim, ‘Nothing avails but perfection,’ may be spelled, Paralysis. WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL
The planning strategy outlined in Painfree Action Planning: Overview can be used to build a broad company action plan or a specific project plan.

We’re focusing on action, because the current landscape is so murky, many owners and managers confess they’re having trouble defining a true strategic plan.

Let’s set some basic rules.

First, we’re not going to waste time quibbling over terminology.

Why? The best way to ensure you never get around to building a plan is to launch a discussion about the “best” or “most accurate” terms. Are goals bigger than objectives or vice versa? Are tasks and action items the same or different? Should we use the term benchmarks, measurements or metrics?

It doesn’t matter. Use the terms from the Crossbridge model or pick your own. Just be consistent.

Second, since sweeping strategic issues seem to be the common sticking point, ignore them for now. The immediate objective is to build a targeted action plan to guide you and your business through the next three, six or 12 months.

Scope & Timeframe

Define the scope (company, division, project) and timeframe. Are you focusing on results you want to achieve by the end of the quarter? Mid-point? Year? Note your decision and move on.


Pick a central theme or focal point to describe your main business thrust for the identified scope and timeframe. Are you focused on: Growth? Survival? Efficiency? Excellence? New product development? Cost reduction? Think broadly, but be specific. For working purposes, let’s say the theme is: Prepare for growth.

Tier 1 – Outcomes

What is the big picture? What are your most significant challenges and results? What MUST happen for your business to thrive? Focus on your three most essential outcomes. To prepare for growth, one outcome might be: Expand capacity.

Tier 2 – Goals

What needs to happen to achieve your outcomes? Focus on one outcome at a time, and begin to define specific, measurable deliverables. One growth-capacity goal might be: Maximize existing salesforce. Another might be: Streamline production to increase efficiency.

Tier 3 – Tasks

What actions bring you closer to your goal? Focus on one goal at a time, and write down three substantive tasks that need to happen.

The illustration shows how each tier flows into the next. Remember to work fast and capture key ideas. Aim for three major points at each stage (outcomes, goals, tasks). Avoid fussing, because once your plan is in rough form, you’ll work through it again from top to bottom to fill holes, move things around and refine content.

Any solid plan will need to include target numbers. Ignore these for now. Once you define the key elements above, it’s much easier to pinpoint meaningful indicators, who owns what and how you'll measure success.

Too often, the search for perfection translates into paralysis. It over-emphasizes the importance of the plan and detracts from the ultimate purpose, which is to focus on actions that drive business results.

Have you nailed down your 2012 plan? Perhaps it’s time to get busy.


The Truth about Planning
Painfree Action Planning: Overview
Painfree Action Planning: Tips & Tricks
Painfree Action Planning: 5 Pitfalls
Strategy | Where's Your Sweet Spot? (series)

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