What it takes to be an Agile Planner

Strategic planning isn’t the same as strategic thinking

Many times you see CEOs or managers using the terms strategic thinking and strategic planning interchangeably, but the fact is that both these terms are two separate concepts with different scopes.

Strategic thinking focuses on ideation, creativity, problem solving, and scenario planning. It’s about seeing the bigger picture and envisioning the future of your company. A strategic thinker sets the foundation of the company’s plan of action; the vision, the idea, the goals, and the “why” behind the company’s products or services. And while strategic thinkers set the building blocks of the company’s action plan, strategic or agile planners create the blueprint.

Strategic planning is the blueprint for the ideas produced during strategic thinking; it’s the goals and objectives that create the blueprint of how to achieve the strategic thinker’s organizational goals or vision of the company’s future. Strategic planners bring the strategic thinkers’ strategies and ideas into action; implementing, prioritizing, conducting follow-ups, and the “how” that sets the company’s goals in motion.

The Characteristics of an Agile Planner

As mentioned above, strategic thinking and strategic—or agile—planning have become synonymous in the business world. The reason for this mix-up is that while both of these concepts are different, they overlap with one another and support one another in the business’s journey towards success; they form a cohesive and efficient team.

And with that said, here’s how agile planners really think and how you can enforce some of these traits within your organization.

They understand the value of both “hard data” and “soft data”

In this article, there’s a distinction made between “hard” and “soft” data—the former is competitor analyses, customer personas, data on the industry and market, and the latter is the human aspect of data, such as talking with suppliers, employees or potential clients, and using human judgment or intuition.

Traditional planning is predominantly based on hard, rigid data and not enough intuition. Shifting from being a traditional planner to a strategic planner requires that you also take “soft” data into consideration—agile teams imagine the possibilities using hard data, and then create a compelling argument using their own judgment, which, in short, is soft data.

Their strategic plans are flexible and anticipate future change

Agile or strategic planners create a blueprint that isn’t based on a fixed step-by-step process; they understand fully well that anything can change within the current market, so they create a plan that can bend at will and whenever necessary without it completely falling apart.

Instead of creating a plan that lasts for an entire year or quarter, they create one using “sprints,” which as the term suggests, a short timeline in which a milestone or objective needs to be completed. With each completed sprint, the teams regroup, present the data and outcomes, and base the next sprint on those findings. Breaking down the plan into “sprints” or simple-yet-ambitious objectives can help teams maintain focus while also moving things along without sacrificing quality.

These objectives can come in the form of OKRs—a set of objectives that teams must complete within a short period of time with a goal or key result in mind. These OKRs are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that the company is keeping up with the current market and is on track to achieving its ultimate goal.

They always have the big picture in mind

This is also where the agile planner and strategic thinkers’ duties intertwine—they both think in terms of the big picture. While the strategic thinker is the brains behind the idea or goal, the agile planner keeps that goal in mind while setting up the company’s roadmap.

It’s easy to fall into the spiral that is “the daily grind”; day-to-day tasks, completing whatever is on the to-do list, and putting too much on resolving technical issues that may arise. Agile planners know where their priorities lie, and they make sure not to focus too much on tactics to the point where they lose sight of the bigger picture, and that is the company’s goal.

And lastly, they embrace uncertainty

The idea of a plan that could change any minute is a daunting concept for all of us, but becoming a strategic or agile planner requires that you acknowledge and accept the unknown.

Strategy, whether planning or thinking, is all about the risks and uncertainties, and guaranteed, the business world is full of them.

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