Integrative Business Planning – Managing Complexity

Introduction

Business Planning is normally done when a business plan is needed for financing purposes or to use as a guideline on running and growing a business (as a start-up or for the next time frame). Many crucial features of a business need to be addressed and balanced in this planning process. Various options, problems and risks relating to these features will be considered.

Entrepreneurs often assume that one variable has a linear relationship with another (e.g. $x spending on marketing will create $y income in sales). Business is, however, seldom that simple. Many multi-directional relationships tend to occur between the various features. Sales would for instance also be influenced by product quality, price, etc. Sales on the other hand will influence future expansions. To cater for this phenomenon an integrative business planning process is required.

Crucial Issues in Business Planning

Every business is different and the crucial issues in one does not necessary occur in another. What is, however, important is that the business planners ensure that they analyse and plan for all the relevant features for their specific business. This would normally include the issues that is highlighted below.

  • The Business – It is essential to ensure that the opportunity, the business concept, its products, services and strategies and the industry that it operates in are sound.
  • Marketing – Marketing strategy needs to be considered. This include aspects such as pricing and promotion.
  • Market Research - This is a crucial issue that is often neglected. It is important to know and understand the customers, the market size and trends and who the competition is.
  • Development - All issues regarding the development of new products, services, markets and facilities need to be planned for.
  • Operations - All aspects regarding the what, where and how of operations must be considered.
  • The Team - The management team need to match the requirements of a business. It would be preferable to establish what skills/jobs are needed and then to link the people to it. Where there are a lack of skills, training programmes can be implemented and new people can be hired. The whole organigram and composition of board of directors, management teams, etc. need to be planned for.
  • Finances - Finances are the ultimate yardstick of the success of a business, but it can not stand on its own. Important financial issues would typically include investment-, financing- and dividend decisions and policies. It is also crucial to plan for turnover (sales), gross profit margins and cost control (of expenses). The relationships between these issues (financial ratios) need further planning to establish if the business will be profitable, liquid and solvent. Return on investment (ROI) and sustainable business growth would for instance be specific aspects to consider.
  • Risk Management - The various risks that occur need to be determined, analysed and catered for. Fatal flaws need to be eliminated. Operational- and financial risks can often be hedged. This would incur certain costs and strategies such as manufacturing in various countries and buying and selling futures and options in different currencies.

The Complexity of Detailed Business Planning

A quick review of the brief summary of the crucial issues that need to be considered gives a glimpse of the complexity involved in business planning. If we just look at the financial issues we will see that the price will have an impact on the sales (turnover). The lower the price the more the physical volumes will normally be (except if image requires a high price). Turnover and total profits will, however, not necessary be higher. There is normally a fine balance that exist between the price, volume sales, turnover and profits.

To complicate this even further the turnover, costs and profits and there timings have a direct impact on the cashflow of the company (a very critical issue). This whole aspect is then further complicated by the investment- (capital expenditure), financing- (equity or debt?) and dividend decisions. By spending too much on a plant, having too much debt and paying out too much to shareholders will have a negative effect on the sustainable business growth of the company and this will reduce the targets that are achievable. This scenario shows only a portion of the various aspects that need to balance within the broader financial sphere.

Unfortunately the complication of the example does not stop with the finances. The finances influence many other crucial aspects of the business. On the other hand many of the other crucial aspects also have an effect on the finances as well as on each other.

The financial decisions would for instance have a direct bearing on the growth of the business (e.g. geographical expansions and new product development), marketing spending and people employment and development. All these issues would similar have an impact on the financial issues and on each other.

An Integrative Business Planning Approach

The general tendency in business planning would be to tackle each issue independently and then to just add the pieces together and re-plan if something is not making sense. Business planning often starts with some projected turnover and profit figures in mind. Everything is then worked backwards from there.

A much better option would be to have an integrative business planning approach. In order to do this the following steps are needed:

  1. Determine all the salient features of the business.
  2. Determine the relationships between these salient features.
  3. Try and solve every feature by keeping the casualties and effects with other features in mind.
  4. Use “what-if” questions to create better holistic solutions.

Summary

The idea in business planning is not to optimise the one aspect of the business and neglect or ignore some of the others. The various relationships (causes and effects) need to be catered for in an integrative way. One crucial salient feature or relationship that is ignored can put the existence of the whole business in jeopardy.

Copyright© 2008 by Wim Venter. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.