In a Management Consulting course at Heinz College, I worked on a team of 4 students to find a business solution for a local client. My team worked with TandemLife, a locally based medical device company. After reading The Real Value of Strategic Planning by Sarah Kaplan and Eric D. Beinhocker, I realized that the planning strategies my team employed did not add value to the project. Proper strategic planning would have produced a higher quality product and would have prepared our team for the unexpected.
Our team was assigned a project manager who scheduled a planning meeting. We met on a Saturday at Heinz to assign responsibilities. The team preferred to jump into working on the project to reduce time spent on a weekend to plan. Some members questioned the value of planning all together. Kaplan and Beinhocker acknowledge this as a common sentiment when planning is not done properly, but prescribe methods to add significant value to a strategic plan. They assert that strategy is made in real time but that strategic planning is meant to prepare the team for uncertainties ahead. The key, and what I believe was not done properly, was getting the central elements of planning correct.
The first element to adding value to planning is creating prepared minds. Participants must learn from and challenge one another. This was something my team was excellent at. The subject of the engagement was to design and recommend a digital learning management system to eliminate high product training costs. I do not have a technical background but every time we met, I would leave feeling like I was much better informed on the process. A mistake we made was holding the meeting at Heinz. Team members would get distracted with passers-by and it was too easy for the team to break and depart. The article recommended that the meeting be at the client location to signal the importance of the project and reduce school related distractions.
The most significant aspect of the planning meeting, ‘What should be discussed? And how much preparation is necessary?’ was missed. The meeting needed to address the time horizon, challenges, opportunities. Also, preparation is the key making a strategy pay off so team members must come prepared. In my team’s case, my arrived and wanted to dive into every subject as quickly as possible as to get done quicker. This is an unwise strategy. What we could have done was created an agenda for the meeting and assigned areas of expertise. That way, when we arrive to the meeting the team has a place to start and members have done their preparation on the key points.
Like most academic group projects, issues arose every week that challenged our poorly planned strategy. I tie this trend back to a poorly executed planning meeting. My team did not consider the key elements of strategic planning and as a result, the meeting did not add value to our project. If I could go back, I would have insisted that each member come prepared. This would have ensured that as issues arose over time, the team had a strategy on how to approach the problem.