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Revising the Root Canal Theory of Business Planning

By: Tim Berry

 

Revising the Root Canal Theory

For years I’ve lived with my own “root canal theory of business planning.” Do the Google search for that phrase and you’ll see that my previous writing about this comes up first. Like root canals, business plans were something people dreaded, but needed. Happily, things have changed.

For today: lean business planning

Unlike a root canal, modern-day business planning should not be painful, is not something you do all at once, and ought not to be a cure for anything like a toothache. Instead, it should be fun and interesting, and a regular process. It’s preventative, not curative. I call it lean business planning. The plan stays alive. It’s not painful to do, you like doing it because you’re running your own business and the planning part of it is fascinating. It’s your future, your life, and controlling your destiny.

When experts advise against doing a business plan, they refer to that obsolete full formal business plan that likens the business plan to the root canal. They don’t advise against setting goals, priorities, milestones, metrics, and projected cash flow.

I had the worst kind of reminder yesterday: a root canal. This one repaired one done 20 years ago. Root canals have changed. Technology has improved. But they’re still bad.

It was just after having that first root canal that long ago that I developed the root canal theory of business planning. I’d had a horrible toothache back then, a sleepless night, and by the time I got to the dentist chair the next morning I really, really wanted that root canal. I wanted the pain to end.

Back then—late 1980s—I thought about how people only did business plans when they absolutely had to, for investment or business loans; and about how when they did have to, they wanted that business plan fast, and they wanted it badly. But it seemed like nobody who didn’t have the urgent need wanted to do a business plan. Our fulfillment house noted that our business plan software orders had the highest ratio of overnight shipping of all their clients.

Do your lean business plan. Set strategy, tactics, milestones, and metrics. Then review it often and revise as necessary.

Really, once you understand lean business planning, if you still dread planning, then maybe you should keep your day job.

Published: September 6, 2016
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Tim Berry

Tim Berry is co-founder of Have Presence, founder and Chairman of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, and a co-founder of Borland International. He is author of books and software including LivePlan and Business Plan Pro, The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, and Lean Business Planning, published by Motivational Press in 2015. He has a Stanford MBA degree and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. He taught starting a business at the University of Oregon for 11 years.

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