Dwight D. Eisenhower put it well. “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” His point was that plans are instantly out of date, but the knowledge and skills gained by exploring scenarios, options and contingencies help people anticipate and react to events as they unfold. Coupling that with today’s rapidly changing environment suggests the need to change from annual planning to some sort of quarterly planning to facilitate better thinking and more frequent resource adjustments.

Shift from taking a week out once a year to do planning to taking a day out once a quarter. One methodology is rolling quarterly planning, capturing learning from the past quarter and adding one quarter to the plan each quarter.

Japan contributed 25% of The Coca-Cola Company’s total profits. In light of that the global CEO, Doug Ivester, physically met with the Japan leadership team at least every sixty days. After a few rounds of these meetings I realized that we were spending two weeks preparing for the week of our meetings with Doug and then a week after the meetings sorting through the follow ups – or four out of every eight weeks of our time. That’s kookypots!

At the same time, we were having a hard time coordinating our efforts across brands, channels and geographies. So, I created and implemented a rolling quarterly planning system that forced conversations across the matrix once per quarter. All the documents were compiled into a Rolling Quarterly Planning ring binder and distributed to all the leaders.

At the next meeting with Doug, I put the Rolling Quarterly Planning binder in front of him and said, “The binder in front of you is what we use to manage our business and has our current best thinking across brands, channels and geographies. We are, of course, happy to take you through any part of our business, any time. But instead of preparing separate presentations, we’ll use this binder. With that said, we do have three issues that we’d like your input on. Can we discuss those?”

In that meeting, and every subsequent meeting, Doug never even opened the binder. Instead of spending time preparing presentations for him, we spent it managing the business and working important issues.

Rolling Quarterly Plan sections/pages – overall and for each brand, channel, geography, etc.

1.    Executive summary: Issues/opportunities => next steps/actions

2.    Mid/long-term overview (sales, share, marketing, financials, actions)

3.    Positioning and strategy (changes vs. last update)

4.    Matrix strategies (e.g. brands x channels x geographies) and overall activity calendar.

5.    Quarters

  • Past Quarter: Analyze results to capture and apply learning.
  • Current Quarter: Make tactical adjustments to actions to capitalize on opportunities and shore up issues.
  • Next Quarter: Finalize and communicate detailed plans and firm commitments.
  • Two Quarters Out: Near-final, solid plans and forecasts.
  • Three Quarters Out: Apply learning from past quarter to refine preliminary action plans for same quarter, twelve months out.
  • Four Quarters Out: Lay out preliminary action plans.
  • Five Quarters Out: Refine targets and priorities.
  • Six Quarters Out: Set preliminary targets and priorities in line with strategic plan.

In Q2 will have set preliminary targets and priorities for the next year in line with the next year of the strategic plan (which should have been updated in advance of this.)

In Q4 will have set preliminary action plans for the next year.

These eliminate the need for annual operational planning.

The executive summary is a one-page recap of what matters most from the perspective of that brand, channel, geography or the like: what – so what – now what.

The mid/long-term overview includes key performance indicators for the brand, channel, geography or the like – retrospectively and forecasted.

Positioning and strategies for each brand, channel, geography or the like generally get looked at with the strategic plan.

The matrix strategies are where things get knit together as they should match from whichever part of the matrix you look at them as each area lays out its matrix strategies for the other areas and overall activity calendar.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.