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Is the Five Year Plan Obsolete?

By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

Did you watch this video? Our buddy, Dilbert isn’t alone in asking that question. As part of our work in the Innovation Lab, we’re helping a lot of clients make a shift from tactical to strategic thinking. It’s important that clients realize that digital isn’t just about building a website or having an iPhone app. It’s about putting together a plan for leveraging incredibly powerful communications tools. Inevitably, when we’re discussing long term plans someone brings up “the Dilbert Question”.

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By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

Did you watch this video? Our buddy, Dilbert isn’t alone in asking that question. As part of our work in the Innovation Lab, we’re helping a lot of clients make a shift from tactical to strategic thinking. It’s important that clients realize that digital isn’t just about building a website or having an iPhone app. It’s about putting together a plan for leveraging incredibly powerful communications tools. Inevitably, when we’re discussing long term plans someone brings up “the Dilbert Question”.

And it’s not a bad question to ask. As we’ve pointed out ourselves, Facebook, Twitter, heck social media itself was not big on anyone’s radar five years ago. Technology continues to progress at a breakneck pace and who knows if that big investment in application development you’re gambling on will land you the next Facebook or the next Friendster.

It’s true, technology makes us rethink our business. Like the Agile Process that we use for development, companies must think in “sprints”, focussing on shipping product, rapid prototyping and making changes on the fly. “Perpetual beta” has become the norm for many digital offerings and anyone who has been bombarded by software update requests from Apple, Adobe, Microsoft or whoever, knows that the digital world is constantly evolving and updating. We need to accept that as the harsh business reality of the world we live in.

But we also need to avoid the two major traps that many companies fall into:

1) Paralysis by Analysis – Will Twitter ever make money? Will Foursquare and location based services be the next big trend? Can MySpace become relevant again?

Who knows? But the one thing you can bet on is that doing nothing won’t lead anywhere. We do a lot of work with Pharmaceutical companies and that is an industry that’s struggling with falling further and further behind the digital curve. Some companies are biding their time, waiting for the FDA to issue formal guidelines on social media usage and avoiding the web like the plague until they get those rules in place. Other companies are saying it’s “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” and embracing these digital tools and new ways of communicating with their consumers. Guess which companies are gaining favorable press and consumer attention (and increased sales).

2) Separation of Church and State – or in the business world, digital and “traditional”. Many companies want to claim that the business model has been completely reinvented and use that as an excuse to “cheat” on their marketing and sales strategy. “Everything will be digital in five years so we don’t need to develop a print/TV/other media strategy” (and by extension don’t have to spend any money. Or … “We’ve designed and built our marketing campaign, now go down to the digital guys and tell them they have $30,000 to work with.” Neither of these approaches is viable, “traditional” and digital have to be integrated from the get go and digital can’t be a cheap replacement for other marketing components.

Is the five year plan obsolete? of course not. Because planning isn’t obsolete.

But the idea of writing a five year plan, setting it in stone, and then not deviating from it no matter what the results is as extinct as Trotskyism.

We’re not the first to voice these opinions but consider this the Zemoga template five year plan for any business:

1. Identify your user needs

2. Identify your business objectives

3. Identify the best methods/tools/products to meet those needs and objectives

4. Build it and ship it

5. Get feedback and measure performance

6. Repeat step 1

Does that answer your question, Dilbert?

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