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Business agility starts with integrated planning

Why companies win bigger when everyone plans together


Why business agility matters more than ever

Today’s competitive environment is in a state of perpetual acceleration, and it’s unlikely to ever slow down.

The pace, scale, and breadth of technology change over the past few decades has created such fertile ground for innovation that it’s fundamentally changed the way companies succeed. The most disruptive, forward-thinking market leaders today aren’t just those with the most creative thinking, or the deepest pockets.

Instead, the businesses winning biggest today are the most agile—those that can anticipate and respond to change the fastest.

Agility is operationalised flexibility.

It means you can seize new opportunities.

It means you can quickly adapt to new conditions without disruption.

It means lateral freedom, so business units can work autonomously while still supporting central strategy.

But becoming agile is about more than simply acting quickly or managing loosely—that’s a recipe for chaos. It might sound counterintuitive, but business agility is really about having the right controls to properly manage and measure change. And most of that comes down to how you plan.

Take a deep dive into how active planning is helping companies win big by reading Plan to Win—Achieving Business Agility in the Age of Urgency

 

Traditional static planning impedes agility

For most of the 20th century, business planning was a centralised, top-down, paternal activity.

Once or twice a year, senior finance and executive stakeholders would meet to define goals, plan activities, and allocate resources toward them. The result was a monolithic corporate strategy, cascaded downward for every function and region to execute in lockstep.

While this was great for coordination at scale in predictable markets, it’s proven to be far too top-down, slow, and limited for today’s rapidly evolving competitive environment.

Transformed planning operationalizes change faster and more effectively

To become agile, today’s digital, distributed, data-driven companies need a transformed model of planning.

The fundamental components of plan, execute, measure, improve don’t necessarily need to change, but rather businesses need to change their approach in three key ways.

 

Three key changes in active planning

Widen participation to include voices from every key functional area across every region in the business

Deepen the scope and fidelity of their planning to understand the true business-wide impact of every action taken

Run the whole planning sequence much more frequently (and ideally continuously)

Put simply, agile planning needs to include voices from across the whole business, more often, in greater detail. These steps can even enrich the centralised plans produced by traditional top-down planning by delivering:

More fine-grain visibility over the challenges and needs of every business area
More transparency, accountability, and insight into performance and KPIs
More autonomy and better decision-making by people closest to the eventual outcomes

But perhaps most significantly, everyone in the business works toward the same overarching goal with the freedom to self-organise, self-optimise, and respond to change.

For years, truly active planning was a fantastic theory.

But now it’s possible.


The new model for business agility: active planning

Active planning is inclusive, data-driven, and two-way—it’s both top-down and bottom-up, centralised and distributed, prescriptive and open. It works best when the whole enterprise is empowered to speak clearly, listen closely, and work autonomously.

Finance leads, everyone participates

In static planning, senior finance and executive leaders dictated corporate goals and strategy in terms of numerical targets—revenue, growth, market share, and so on.

They rarely fleshed out how functional teams actually achieved them.

The resulting vacuum of strategy spawned shadow planning—operational heads creating plans, making decisions, and taking actions invisibly, under the radar, entirely unrecognised and unaccounted for in the central strategy.

Active planning is still anchored within the finance function, but finance acts more as an orchestrator than a dictator—a crucible for enterprise-wide bottom-up planning in service of centrally agreed, top-down targets for a finance transformation that ripples outward.

More frequency, more data, fewer instincts

Far from being an annual (or semiannual) activity, active planning is an ongoing, proactive process that continually measures performance and adjusts based on the results.

This is fundamental to realising business agility through active planning—increasing the cadence of plan, execute, measure, improve in order to minimise any lag between observation and response, input and output.

That’s why active planning needs to be driven by data rather than instincts—gut feelings may have served traditional planners in the past, but the competitive environment is too complex and fast-moving for them to deliver consistent results today.

Today’s leading organisations have built mechanisms to make sense of the abundant data flooding inward from all over the enterprise—and some are even using it to model future scenarios (more on that later).

Less manual lifting

Broadening decision-making and becoming more data-driven doesn’t mean that functional teams should spend even more time manually planning and reconciling spreadsheets.

This is already a time-sink, and increased participation in that process has the potential to A) make it take longer and B) introduce version control chaos into an already error-prone process.

To be viable at scale, active planning needs a more specifically engineered planning platform.

What does a new active planning model look like?

Active planning is about listening to what your data is telling you about your goals, your performance, your processes, your resources, your customers, your competitors, and the wider market. Where traditional planning is top-down, slow, and limited, active planning is collaborative, comprehensive, and continuous.

Collaborative

Active planning empowers teams and operational leaders to distil the wider corporate strategy into functional, on-the-ground plans.

This equips the people closest to the business—the people with the insight and experience to make valuable choices—with critical decision-making agency over core business operations.

Crucially, it also integrates these smaller plans with other functional areas, resulting in a single, unified, granular view of the business environment at all levels.

Comprehensive

Active planning is high-fidelity and cross-functional. It builds visibility into operational models at every level across your organisation, with the ultimate aim being a “model of models” that understands the interconnected impacts of a single change or action across the entire company.

Comprehensive planning also explicitly links these operational models to your financial models, resulting in a holistic understanding of the relationships amongst strategy, execution, and performance, as they really exist.

Continuous

Where traditional planning is inherently periodic, active planning is continuous and ongoing, with the ultimate objective of reducing planning cycle times as far as possible.

Truly agile decision-making depends on a constant stream of trusted data flowing in from all over the business. With accurate, near real-time performance insights, companies can create a closed feedback loop to model, monitor, and analyse results in parallel with execution and update strategy as conditions change.

Find out more about why static planning doesn’t work anymore and why active planning should replace it.

The technology requirements of active planning

Traditional planning is necessarily limited in scope. It’s a blunt instrument—slow, top-down, and limited—which is why its technology requirements are relatively modest.

Conversely, in order to support collaborative, comprehensive, and continuous planning in large, distributed environments, active planning needs a centralised, cloud-based planning platform that perfectly balances complexity, scale, and usability.

Spreadsheets probably aren’t going anywhere

Before we get into what active planning technology should be, it makes sense to situate it against the current planning software landscape.

Most business planning gets done between ERP systems and spreadsheets. And that’s probably not going to change anytime soon—spreadsheets are simple, powerful, and in the right hands, they’re great for ad-hoc analysis or quick what-if scenarios on a static data set.

But the problem with spreadsheets is that most businesses use them like a platform, when really they’re a tool.

Spreadsheets have no lateral scalability. They’re not built for complex, multi-departmental collaboration or highly dynamic data with a fast rate of change. They’re terrible for version control and manual errors.

For true active planning, you need a more specifically engineered planning platform.

One built to handle large and varied volumes of frequently changing data at scale

One that’s accessible and easy to use by a wide range of business users

One that scales quickly and painlessly across different environments, systems, and locations


Taken together, that means any active planning technology platform needs to be easy, powerful, and fast.


Easy

For active planning to reach as many people in the organisation as possible, it needs to take place within a single platform that’s intuitive to use and accessible everywhere.

It needs to support users’ existing workflows (that probably means in spreadsheets) while removing unnecessary manual tasks and reducing human error.

Perhaps most importantly, it needs to surface deep, cross-functional data insights—taken from a single, cross-functional version of the truth—in an accessible format. Data is only valuable if it’s both informative and actionable.

Taking a wider view, active planning technology also needs to be easy to manage in order to be viable at scale. Even the highest returns from active planning can be quickly negated if IT has to spend dozens of hours configuring user instances, troubleshooting issues and maintaining complex integrations.


Powerful

To be truly comprehensive, active planning needs a powerful technology platform underneath it. The software needs to be able to model and analyse all aspects of the business and link them together in a holistic view.

This requires the scalability to support huge volumes of data generated by transactional systems, and the flexibility to accommodate and link together a wide variety of complex models.

It also needs to support a high level of interoperability and integration with existing operational systems to ensure data accuracy and high-performance analytics.


Fast

Active planning software needs to enable rapid cycles of planning, execution, and analysis in support of tasks such as real-time monitoring and analysis, frequent re-forecasting, and rapid scenario development and analysis.

This is the product of usability, collaboration, and near real-time analytics all combined into one experience. It’s software that’s more than just accessible—it feels great to use and engenders a feeling of flow to users.

Active planning is a mixture of careful observation and imaginative experimentation. Users need to be supported by software that keeps up with them, no matter how complex the underlying inputs.

See how the Business Planning Cloud enables active planning.

Everything’s about to change…again

Active planning is just the beginning

Active planning is the natural evolution of traditional, static planning. It’s…

  • More nuanced, responsive, ambitious, and high-fidelity
  • Faster, easier, and more responsive for a broad range of participants to contribute
  • Better for richer what-if scenario modelling using a broader range of inputs
  • Fundamentally more agile

But it’s not the end-point either—in fact, lots of forward-thinking organisations are already beginning their journey toward the next step-change in strategic planning: leveraging automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning.

What the future holds

The next evolutionary step for active planning revolves around two key improvements:

But it’s not the end-point either—in fact, lots of forward-thinking organisations are already beginning their journey toward the next step-change in strategic planning: leveraging automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning.


The disruptive power of business agility

Getting started with active planning

The world isn’t going to slow down, and markets aren’t going to get less competitive. Traditional, static planning is quickly proving to be incompatible with the rapidly accelerating, fast-changing business environment.

Business agility means organisations like yours can think fast, move first, and change rapidly, while maintaining control and stability. In the long-term (and probably before then), business agility isn’t going to be just a nice-to-have or even a significant differentiator.

It’s going to be the deciding factor between the businesses that survive, and the businesses that wish they had.

Learn more about active planning