It can be a daunting leadership challenge to maintain focus on strategy while enabling sound, quick decisions that are customer-centric and data-driven, all while ensuring that new learning permeates a growing company. When optimally prepared and conducted, a Quarterly Planning Meeting (QPM) and other periodic strategic planning sessions become essential to providing clear direction for teams throughout the organization. Regularly scheduled QPMs, like similar types of meetings, offer wide-ranging benefits for C-suite management teams and the companies they lead.
What is Quarterly Planning?
Quarterly planning is used to determine short-term operational strategies, i.e., for the next accounting quarter, to help the business maintain steady success. Because much of strategic planning is done annually, breaking the year down into quarters helps teams remain agile and pivot when changes to the business arise. The quarterly planning process typically involves preparing for and conducting a Quarterly Planning Meeting (QPM) and tracking of follow-through on decisions made at the meeting.
The quarterly planning meeting agenda further serves to help top leadership and operations teams measure their success at the period markers represented by their quarterly review and planning sessions.
During quarterly planning meetings, top management examines progress metrics, identifies adjustments that can be made based on previous quarters’ performance and other data. The management team examines and debates strategic ideas, and sets forth a plan for progress toward reaching the company’s current primary goals.
Benefits of Quarterly Planning Meetings
Planning is a continuous process, and the various kinds of periodic meetings offer their particular benefits. For example, annual planning meetings allow participants to build detailed, robustly-supported, and longer-term strategic vision. Monthly planning meetings come with the advantage of relative simplicity in setting more granular and imminently measurable short-term objectives.
Quarterly planning meetings sit in the middle and provide a blend of benefits of shorter- and longer-term planning meetings, plus other benefits that are unique to the quarterly planning position:
- The QPM increases engagement and follow-through of planners and their teams by providing a milestone for measurement of results of the past three months’ work to fulfill monthly plans to achieve monthly goals.
- It reinforces workers’ understanding of leadership’s interpretation of the company’s mission, vision, and values, and how consistently these are applied in the strategic plan.
- A QPM fosters greater buy-in from employees at all levels and tightens cross-departmental alignments.
- It provides a transparent view of management’s thinking and priorities throughout the year.
- It establishes a clear timeline for process implementations and reviews.
- It provides a layer of planning and direction that empowers workers with a deeper and more in-depth understanding of goals and deadlines.
- Proactively detects problems early, vs. reviewing only annually, or even less often.
- Keep your leadership updated on industry trends, new technologies, and process innovations.
- It serves to more deeply instill the organization’s strategic purposes and plans from executive-level management, and through all divisions and departments, to help ensure that all decisions support the company’s strategy.
- The QPM helps increase workers’ efficiency by helping them more clearly understand management’s plan.
- It provides the plans and implementation directives that then free leaders to focus more of their time and energies on creative and innovative initiatives.
- Participating in QPMs promotes a culture of inclusivity and closer collaboration among leadership team members.
- It reinforces inclusion among team members receiving goals and plans conveyed from top management, promoting higher staff retention rates.
- Quarterly plans carry the more direct influence of senior management upon implementation than more frequent department- or division-level meetings have.
- It engages leadership team members throughout the year, fostering a management team culture that is conducive to the business’s success.
- The QPM increases the likelihood of the company’s success by the unique degree to which quarterly planning and implementation are manageable and effective.
Quarterly Planning Meeting Framework
In its most abbreviated form, here is generally what a successful quarterly planning process should look like. (See the QPM Agenda section below for a more detailed overview of the QPM agenda.) Similar to other strategic meetings, all participants should come prepared to discuss the next several months.
- An agile quarterly planning agenda should start with a review of company, team, and individual goals as these are the centerpiece of the QPM agenda.
- Considerations in scheduling, budgeting, etc. should be examined.
- Finally, a review should be completed of the list of projects and the team’s backlog, ideally brainstormed beforehand.
The team should spend most of their planning time lining up projects with the goals discussed at the start of the meeting.
Once a quarterly plan is solidified, the participants should share the outcome of the meeting with the rest of the organization.
Preparation for the Quarterly Planning Meeting
Have all attendees prepare a one-page summary with a bullet list of their planned contributions to the meeting. Have them publish their one-pager by the day before the meeting. The final overall quarterly strategic plan will be based on a foundation of the work and progress that all operational units have contributed throughout the current quarterly planning cycle and past cycles, as reflected in the one-pagers.
All meeting participants should be required to read all one-pagers before the meeting and to post comments and questions online. All attendees should be expected to participate actively and not act merely as silent observers.
Each QPM participant’s one-pager should include:
- Key outcomes, knowledge gained, and outlines
- Theories and hypotheses for future research/ testing with explanations
- Major obstacles or external dependencies or contingencies
In the meeting, results and other points are presented well, and all participants display the ability to impact key metrics in their spheres of leadership.
Attendance should be limited. Having too many attendees complicates the effort to conduct a fast-paced group discussion and efficient debate of numerous points.
All attendees should be expected to present a subset of itemized work from their one-pager during the meeting. The goal should be for each to use half their time allotted to submit their information and the other half for open discussion, debate, and Q&A.
Generally, the people in these roles should be in attendance:
- The company CEO
- The necessary Product Manager(s) and product leads
- Research leader in providing data, consumer insights, etc.
- Design leader for relevant projects
- Technology leader (CIO or equivalent)
- C-level Marketing and Sales management
- CFO or appropriate financial department manager
Too many people can reduce the amount of time spent on meaningful debates and discussions. It can also naturally lead to decision-making by consensus, which is less desirable than creating a meeting environment in which people can focus and engage without detours into too many areas of specific operational and personal interests.
Quarterly planning meetings can take a couple of hours to a couple of days, depending on the size and complexity of your organization. However long your process may take, the following breakdown of the quarterly planning meeting agenda process provides a guide for your agenda planning:
Meeting Introduction, by the CEO or designee (recommended 30 minutes)
Start by stating the shortlist of the several primary goals of the company. Explain why the meeting is being held (goals for the meeting) and how it will proceed (agenda items):
- The goals for the meeting are to:
- Tighten goal and operational alignments across the entire organization
- Establish context by establishing metrics and forming strategy and tactics
- Examine key outcomes of experimentation and share knowledge gained
- Articulate current theories and hypotheses for new experimentation/testing
- Decide which areas to invest in, based on findings and experience obtained in each area to be reviewed during the meeting.
- The agenda for the meeting is discussions of:
- Metrics, outcomes, and knowledge gains
- Determining an overall strategic plan and tactics
- Key concerns identified in the advance reading of the one-pagers
- An extended plan for the coming four quarters, by operational lane, that emphasizes next quarter projects and roughly outlines subsequent quarters (understanding that those plans will change, depending on future outcomes and knowledge gains).
Emphasize the need for participants to clearly articulate their proposed strategies and tactics, the knowledge gained from testing, metrics, and other data. Encourage all participants to engage in enthusiastic discussion and debate, to help create a brisk-paced environment for maximum learning.
Sharing Research, Quantitative and Qualitative Insights (recommended 30 minutes)
Spend a specified time allotment to discuss each revenue channel/operational area:
- Examine research outcomes and knowledge gains that extend across multiple operational lanes.
- Review a consolidated list of the various test results that indicate progress in essential metrics.
- Look at non-critical operational areas and various considerations that have been saved until near the end of this segment of the meeting for a brief discussion if time permits.
Each participant should be expected to spend around half their allotted time making their presentation and the other half to lead a discussion of it, debate points, and answer questions.
Note that not all areas of operations must present at every quarterly planning meeting. For example, for leaders of longer-term projects in which there are no strategically critical knowledge gains or issues to consider for this meeting, presentations may not be necessary or helpful.
Outline clear and cohesive one-quarter and a general four-quarter strategic plan that includes tactics and sufficient metrics to quantify results. The determined strategy should well define primary hypotheses on how the plan can be expected to deliver the desired results.
- Clarify primary concepts for achieving outcomes that satisfy customers, increase margins, and that are difficult for competitors to copy effectively or rapidly.
- Devise plans for measuring success or failure of plans, either by AB testing or other evaluative approaches.
- Refine the strategy to optimize the cost/benefit ratio.
Each participating leader of an operational area should outline a key metric and present their proposed strategy and tactics, their hypotheses and plans for testing, that the project will impact the metric.
The collective contributions of the strategies the individual leaders provide, are next blended into an overall strategy and outlined for presentation to board members and the entire company, in part or in full, as practicable.
Action Items, Allocations, and Assignments (recommended 30-60 minutes)
During the quarterly planning meeting agenda, keep a running list of unresolved points, and open issues. Closeout the session with an hour for outlining the next steps on those. Agree on allocations of action items, and set (at least tentative) timelines.
Include a healthy number and length of breaks in the meeting schedule, allow conversations, and create blocs for managing time spent on the agenda segments.
After the Quarterly Planning Meeting
The QPM process does not end when the meeting is adjourned. There’s more to do to ensure a successful outcome of your quarterly planning meeting:
- One significant effect is developing a stronger sense of teamwork in your company’s executives. Establish a habit of having the group get together after the meeting for dinner and business socializing.
- Use polling and other quality-data-gathering tools to help understand ways you can improve your process for planning your next QPM. Keep in mind that people do not like meetings, so don’t expect spectacularly high ratings.
- Share key outcomes and insights from the meeting at future meetings with your team and the company more broadly. Share parts of the meeting content at upcoming board meetings, focus on data, and fit the quarterly plan into the larger annual plan.
The Successful Quarterly Planning Meeting
Through the course of meetings over numerous quarters, the rhythm of testing improves, generating greater yields of knowledge, enabling the development of finer intuitions about the most efficient approaches to building more significant value for consumers and shareholders. In that paramount interest, the character of a QPM agenda should feature:
- Conflict, spirited debate, and resolution — The meetings should be creatively stimulating, not dull.
- Energetic preparation and pre-engagement — All participants should enthusiastically contribute to comments and questions in response to the published one-pagers.
- Presentations rich in data and design — Information and strategies determined in the meeting should be presented and understood from customers’ vantage point.
- Presentations are limited to the most relevant matters — The meeting stays tightly focused on only the primary operational interests that directly relate to achieving the desired movement in key metric(s).
- Focus on raising the stakes, vs. only on optimization — The meeting participants plan for optimization(s) that can improve metrics by percentages that meet their objectives) and innovation(s) that can significantly increase financial performance.
- Leadership values both successes and failures in experimentation — The company understands the importance of innovation, recognizes failure as a natural part of the process, and fosters risk-taking.
Things to Avoid in Quarterly Planning Meetings
Inappropriate attendance profile — Having too many or the wrong people attending the meeting compromises the focus of the core group of necessary participants. The group needs to be able to concentrate on metrics and data and other business intelligence. It must not be allowed to be sidetracked by and reduced to exhibitions of skills in PowerPoint aesthetics, internal political chit chat, or other diversions.
Excessive focus on the meeting process — Today’s companies are looking to scale at accelerated rates. Such aspirations are best facilitated by a lean meeting process, to help the key decision-makers focus and stay disciplined. Of course, there’s a challenge in balancing that discipline in the meeting with fulsome creative engagement in the opportunity the meeting presents for innovative strides.
Unclear metrics and goals — Only clearly articulated strategies, tactics, goals, and metrics make it possible for participants to examine proposals accurately, concisely discuss and debate points, quickly identify and dismiss what won’t work, and more rapidly arrive at the most sound conclusions.
Dwelling on details — Getting bogged down in the small details of how a particular problem will be resolved to make a process viable slows momentum and can effectively derail planning meetings. By focusing on outcomes and knowledge gains, data, and design, you can help QPM participants stay on track.
Interdependent teams— Recognizing that work in one area of production is dependent on some work in a different field that has not yet been planned is common. Avoid excessive time spent in the quarterly planning meeting on coordinating between teams with interdependent objectives and departmental goals. Let that planning fall to an interdepartmental coordination meeting between the affected teams.
Personal Quarterly Planning
An often overlooked but essential aspect of quarterly planning is personal quarterly planning. As mentioned earlier, company and team goals should be at the center of a quarterly planning discussion; however, personal goals should be included as well.
High-performing teams are growth-oriented and therefore, should encourage team members to work with their managers, perhaps in a one-on-one meeting, to develop personal goals for the quarter.
Individual quarterly planning may include learning a new skill, earning a new certification, speaking at an upcoming conference, exceeding a performance goal, or reaching other benchmarks.
Tools for Game-Changing Quarterly Meetings
Docket is a leading innovator in digital tools and processes that facilitate workplace productivity. Docket provides state-of-the-art streamlined, easy-to-use software tools to help run any meeting effectively. Using Docket in your quarterly planning, you can make your session more productive by simplifying the processes of planning and conducting meetings and following up with post-meeting processes afterward. Docket helps ensure optimum efficiency, consistency in communicating information, and instilling best practices in planning and conducting planning meetings.
Final Word on QPMs
The quarterly planning meeting fosters strategic leadership thinking in terms of the annual expanse of multiple quarters. It establishes goals for growth over the next periods, while the current one is still underway. QPM leadership success ultimately depends upon accomplishing a clear strategy, well organized, and articulated in an inspired and especially memorable way.
Because the QPM occurs semi-frequently, it allows leadership teams to reflect on outcomes, keep improving by learning each quarter, and make the meetings increasingly effective in positively impacting key operational metrics and, ultimately, KPIs for the enterprise through the quarterly plans they produce.
Using the above guide as a checklist for quarterly planning worksheets can help make the process easier and more efficient and lead to more effective outcomes of quarterly planning meetings.