Effective Planning Starts With This Simple 4-Step Process

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: September 13, 2017
Photo credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

The four-point ACTS process can be a good model to set goals and, if you're a startup, create a business plan.

Effective plans mark the difference between success and failure in organizations. Many organizations have great ideas, but they are not structured into a cohesive plan. ACTS is a four-point process that helps organize ideas into a plan. This process can effectively help organizations set new goals or help startups build structure into their business plans. It is a starting point for the creation of a strategy.

To initiate the ACTS process, start with a blank whiteboard or wall chart. A visual representation of the discussions, on either the whiteboard or paper, keeps participants aligned with the plan throughout the process. It also serves as a visual historical record of the plan's development. This visual centerpoint maintains focus for long-term considerations as you work through the process.

1. Agreement

The first step of this process is to make a list of the items that everyone agrees must be included in a successful plan. Unity is the starting point. During this step, individuals discuss aspects of the plan on which they have complete agreement. In one quadrant on the whiteboard or paper, write down those aspects that everyone agrees are essential to the success of the project. Agreement can be related to defining the mission, finding words that describe the culture or deciding what goals are important. The discussion should be fluid, since everyone previously agreed on the points of discussion. If there is dissension during this period, these issues will be addressed later during the challenges portion of the dialogue. Many times, deliberations might turn toward the problems before ever looking at how people see the commonalities of the cause. The value added for this section is that participants will start the process with a sense of unity.

2. Challenges and concerns

During this portion of the plan, talk about concerns or challenges that need to be addressed at some point during the process. In this quadrant, write down issues that need resolution or areas of conversation that need debate. This portion of the process is not a time to have extensive debates about the challenges, but rather a time to make a list of deliberations that need to occur during the process to bring unity to the plan. Participants are not trying to solve the problems at this point. They are only identifying areas of the plan that need to be addressed and resolved as you move the process forward. Verbalizing challenges gives participants an opportunity to think individually about solutions before setting up a time to meet as a team and consider how to solve the problem. The value added to this section is that participants can identify potential challenges that will need to be resolved to create the new plan or organization.

3. Timelines

Once you have completed a list of areas that show topics of agreement and areas of challenges or concern, you should establish a timeline to set agreed-upon activities and determine when to address the issues. During this section, make sure that activities incorporated into the timeline are distributed to members of the team for completion. Having an established person and time for each event adds clarity and cohesion to the process. Often in brainstorming sessions, great ideas are created, but they may fall to the wayside without timelines to maintain accountability. You can sustain the timeline by having someone manage it or use a software tool that allows all participants to monitor and track the overall agreed-upon activities. At every meeting, review the timeline, then update it as you move forward in the goals. The value added to this section is that timelines set a framework to keep the plan moving forward.

4. Support

The final quadrant is a list of people, finances, and other support that is available for this plan or a new organization. This part of the process gives the team a visual list of resources that are or will be available to assist in the creation of a new plan or organization. The wider your view of the resources, the more opportunities you may discover that assist in the creation of your plan or organization. The value added for this section is that the list offers participants a wider view of all resources that may be available to help create the plan.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, "Plans are nothing. Planning is everything." The process of developing plans is the most important element to consider. An effective plan organizes great ideas into a strategy that keeps individuals focused and projects on track. This structure encourages unity, realizes challenges and helps to maintain the timelines essential to moving the plan forward.

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