on January 28, 2021 (last modified on September 7, 2021) • 13 minute read
It’s January, which means it’s time for new beginnings – especially for your business.
With hurried planning underway, you might be playing the long game, intending to plan ahead for the next 12 months. But for some teams, quarterly planning is much preferred to developing a full annual plan of action.
To find out whether quarterly planning or annual planning is more your speed, we’ve dissected quarterly planning to help you make business decisions more easily. Learn about the following by jumping ahead:
Quarterly planning is a strategic approach to planning key performance indicators (KPIs), objectives and key results (OKRs) for your team. Quarterly planning is a way to break annual planning into smaller parts, meeting once every three months (four times per year) to set goals, establish metrics, and review the previous quarter’s achievements and points of growth.
Depending on how your company counts quarters (beginning in January or beginning in February), a quarter consists of three month periods multiplied by four periods per year to equal a full 12 months in a year.
Here’s an example of how quarters might be broken down at your business:
In shorthand, business professionals might reference a quarter by the letter Q plus the quarter in reference. For example, planning for the months of July, August, and September would be Q3 planning.
If you’re a fan of efficiency and keeping your team well on their way to hitting goals, you probably care about quarterly planning. We’ll get into the specifics in a bit, but quarterly planning is an easier way to track long-term goals over a shorter time period. It’s also a good idea if you have shorter-term plans in progress that need to be checked on regularly.
It’s easier to track the progression of goals over a 90-day period than over 365 days (for an annual planning strategy). Quarterly planning fuses the structure of an annual plan with the immediate gratification of right here, right now results that business leaders love to see.
Eric Jones of Couture Candy reiterates this well: “A quarterly planning meeting sets the tone of objectives for the next quarter. It’s important to revisit annual plans and break down the goals into smaller chunks because it helps teams to review targets and benchmarks in quarterly plans. You can also recap the last quarter to identify mistakes, efforts, and achievements that will further help in deciding the best plan of action for the upcoming quarter.”
Instead of waiting 6 or 12 months to go back over wins and losses from the year prior, it makes more sense to break down evaluation and revision of goals into shorter time frames.
Reviewing the past quarter (three months) will take less time to do than 12 months over the past year. Plus, shorter time frames (90 days) means less wiggle room or time to procrastinate on big-picture projects.
It gives team members structured guidance without too much freedom of time to play with and forget about meeting goals and deadlines on time.
Now, let’s go over the pros and cons of both quarterly and annual planning to see which is more closely aligned to your business needs.
Quarterly and annual planning have the same end goal: planning metrics and a look-ahead at the months ahead (whether that entails three or 12 months ahead). So you might be wondering how one is better than the other, and why one might be a better choice for your team.
Quarterly planning focuses on goal-setting initiatives for a three-month time period four times per fiscal year, often focusing on shorter-term goals that can be achieved in less time.
Annual planning focuses on goal-setting initiatives for a 12-month time period one time per year, often focusing on longer-term goals meant to be achieved over a long period of time.
Quarterly planning embeds urgency for tasks to be completed in full over a shorter time frame. These plans are often more specific and time-sensitive than those in an annual plan. Quarterly planning gives teams time to focus on goals that need immediate attention and can usually be implemented within a 90-day time frame.
Annual planning is often less urgent because larger tasks can be completed in smaller stages over an extended period of time. These tasks and goals often affect larger company initiatives and require more well-thought-out strategy that remains in place for a longer frame of time.
While each team is unique, smaller teams might benefit more from quarterly planning as long-term initiatives and lookaheads might not be as feasible to predict as in a larger, enterprise-level business. Still, let’s go over what a quarterly plan consists of to see if it’s right for you.
Now that you’re informed about what a quarterly plan is, it’s time to create one for your team.
Before we get started, data shows that the most important things to include in your quarterly plan are outcome goals (17%), upcoming quarter initiatives (16%), a recap of the last quarter (16%), and goals for the coming quarter (15%), with project process, timelines, and owners coming in as the next three most important metrics to track.
We’ve asked seven experts to chime in about what the six most important inclusions for a quarterly plan are:
Project management is all about juggling: resources, expectations, people, data, and much more. And as a project manager, you not only have to know where your projects are at any given moment, but you also have to be aware of where they’re going and where they need to be in the future. To do that using a project management system, you need an actionable dashboard that allows you to monitor metrics like:
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Before you can even think about planning for the next quarter, you have to review the most recent quarter that has passed. Reviewing and analyzing the last 90 days is the only way to accurately project and predict business needs for the coming 90 days.
Arnas Vasiliauskas of Carvertical agrees. They note: “The most important thing to include in every quarterly planning document is a review of the last quarter. This is important because from here, you’ll know if your strategies were effective and you can use this information when planning your next steps for the coming quarter. Also, by reviewing the past quarter, you can also find out which goals were not achieved, and you can incorporate them into your goals for the next quarter.”
Vasiliauskas brings up a good point. Once you know where your team faltered, you’ll be able to include missed goals into the coming quarter’s plan. Even if your metrics seemed out of reach, you can recalculate them so that your team is more likely to hit whatever goals were unreachable in the past quarter.
It might seem obvious, but to plan goals accurately for the upcoming quarter, you need to establish what the most important key focus areas are for your business in the quarter that follows.
Peter Horne of Geoff McDonald and Associates notes, “It’s important to include three focus areas for the business to spotlight during the next quarter. While taking care of your day-to-day operations is important, focus areas will help you to grow in these areas and help as you scale and develop your operations. Picking your focus areas will help you to invest your resources intelligently in the most efficient areas.”
But this might lead you to think that every business area should be a point of key focus. On the contrary. Horne suggests choosing only 3 focus areas to not spread your team’s priorities too thin. It makes sense to only have a few focal points to accurately track their progress over the next 90-day period.
This one might be less obvious than some of the others, but instead of planning sky-high KPIs for the next 90 days, you should also evaluate (and actually present) the risks and opportunities for your intended goals.
Often, we bring only the opportunities and projected upward trends we anticipate coming from the next quarter’s goals. But this isn’t the best plan of action.
Robert Rand of JetRails says to include what might go wrong as well as what you hope to get right. Rand notes: “Rather than only look at goals and aspirations, I also include blockers that have either impacted progress in the past, or that could impact success in the future. By getting these roadblocks out in the open, it’s easier to work as a team to avoid them and/or to reshape goals and tactics to achieve meaningful progress.”
Transparency with roadblocks, potential blockers, and things that could make hitting goals more difficult is absolutely crucial if you want open communication with problem-solving to be part of your quarterly planning process.
Bryce Bowman of People First Planning agrees. Bowman recommends teams “Summarize both key risks and opportunities against the quarterly plan. This helps business leaders understand how actual results could vary against the plan, and by socializing this information, it may even allow the business to take actions to mitigate risks or capitalize on the opportunities.”
So instead of looking ahead with rose-colored glasses, admit that the goals you’re putting in place for the next quarter might not fully come to fruition so that the team can discuss potential fixes for any hiccups that might happen before they do.
Editor’s note: Learn how to track SMART goals in Databox automatically, and never miss your targets.
You might think that quarterly planning only pertains to goals specific to your team or department. On the contrary. You should be discussing larger goals that impact your entire company, not just your specific team.
Katrina Dalao of Referral Rock dives into this more deeply: “Make sure to include something that relates to the entire company’s goals for the quarter. Most planning tends to be team-based, which is great for our specific goals and strategy. But at the end of the day, it’s important to see how your team’s efforts fit into the company, and make sure you’re contributing to the overall mission.”
For teams whose goals may not be easily understood by C-level leadership (like content marketing, for instance), it’s crucial to find some metrics that tie into larger company goals, e.g. traffic to demo sign-up pages by writing more blog posts with better CTAs. Whatever it is, make sure you include something the whole company will not only benefit from, but also understand.
Even though it’s a short period of time (90 days), why wouldn’t you want your team to be ambitious? It’s important to keep that motivation to succeed high, and having shorter time frames for projects to be completed really puts the fire under your team’s feet.
Nathaniel Rodriguez of LIFTOFF Digital goes into this further. Rodriguez notes: “You have to include stretch goals. One important thing we include in every quarterly planning document is stretch goals. We include them because it inspires and brings awareness to the team to not only hit their goals, but also to hit their stretch goals.”
If you’re not familiar, stretch goals are basically a bigger number or higher target to hit. So while your team goal might be $100,000 in new revenue over a 90-day period, a stretch goal might be $150,000 – or whatever metrics and goals your team’s success is based on.
Related: How HubSpot Customers Can Adjust Marketing Plans in Real-Time to Beat Sales Targets
One of the key things to focus on when planning quarterly goals is how your goals affect the most important members of your business: your customers. Sure, you need ambitious goals to make upper management happy and see that you’re working hard, but you need to focus more on what metrics affect the happiness of your customers.
Rachel Jones of Hope Health Supply notes: “Spend a good portion of time and energy looking at your customer experience, and whether you were successful in seeing repeat customers. While new customers are definitely a fantastic thing, it does really say something about your level of customer service when you see repeat orders and brand loyalty. That lets you know that you’re either doing a wonderful job in that department or that you need to change your focus.”
This is a fantastic reminder. Whatever department you lead impacts the overall success of your company in great ways, which means it’s important to make sure your team goals for the coming quarter accurately take customer sentiment into consideration.
If there was a marketing campaign that saw great success over the last quarter, you’ll be able to come up with an advanced version to play off of last quarter’s success. If you noticed more negative reviews on your site page after the latest software update to your product, you’ll know what bugs to fix need to be on your next quarter’s planning agenda. Listen to your customers; they’ll tell you exactly what goals you should be prioritizing.
While annual planning seems to be the preferred method for a lot of teams, now you have the option to choose a pace of goal progression that speaks more closely to your team. Whether that means breaking your annual planning into more consumable chunks or completely switching over to quarterly planning going forward, you have all of the options at your disposal.
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