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How To Build the Ultimate Business Planning Playbook

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Did you know that according to, the concept of business planning dates all the way back to the 1800s when business plans were built with a 10-year horizon and five-year reviews? This was just one of the interesting facts our COO Tina Goulbourne shared at the start of the Vena Nation week keynote she gave with Burzin Contractor, our VP of Revenue Operations and Strategy.

That made a lot of sense back then, as Tina explains, given the speed of business. But the reality is, the speed of business has accelerated dramatically and nowadays, as finance and operations professionals, we all need to be more agile in how we plan because disruptions are spinning up faster than ever.

However, as Tina went on to explain, "The best planning in the world isn't going to do you any good unless you execute." That's why business planning has to be more agile, iterative, highly collaborative and faster to keep up with change as we plan for today and tomorrow.

So how can businesses stay ahead with a new agile method of business planning? Tina and Burzin walked us through how to build the ultimate business planning playbook using Vena's operationalized business planning methodology.

If you missed Tina and Burzin's keynote at Vena Nation week, here are a few key takeaways from their talk. And you're in luck! You can now watch this talk on demand in the Vena Community during your own time.

Agile Business Planning

Agile business planning, according to Tina, refers to an iterative, highly collaborative process that is grounded by the rhythm of the financial organization as well as the financial guardrails set by the office of finance. It keeps everyone--internal and external stakeholders--on the same page and helps your business focus on its key objectives while ensuring those objectives are communicated, tracked and executed as you continue to drive growth over the long term. Read more about how Vena makes business planning easier with Excel. You can even get started with this free revenue projection template for Excel.

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4 Main Elements of Agile Business Planning

Tina broke down the four main elements of agile business planning and used them to describe how we approach business planning at Vena:

1. It's iterative.

We operate with rapid quarterly development cycles.

2. It's organizationally aligned.

Rallying the entire organization behind the plan is critical. This involves getting your plan on a page in a standard framework that is cascaded throughout the organization.

3. It's financially supported.

The timing of the process needs to be grounded by the rhythm of the financial organization and the resourcing and goals by the financial guardrails set by the office of finance.

4. There should be company-wide visibility and accountability.

The plan and your key performance indicators need to be easily accessible by everyone and communicated on a continuous basis through your corporate communication vehicles for visibility and accountability.

The Ultimate Business Planning Playbook

Revenue planning is a critical need for businesses and that's why, as Burzin explains, we put together our own planning playbook that follows this GRID framework:

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Step 1: Gather Your Data

Gathering your data is all about the indicators and results of success. This entails looking at your financial performance, key performance indicators, strategic project milestones and employee survey results. Burzin explains that two to three months prior to the fiscal year end, this step is used to gather and assess data that falls into the following five buckets:

  • Financial data versus expectation/plan (at group and department levels)
  • Key KPIs, including employee and customer health data
  • Operational data / departmental data
  • Achievement / status against key strategic milestones
  • External and competitive data (macro: market size and bigger factors that may influence our plan or the process) and (micro: what are our competitors doing, win/loss stats)

Once you amalgamate the data and review the financial performance, KPIs, business plan priority execution and employee feedback survey(s), you can analyze your assumptions about the external environment versus what actually occurred (i.e. economic, competitive, technological, environmental, political) and ask what went well, what didn't and why?

This can help your team and entire organization realign your efforts in the coming period as well as determine what resources are needed, such as people and technology, to achieve your goals.

A key part of being agile is, as Burzin explains, is to repeat this process regularly, and almost as importantly, to track performance frequently. This ensures you have the right people, processes and technology in place that can support your mission.

Step 2: Reflect and Realign

This step is all about the story behind the numbers with a focus on facts over biases as much as possible to validate or clarify that your path is still the right one. This involves rallying your teams--at the executive and departmental levels--to have open and honest conversations and to review what actually played out compared to the assumptions you made about the external environment (economic, competitive, technological, environmental, political, etc.). In this process of evaluation, some questions to ask and factors to consider include:

  • Do your mission, core values and strategic priorities still resonate? 
  • Do they need to be tweaked or completely revamped?
  • What did you do well, what do you need to do better and what do you need to continue working on? (Start, Stop, Continue)

As each leader brings forward their department's POV, this allows the entire organization to realign, have a wide perspective and move to the next step: ideate your plan.



Step 3: Ideate Your Plan

This step is where the power of focus and alignment comes into play for your teams. As they come together with their stories behind the numbers, they know where focus needs to be (top critical company and functional priorities) and have the resources to get there.

This is also the stage where you work closely with your CFO and finance teams to ensure that your top company and departmental priorities are funded. For example, you can use your budgeting or forecasting processes to capture these requirements to make sure they fit within your plan.


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Step 4: Deliver Key Results

This step involves putting your plan on a page and is all about delivery and execution. Putting that plan into delivery mode involves:

Capture, Cascade, Communicate3
(Communicate3 = Communicate, Communicate, Communicate)

This is how Burzin breaks down each stage:

  • Capture your plan on a page (less is more)
  • Cascade objectives throughout the organization to encourage collaboration and to hold people accountable
  • Communicate your business plan priorities and report on progress frequently in your corporate communication vehicles for visibility and to inspire accountability

And lastly, over-communicating where your focus is ensures everyone is aligned to those goals.


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About the Author

Jonathan Paul, Senior Director, Content & Communications, Vena

As Senior Director of Content and Communications, Jonathan Paul leads content strategy and execution at Vena, overseeing the development of owned media and content experiences that help finance professionals fuel business health, as well as their personal and professional growth. When he's not dreaming up new ways to offer audiences value through content creation, Jonathan loves to lose himself in an immersive video game with a solid narrative, lose golf balls pretending to be good at golf and lose time dreaming about time travel.

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