The Basics of Question-Based Business Planning

In a session at the Becker's Hospital Review 5th Annual Meeting in Chicago on May 16th , Larry Schroeder, CEO of Sauk Prairie Healthcare in Prairie du Sac, Wis., and Derrick Van Mell, principal at Van Mell Associates in Madison, Wis., discussed question-based business planning, a simplified approach to an organization's strategic plan.


"Our definition of a plan is a set of goals that everybody remembers," said Mr. Van Mell. "It's not how big a binder is."

He outlined the six steps of question-based planning, adding, "it really is common sense. It is leading with questions to get a better result."

Here are the six basic steps of question-based business planning.

1. Question discovery. For two hours, gather senior executives around the table and come up with as many questions as anyone has and write them down. Then, executives should prioritize the most important questions. "If the leadership of the organization says these are the 10 most important questions we have, you pretty much know what your plan is," said Mr. Van Mell. "It's to answer those questions in one way, shape or form."

2. Identify your position, trends and purpose. Every two weeks, schedule meetings to discuss trends in demographics, technology and regulation. In doing so, executives can continually build on solutions and projects to address the top 10 questions.

3. Report accomplishments and challenges. "The hardest question in the whole process is asking people to report on their accomplishments in the past two years," Mr. Van Mell said. "If you can't remember your accomplishments, how do you build on them?"

4. Draft and refine the goal tree. Once the questions are prioritized and an organization has developed its position and purpose, executives can create a formal layout of their strategy. The strategy should fall on a tree-graph on one page, a simple plan of attack clearly outlining the goals.

5. Approve tree and projects. After approval, the organization can start implementing projects addressing the original questions.

6. Begin monthly reviews. The reviews should be celebratory, Mr. Van Mell said, quoting the CEO of Harley-Davidson, who said the best way to motivate people is with success.

The beauty of question-based planning is its simplicity.

"To get the benefit out of it, you don't have to be very elaborate," said Mr. Schroeder. "You can make it very simple."

More Articles on Strategy:

10 Critical Success Factors for the Future of Healthcare
Building a Successful Hospital Executive Lean Trainng Program
The Different Types of Change-Focused Leaders

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