Our Guide to MSP Planning

Planning is crucial for the success of any MSP. Effective planning helps ensure that your team stays focused, meets objectives, and continues to grow. This guide provides an overview of planning strategies and tools to help MSPs thrive.

Note: this post is a work in progress, so if it feels incomplete, well, it is. But hopefully it is also useful as is!

The Horizons Planning Model

Traditional monthly and quarterly planning methods often fall short for MSPs. That’s why we recommend The Horizons Planning Model. This model divides the year into trimesters, each with two six-week horizons followed by a two-week reset period. This approach allows for more flexibility, continuous improvement, and better focus on both immediate tasks and long-term goals.

After two horizons, we get together to plan. We look at a full-year plan every time. This allows us to reset expectations and adjust to reality. The one thing we know about a plan is that it never survives first contact with the enemy (reality), so this replanning allows us to stay on top of changes and better manage our businesses.

The StratPlan Canvas

The StratPlan canvas is an overview of the simple planning process using a SWOT analysis. It includes each step with links to videos explaining how to do each step. Note: We use Mural canvases for brainstorming and development. They are a great tool for working with your team.

StratPlan Canvas Template

Use this template to create a SWOT analysis mural to support identifying strategic alternatives

The Planning Process

We have a structured, well-defined planning process. This diagram is an overview, and below it, I go through each section. Where we have public templates, I link to the template in the template section below.

Section 1: Clarify the Situation (AKA Pre-Planning)

The first step in planning is to define the problem or clarify the situation. What is happening around you that you have to plan your business for and around? We have three tools to help with this, well, two tools and idea.

We like to call this preplanning because it sets the stage for planning. Do this before you sit down to plan.

The outcome of Clarify the Situation Is the Leader’s Intent; this is an outcome statement, it is what you and your team want to achieve. It focuses your team – the rest of the planning process is designed to deliver on the leader’s intent.

Clarify tool #1: The Game Plan

We use the game plan template to review the last planning period, check in with the present, and identify needs for the future. Everyone on your team should complete the game plan, and then you should discuss the results together. The game plan will clarify your internal situation and expectations for the future. It’s also a great way to reset and align the team.

The outcome of the game plan: five things that need to happen to feel more pride, confidence, and excitement.

Clarify tool #2: Analytics

This is the tool that isn’t a tool. Based on what you learned from the Game plan or whatever other information or concerns you have about the world, you study the problem. You need data to make decisions, and this is where you get. it.

Depending on the size of the problem you are trying to solve, this could be a Google search, a discounted cash flow analysis, or a study that lasts an entire period. Often, this involves studying your avatar or conducting interviews with clients.

The outcome of analytics is data you can use to support decision-making.

Clarify tool #3: Operational Maturity Assessment

The Operational Maturity Assessment helps you identify strengths and weaknesses in your business, by evaluating each of the seven elements of the business machine.

The outcome of the Operational Maturity Assessment is a scorecard that helps you identify areas for improvement internally.

Section 2: Develop Strategic Alternatives

Now that you know where you want to go, you develop some ways to get there. We call these “ways” strategic alternatives or strategic options.

We use three tools for identifying alternatives: Break the mold, SWOT, and Hurdles and Opportunities.

Alternatives tool 1: Break the Mold

This tool is an innovation tool. It helps you come up with creative alternatives to problems, challenges, opportunities, hurdles, or whatever else may require some creative thinking. It is an involved process that starts with observations and guides you through brainstorming to develop strategic alternatives/actions you can take.

Find the canvas here.

The outcome of the Break the Mold exercise is strategic alternatives focused on a specific issue or opportunity.

Alternatives Tool 2: SWOT Analysis

SWOT Stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Use the SWOT analysis tool if you have nothing specific or a big problem to work on (if you do, use Break the Mold). This forces you to consider everything happening in and around your business and develop strategic alternatives to take advantage of opportunities and minimize threats within the Leader’s Intent context.

If you are planning for the first time or don’t know what you would innovate around, use this model.

The outcome of the SWOT model is strategic alternatives.

Alternatives Tool 3: Hurdles and Opportunities List

During the horizon, as you are executing your plan, you should capture hurdles and opportunities. Hurdles are the things holding you back; opportunities are the shiny things that are a distraction in the moment but could be valuable strategic alternatives.

When planning, you should review the hurdles and decide whether you want to solve them immediately or include them in your plan (use the CESI tool to guide the solution process).

Likewise, with opportunities, go through them and decide if they are opportunities you’d like to explore. If you have several opportunities, you may want to use the Opportunity and Growth Lever tool to evaluate and prioritize them.

Planning Templates

We use customized Mural templates can help your team brainstorm, plan, and execute more effectively. These templates are designed to streamline your planning process and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, & Threats (SWOT) Use this framework to analyze your organization or a specific product, service, project, or policy. Dividing your analysis into these four parts helps clarify the existing forces that will affect your organization’s future.

Break the Mold Template

This model is based on innovation principles: observe to understand first, turn your observations into problems to be solved, and then brainstorm alternatives.  

Fit Assessment Template

Use this as a first filter of your strategic alternatives. We recommend always using it after brainstorming strategic alternatives based on your SWOT analysis.

OKR Planning Canvas

Plan by mapping levels of action and breaking large objectives down into Objections and Key Results.

Cost-Benefit Canvas

Use cost-benefit analysis to sort options based on the relative return to your business. 

Level Planning Canvas

Use this canvas to map strategic alternatives and break them down into steps/actions or group them into high-level objectives

Avatar Canvas Template

Use this canvas to define your Avatar and the details that will help you to understand the transformation you offer to your clients.

The CESI Process

The CESI Process helps MSPs structure their problem-solving approach. By breaking down complex issues and developing actionable solutions, you can overcome obstacles more efficiently. Watch our video on The CESI Process and discover how our full course can guide you through this method.

Opportunity and Growth Lever Canvas

Maintaining a culture of growth within your MSP is essential. The Opportunity and Growth Lever Canvas is a tool that aligns key initiatives with your company’s goals, helps avoid distractions, and involves the entire team in the growth process. This canvas ensures that your team remains focused on what’s important and works together towards common objectives. 

Effective planning is the backbone of any successful MSP; for more insights and detailed guides on MSP planning, feel free to explore the links provided. Happy planning!

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