Quarterly Planning NASA Style

21 min
Season 1
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Our speakers, Dr. Ivan Zak and Ryan Leech discuss how methodologies from Traction, SAFe and Agile can be combined to help drive quarterly planning in veterinary consolidator businesses.

Topics discussed:

  • Approach to strategic planning at VIS;
  • Importance of quarterly planning meetings for interdepartmental collaboration;
  • Identifying interdepartmental dependencies to align efforts towards goals and objectives;
  • An online whiteboarding tool that helps organizing quarterly plans;
  • Vertical cascading of goals down the four levels of the enterprise;
  • Definition of Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) and SAFe methodologies;
  • Level-10 meetings to track progress;
  • How to make all the departments aware of the initiatives kicked off in a particular quarter.

Helpful links:

Speakers

Dr. Ivan Zak has earned multiple accreditations in veterinary medicine. After graduating, he worked in 35 veterinary hospitals across Canada, where he was inspired to create Smart Flow, a first-in-the-industry workflow optimization system. Smart Flow was subsequently acquired by Fortune 500 company IDEXX, where he became General Manager of the Software division. After consulting 500+ practices worldwide on workflow optimization, he decided it was time for a new adventure. Dr. Ivan has a holistic view of the whole veterinary business market and he’s making his next step the creation of a more cohesive, unified platform that will ultimately benefit the veterinary professionals.

Transcript

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

Hi everybody. And welcome back to Consolidate That!. The holidays have passed. Ryan, Happy New Year!

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

Happy New Year, Ivan. Glad to be back.

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

Yeah. What are we going to talk about today?

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

Well, we’ve got a topic that we sort of teed up in our last episode. We discussed a little bit about strategic filter and prioritization. And that brought up some great points that you had about quarterly planning, which is something that I’m guessing everyone has recently gone through. And if you have not stopped whatever you’re doing, it’s time to do that. The time has come and passed. I was really interested because I had my first strategic planning with the team at VIS just a couple of weeks ago.
And it was entirely different than what I’ve been through in other situations. So historically running different sales organizations and working with marketing departments, I’m used to getting an email from the CEO, maybe a week ahead of time that says: “Drop your goals and your plans for the next quarter into a slideshow”. And have them there within sometimes by the last moment before the meeting starts, and we get a calendar invite, and you pull off the band-aid and unveil these lofty and strategic goals to your entire team and maybe have to spend some of the time, or more than half of the day, dealing with the shock and on negotiations of getting your team on the same page. And VIS was an entirely different process. And I’d love to maybe talk a bit about how you guys came up with that style of strategic planning and how the consolidators and everyone listening can use those sort of things.

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

Love it. Quarterly planning is something that we really worked on. Cause he can’t really come up with anything more boring than that process, usually in the organization. And we also transformed it completely online. So it’s not a physical presence, but the key behind it, what you experienced is really the collaboration. And the collaboration not because everybody is in love with each other, which I hope they are, but because of the key element of change management. They own their goals. What you’ve experienced is that everybody comes through strategic planning, owning and understanding the why behind what they’re aligning on.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

Exactly. That was definitely something nice.
Coming into it with goals that we had talked about a little bit beforehand and a good understanding of nothing being a surprise was great. You know, the collaboration interdepartmentally, you did a great job and the team did a great job of putting together a meeting. I was a little scared, maybe my third or fourth day to get an invite to quarterly planning, but it was the quarterly pre-planning.
Which was really important. It made me feel a lot more comfortable to be able to have those discussions and know where we were going for the actual big meeting. Just let everyone know sort of the, who, what, where, when, why, who was there, how you decide who’s going to be there. And all of that is, is definitely important.

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

Yeah, so we sort of walk the walk, right? So this is the process that we created for consolidators as well. The super important part and behind it is once you’re getting your overall annual goal or as an organization, and that can be done by the board. For the most part in consolidation is by the board.
They will, they’ll say something like, you know, you guys need to buy 50, or let’s say 60, as the easy number for me, 60 hospitals in next year. And that sort of, you know, the direction or the theme, and maybe they will say: “We want to buy 60 hospitals and improve the experience of the staff working in the clinics”. Which is interesting because you can hear two things there.
One is measurable and one is kind of subjective. And then what you would then need to do is then the team, the executive team, having that goal would break it down into more objective things, those that are not objective, and the one that is measurable. Each department will see how they can contribute to it.
And this is done by the first pre quarterly planning meeting where everybody starts kind of brainstorming in the meeting, talking about what initiatives I would need to do in my department to hit that, 60 hospitals and essentially to push 5 hospitals per month.
So how we are going to measure the experience of the staff? We need some sort of survey. Who’s going to do the survey? Is it a marketing department? Is that the operations? And then that’s where the brainstorm starts and all the leaders are brainstorming, but once you said: “Okay, we need a survey to measure their experience of the staff post-acquisition or pre-acquisition.”
And then that becomes an initiative for that particular department, whoever took it. With that, they leave that pre-quarterly meeting, and usually, the organization takes about one or two weeks where all the separate departments meet with their teams. And they also together decide how we’re going to tackle that goal.
And it has to cascade that’s a very important thing. But when they take that to their department, they will pull it into their level 10 meeting if you’re using traction or weekly meeting, whatever you call it. And then they will have the whole brainstorm around how we’re going to achieve that goal that our department took, that our leader of our department took.
And essentially they’re coming to the next meeting, which is actually the quarterly planning with a fully-articulated plan. The only goal with which they meet for quarterly planning then, we do it in four hours, but it’s an all-hands meeting. It’s an entire company down to the executor’s level. In consolidation, it will be down to the regional managers. And they will basically talk about “We have a dependency. This is the key. If we have a dependency on the survey if operations decided how they want to survey the clinics, but the marketing department who will be conducting that survey”. That’s the meeting where they align and where they stack those dependencies in a sequence. So they can all execute on them without blockers.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

Perfect. I had that experience. You know, I threw out some numbers of where I thought we could be growing the business and the team, and got some googly eyes and some, some big wide eyes from the marketing department who are going to be the ones responsible for getting those people into the funnel and into the conversation with us.
And we use those next two weeks to align ourselves so that neither one of us was surprised on what was coming out in that quarterly planning. It’s sort of fair to say, the quarterly planning meeting should not be like a big Apple launch of a… And now the new watch series six. Oh my gosh. You would have expected that to come out.
Everyone should already have the watch on their wrist by the time you’re getting to that meeting. Because that’s the thing, right? It was amazing to be in a situation where everyone had a good understanding of where we were going, but it was really nice to be able to. Bring those different departments together. On the consolidator side of things, they’re definitely looking at the business development teams. And when you are working particularly with private equity or venture money, there are lofty goals that might be being set for veterinarians, that aren’t made by veterinarians. Maybe that’s a good way to say it. But having a MBA, give a DVM a list of things on how to run a practice might not make sense until you bring those two people together.

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

Yeah, and that’s super important in the planning. So the collaboration that happens in that planning, it’s really not about the creation of the goals, it’s coming with your goals and then sharing what you’re going to do and others hearing what you’re doing. Because in the entire organization, you can’t think about all the dependencies are cross-functional dependencies.
And some people can hear that and say “Wait, we are fully booked for the whole quarter. We’re busy with this financial change that we’re putting on the clinics”. So maybe there’s a really cool initiative in the operations to implement this inventory management. But the finance could say “Look guys, we’re changing our payroll. We’re changing our benefits. We’re changing. There are big changes that are coming”. So the clinics are going to be preoccupied. And that’s the biggest thing in the consolidation because they’re throwing these initiatives at the frontline staff in the clinics. And sometimes people confuse the frontline staff, meaning doctors, technicians and everybody else, it’s not the front desk. So everybody who works in the clinics, I have seen that confused, but everybody who works in the clinics they’re bombarded with the initiative. So, only when everybody collaborates in one meeting and you can do it in 40 minutes with, you know, the whole support office and the consolidator up, you know, 50 clinics.
It’s like 20, 30 people. We facilitated meetings bigger than that in four hours. And everybody’s collaborating, you can do it online. So basically everybody presents their goals. And they’re saying, “I need to talk to marketing. I need to talk to BD. This department needs to talk to the data team”, and then they’re raging these meetings, and then they basically break off in their rooms.
And zoom actually has this function – break rooms. And then there’s a facilitator. Definitely. There needs to be someone who facilitates that and watches the time and they’re getting back together. And at the end, they are presenting the entire plan with dependencies that are now consolidated on one big board.
We use a product called Miro. It’s an online white-boarding tool. Super amazing. You can use lucid chart there are others, but the collaboration between different departments through Miro is actually quite excellent. As the end product, you have multiple boards of different departments with little strains and arrows that connect the initiatives and you understand which one has to go after another one.
So for example, if we have a big rollout of, as I said, inventory management, in February. And then it turns out that the finance is rolling out their process in February onto old clinics will maybe there is a dependency that you need to push the inventory initiative out into March. So then they finance can roll out their initiatives.
So it’s super important that collaboration.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

To bring back a couple of things that you said that I think one thing that was really impressive and I enjoyed a lot was that the facilitator of the meeting was not you. Not that I don’t love when you run everything for us, but it would have taken forever.
I think it was great to have someone else on the leadership team running that. Because it allowed, sort of the free flow of ideas, never having that be the big boss. That’s leering down at everyone and saying, okay, go to your rooms now. Talk for 15 minutes, come back. But having someone that’s more in the mix of every single department, or maybe has a smaller team that does bounce between different departments facilitating. That was a really nice, really nice way to go about it. I think one thing that I really wanted to make sure that we hit on was talking about how within the levels of the organization that people need to cascade those ideas. And we first met just recapping.
We first met with all the department heads. And then the department heads met with their people. And then we all met together. But how do you cascade those things and how do the different levels of the organization come together to create quality quarterly planning?

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

So we usually talk about the four levels of organization in the consolidator.
There there’s an executive, there’s a department, or those as specific to your value creation plan departments, your marketing, your IT, your inventory management. Then there is the next layer, which is regional. And then there’s a hospital level. What’s important is that the direction is given by the board or executive team, depending on where you are in your cycle and who’s on your board. But then the direction is given there and then the departments are converting the non-objective goals into objective key results. So, if you’re familiar with OKR and this is something that, you know, multiple companies use now, Google and Netflix, and I think even Slack.
When the top of the organization gives an objective, the next level needs to convert that into key results that they have to achieve to execute those objectives. And then to the next level down. So let’s say, from the departmental level or to the regional level, there are key results to those key results that are above. So it’s cascading down and they’re becoming measurable. So therefore when your teams break off and create their plans, they know that the result of what they’re doing, the key results would roll up the organization and will contribute to that total number of let’s say, 60 clinics a year. So that’s super important. Yes, it’s coming from the top, but then everybody is dissecting down to the very executable level. So then when you execute on them, all the numbers are going up to contribute to the common goal.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

So, the board is saying “Bake a cake”. The next level is telling you what type of cake and how many tears. And then the rest of the levels are determining the recipe. And then they’re milling the flour. They’re putting everything together and they’re getting it all together. So you can achieve those top-level results.
That’s my great British bake-off example.

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

No, that’s good, but I’ll add a couple more things to wrap it back into our conversation about a strategic filter prioritization. Strategic filter is that the board says “Bake a cake”, and then when the executive team takes it and says “Okay, great, we’re going to make a Shepherd’s pie”.
And then the strategic filter should say “No, we’re doing only sweets. We are not including meat. We’re not doing potatoes”. So that’s where the strategic filter is super important. We are in the area of consolidating practices of this size and our specialties are improving marketing, inventory management, and let’s say talent acquisition. That’s the filter. If it’s anything outside of those things, we either have it: the wrong filter, and we need to expand this. Or we passed the item that is not within the strategy. That’s what the filters for. After that, someone needs to say “Okay, we need to make the cream first. Then we need to make the dough. Then we need to bake the dough”. And then someone says “No, the cream will go bad. If you will do it in that sequence”. So the prioritization that we talked about is super important because after you decided what you need to decide and what sequence, and then who owns which part of the recipe. And then at the end of the day, what are the dependencies? Because you can’t, you know, mix the dough after you baked it, right? You have to mix it.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

You are going deep on this analogy for me.

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

That’s the thing. That’s what’s happening because people are taking all these initiatives and then they arrive at them and they said, okay, now we need to roll it out.
Do we have a learning management system? No, we don’t. And that was the biggest operational thing that they needed to roll out is, to basically roll out any of the initiatives that they created. So learning management system is the core of the consolidation at the second level of maturity that you have to implement as a system. So you can rapidly deploy and have the knowledge accumulated in it. So this is one of those examples. If you don’t do that first, everything else will basically be non-scalable.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

That’s perfect. I appreciate that, I appreciate you diving a deeper and I probably took it off of your you’re 60. I knew that math was difficult. So I thought maybe we’d go with baking instead.
So, we talked about measuring them in the departments. I do love how you looped back in the strategic filter there. Cause I think when we were talking about that, it was important to note that it wasn’t something that you just get really excited about and then you walk away from. In one of our previous episodes, we talked about the value creation plan and value stream mapping and all of that and how those sorts of things aren’t just done. You just don’t just give up on them. You don’t get excited about them and then leave them behind. And so those need to be important within them. Talking about resources that people could use to be able to figure out some of these additional things. We’ve, you know, besides just listening to us you talked about some of the different methodologies and some of the different books and different places where you’ve learned these different strategies.
Where can people go to dive deeper into this and learn more about them?

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

So one, one methodology that we use and it’s, it’s used actually across the veterinary domain quite broadly, which is Traction or the Entrepreneurial Operating System. You can, you can get an Audible book Traction by Gino Wickman.
There’s a bunch of implementers that help with that. But what we do and what we recommend about this planning, it actually comes from the large software framework, which is called SAFe, scaled agile. And this sort of all hands, they call it PI planning, product increment is sort of a, you know, their increment is one quarter.
So we adopted it from there and mixed it. Together with the, with the Traction as well as OKR. So OKR is, as I mentioned, that’s objective key results. What’s important? Why there are three pieces here? Traction gives you a great business rhythm. So you have quarterly planning. You have monthly risk reviews.
So after you planned, you meet every month and see how your processes are working together. And then also it gives you a weekly check-in on your goals because of a lot of the time. People will plan their goals. It sounds amazing. They arrive at the end of the quarter and they’re like “Oops, I forgot about these two”.
Now in traction, they recommend having this level 10 meeting in which it starts with five-minute check-in on your rocks, as they call them, or goals. And then you always check-in and see how you’re progressing on them. SAFe, that product increment or quarterly PI planning was important to have everybody involved.
And that’s a super important component in change management. Buy-in of the entire organization, as well as acknowledgment of who’s doing what. So all the departments are aware of what initiatives are kicked off in this particular quarter. And OKR just helps you to cascade your metrics down the organization, as well as the results up when they’re completed.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

Wonderful. Yeah, the Traction book was definitely interesting. I know I listened to the audiobook and I don’t know if I want Gino reading me a bedtime story, but he definitely. It’s really good ideas in the book there to get people going. The level 10 meetings are absolutely fantastic.
And these are some of the things that, I know you’re practicing what you preach on the stuff that we’re working on. And those are the kinds of steps that I think are really important for the consolidators to take, just to wrap everyone together. It’s a really nice place to put everyone’s mind share in the same spot.
You know, as far as that goes, I think obviously talking about Traction would be a fantastic thing for us to cover. Later another episode would be wonderful, to dive deeper into that. But I think you’ve done a fantastic job of giving myself and a lot of people great ideas. What quarterly planning could look like?
Are there any key takeaways that are must-have steps one, two, three, that you could tell people to do?

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

Yeah! So the key things, the take-home messages is basically to set the objectives by either the board or the executive, then create initiatives that you can execute on them and then socialize them from that point.
And socialize them with a good socialization tactic is actually take it through a strategic filter in front of everybody and say “This is why behind it. This is the goal that we’re setting. And this is why this initiative fits into our strategy”. And then after that all hands prioritization session, which is also super important.
And then once you prioritize your initiatives, you take them to the departments, you break them down to your rocks if you use that methodology, and then come back and only after that, do you quarterly planning with all hands and dependencies identification.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

That’s wonderful. Well, I appreciate it. And thank you for taking me through it and thank you for talking the listeners through it as well. I know I always enjoy our chats and I’m looking forward to the next thing that I can learn from you.

Ivan-Zak
Dr. Ivan Zak

Thanks. That was a great topic. Cheers.

Ryan Leech, Director of Sales
Ryan Leech

Bye-bye.