How Relevant is the Corporate Planning Function in the Digital Age of Agile Organizations

Corporate Planning in Earlier Decades Manufacturing Firms

In manufacturing firms in the earlier decades, one of the most sought after role was to work in the Corporate Planning Function which was staffed with the Créme De La Créme of Employees trained in Management and skilled with longer term orientation and insights into how the future would unfold for the organization in question.

Indeed, usually based in the Headquarters of the Corporates, the Planning Function was also expected to liaise with the external management consultants such as McKinsey and other reputed firms to devise strategies and tactics as well as come with Yearly and Five Yearly plans (as the case may be) which would serve as a guidebook for the rest of the organization.

Thus, the Corporate Planners were looked upon as Oracles who could help the organizations navigate the stormy waters and help the other executives see patterns where only some signals were apparent.

Are Corporate Planners Relevant in the Digital Age and in Agile Organizations?

With the advent of the Digital Age, it is worth asking the question as to how relevant the Corporate Planning Function is especially when one considers organizations which have adopted the Agile Methodology as the basis for their template organizational modes of working.

Agile is a Methodology which has become quite popular in recent years due to its model of self contained teams accomplishing everything from planning to building and testing to deployment and post release support.

Thus, when organizations use the Agile Methodology and have symbiotic teams that are flexible and adaptable to changing external and internal circumstances, it is the case that a centralized planning function would for all practical purposes be redundant.

Indeed, when the teams and the units themselves plan and act, the very purpose of a centralized planning team is defeated since each team and team member is capable of planning and adapting to fast changing market and organizational conditions.

How useful is Centralized Planning in Decentralized and Networked Organizations?

Talking about Centralized Planning, it is also worth noting that in the Digital Age where organizations are expected to be modular and self contained as well as networked and shape shifting in their organizational structures, there is really no need for a hierarchical and silo based planning functions that Lord Over the entire organization.

In other words, when centralization has given way to decentralization and when hierarchies are now replaced by networked structures, corporate planners can only be relevant and effective when they are advisory.

This might be the reason why the Indian Government disbanded the Planning Commission and transformed it to NITI Aayog which is blends the planning with advisory work and yet, it is also powerful because it has the Ear of the Who’s Who of the Policymakers.

Indeed, if not anything, the erstwhile Planning Commission was becoming irrelevant and obsolete since the Indian Polity became an entity where each state was expected to be largely autonomous and self containing and self sustaining as far as managing the financial and administrative aspects were concerned.

The same applies to the Planning Functions in the Corporates of the Digital Age where old modes of thinking and strategic decision making are giving way to newer forms of working in the Digital and Agile firms.

How Corporate Planners Can Stay Relevant in the Digital Age?

Having said that, there is also a case to be made for the relevance of the Corporate Planning Function in the present times as well. for instance, much like the Planners of the Pentagon in the United States and the various Think Tanks of the world, there still is a need for experts who can take a Bird’s Eye View of the Big Picture and come out with guidance and directional inputs that can be of immense help to those whose everyday routine constrains them from thinking for longer term timelines.

In other words, the Corporate Planners have the luxury of expertise and are equipped with the skills that are needed for strategic decision making.

Further, in times where the External Landscape is fast paced and market and societal trends change in real time, corporate planners can step back from the chaos and acceleration that is the situation confronting the Agile Teams and advise and guide them to actualize strategies which can then be implemented by such teams.

In addition, corporate planners can also remain relevant when their inputs are holistic and comprehensive in nature.

While Digital Age firms do have executives and managers who can think longer term, more often than not, they are constrained by the lack of interdisciplinary skills which means that despite being Agile, they are still in silo mode.

This is where the Generalists of the Corporate Planning Department can help with their knowledge of multiple domains combining with their unique ability to Tie Everything Together.

Thus, as can be seen from these points, Corporate Planners can be of use and be relevant even in the Digital Age if they too adapt to the changing business imperatives.


Lastly, when one considers the pros and cons on balance, it is clear that corporate planners now have a diminished yet important role to play.

Further, in the age of 24/7 business operations and Social Media driven noise, it is important, more than ever, to separate the Signals from the Noise and Make Sense of the Chaos and Confusion of the External World.

To conclude, while some might argue for disbanding the Corporate Planning Function, our final point is that they can be effective and relevant if their roles are redefined and their work adapts to the changed paradigm.

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