Quarterly Planning

Team developing a quarterly plan during a quarterly planning meeting

What is quarterly planning?

Quarterly planning refers to the strategic implementation of an annual plan broken into four quarters. Once every three months, you’ll set goals, document strategic plans, and celebrate achievements. Each quarterly planning session should also include time to reflect on the past 90 days, review completed and in-flight tasks, and prepare for what’s to come in the next quarter. 

Quarters consist of three-month periods that end on the last day of the third month. Quarter one is January, February, and March, ending on March 31. Quarter two is April, May, and June, ending on June 30. Quarter three is July, August, and September, ending on September 30, and quarter four is October, November, and December, ending on the last day of the year. Many businesses use the shorthand “Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4” for quicker reference.

Why quarterly planning is important.

Following a 90-day plan is a more efficient way to keep team members on track and motivated, as their end goals each quarter are more approachable and manageable. A quarterly plan allows a team to make short-term goals that help drive the company’s long-term goals, while giving contributors a sense of ongoing progress and achievement. When goals are made and achieved within a shorter time frame, team members might be less likely to procrastinate and more likely to accomplish the task at hand.

Quarterly planning vs. annual planning.

There are benefits to both quarterly and annual planning, and these strategies can be used to complement one another. Essentially, quarterly planning breaks down your annual plan into easier-to-manage building blocks. 

Benefits of quarterly planning include:

  • A sense of urgency for tasks to be completed because deadlines aren’t as far out

  • Focused time to hone in on specifics during each 90-day plan

  • An opportunity to review company growth and change rate at the end of each quarter and make necessary adjustments moving forward

Benefits of annual planning include:

  • Supports the overall mission of the company and its objective(s)

  • Provides the foundation and direction of the goals set for each quarter

  • Clarifies your strategic intent and empowers team members to carry it out

What goes into an effective quarterly plan?

A clear purpose is essential to an effective quarterly plan. Once you’ve identified the principal reasons for creating the quarterly plan, you can prepare accordingly. Every quarterly plan should include three primary things: 

  • One or multiple focus areas, which address your business needs for that particular quarter 

  • A definition of success for each focus area

  • The specific actions required to meet that definition of success 

Using a tool like Workfront Scenario Planner can help you determine the best course of action for each focus area. Once you’ve determined your quarterly plan’s purpose and understand its basic structure, it’s time to bring your team together for a quarterly planning meeting. 

How to hold a quarterly planning meeting.

The quarterly planning meeting helps to set the tone for the next quarter. Team members can share notes, comments, concerns, and suggestions as they prepare for the next three months. 

An effective quarterly planning meeting should include these seven key components: 

Revisit annual plan goals.

This is where your annual planning will come in handy. Start by reviewing your annual plan, making sure all team members understand the long-term goals at hand.

Break down goals into smaller chunks.

Divide your overarching annual goals into a series of smaller, more targeted focus areas that can be tackled in three months or less.

Review budget and benchmarks.

It’s crucial always to keep your budget in mind when making quarterly plans. Were you over budget or under budget last quarter? Are additional resources required to meet this quarter’s benchmarks? Keep all team members aware of budget constraints so there are no surprises down the line.

Create action steps and benchmarks.

Brainstorm and determine what specific actions are needed to meet the short-term goals for the quarter, in each focus area.

Set expectations and timelines.

Having a specific timeline to follow throughout the quarter, ideally built into your enterprise work management solution, will ensure priorities are clear and work is done efficiently.

Delegate and clearly express responsibilities.

Each team member needs a clear understanding of their own tasks, as well as the tasks assigned to those they work most closely with. Use a shared document or calendar to maintain accountability and monitor each team member’s work, or use work management software

Identify the criteria for success.

The definition of success will look different for each focus area. Be sure to clearly and specifically identify these with your team in a shared document that all can access and refer back to as needed.

Common questions about quarterly planning.

Before you begin your quarterly planning, make sure you have access to all the information you need, preferably in a centralized online repository, so you don’t run into any roadblocks. Here are a few commonly asked questions regarding quarterly planning that can help you stay on track:

How long does the quarterly planning process take? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as every company’s mission, vision, goals, and cadence of work are all unique. Don’t rush the process. Take as little or as long as you see fit to meet your specific objectives. To use your meeting time more effectively, hold a pre-planning session with a few key players about a month prior, where you’ll review your annual plan and set meeting objectives. Then about a week prior, take the time to finalize your agenda, so everyone knows what to expect.

When should you hold a quarterly planning meeting?

Quarterly planning meetings should occur within the first few days of the new quarter. This gives you a chance to review the previous quarter’s final results and use that information to prepare for the next.

Who should be involved in a quarterly planning meeting? 

All team members, including executives, management, and staff, should sit in on the quarterly planning meeting. This ensures that everyone has a chance to help shape the plan, contribute to the discussion, and understand how their role fits into high-level objectives at the beginning of each new quarter.

How should you keep team members accountable for tasks each quarter? 

Writing down all goals and tasks and acknowledging when each milestone has been accomplished can promote morale and keep team members motivated. Write these on a bulletin board or chalkboard visible to the entire team, or track goals in a shared document or work management solution like Workfront Align that can easily be accessed online to maintain visibility.

Quarterly planning can make all the difference in whether you achieve your annual business objectives. If quarterly planning sounds like it would be beneficial to your company strategy, revisit this guide to help streamline the process and keep your team on the path to success.

See Workfront in action

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  • Connect strategy to delivery
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  • Streamline and optimize processes
  • Measure and report on progress
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