Executive-MBA Business Planning Sample and Answers
Please explain Business Planning
Business planning can be explained as the processes undertaken to understand the situation the business is in, the market and the activities that the business will undertake in order to improve its performance, as outlined by Campbell et al. (2011). It is an integral part of overall strategic planning which is undertaken in order to develop organisational targets and to see what needs to be done to make sure that the business will be able to perform in the manner desired (Campbell et al., 2011). Harrington and Voehl (2012) explain strategic planning to be a formalised effort that is undertaken to determine what the aim of the organisation is and the policies and strategies that need to be developed to achieve the aim. Business planning also includes the devising of plans that will help the strategies to be achieved (Harrington and Voehl, 2012). It helps in the understanding of what different functions of the business will do, and how they will need to be resourced such that the goals of the business can be achieved (Steiner, 2010). This is helpful with regard to setting expectations of everyone in the firm and ensuring that everyone is working towards the same direction (Steiner, 2010).
Business planning can be undertaken in different time frames, both long range and in the shorter term, and a common time span for business planning is to do this annually (Kepczynski et al., 2018). However, it should be noted that longer term planning can cover a time range of as many as ten years, while short term business planning might only focus on the upcoming four to 12 weeks (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Kepczynski et al. (2018) explain that utilising an integrated business planning approach can be challenging to the large and diverse range of variables that may need to be taken into account in achieving this. They argue that annual business planning takes a broad view of business development and the strategy of the business. It considers perspectives such as the positioning in the market and developments in this regard, technology investments that may need to be made, and channel growth (Kepczynski et al., 2018). There is a focus on bringing together information regarding these different areas, analysing it, reconciling it, and examining ways in which monetisation can occur based on it (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Kepczynski et al. (2018) also make an argument that the business planning process annually should consider elements from both the demand side and the supply side. From a demand perspective they suggest that this will likely include considering what competitors are doing, whether new markets should be entered or whether new sales channels should be adopted. From the supply side, there is a need to consider manufacturing and any efforts that need to be undertaken with regard to operations, inventory and logistics, among others (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Furthermore, the financial perspective on all of this needs to be considered, taking into account aspects such as financial risk and opportunities, which will likely include issues such as currency exchange, the broader macroenvironment and trends, and the effect that mergers and acquisitions might have on the business (Kepczynski et al., 2018).
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Please explain Monetizing & Forecasting Plans
Financial elements of business planning are essential and understanding how the plan will be monetised and forecasted should be part of an integrated business planning process according to Kepczynski et al. (2018). There are a whole range of different factors that need to be accounted for within this. Kepczynski et al. (2018) outline that some of these include prices, costs and the likely exchange rates of currency, and this enables forecast and plan monetisation to be effective. Different businesses will have varied elements to consider as a part of monetising and forecasting plans, and in some cases these might include consideration of inventory, returns, license fees and various sources of revenues (Kepczynski et al., 2018). As argued by Sebestova (2020) the considerations may well be likely to differ depending on the stage that the organisation is at on the lifecycle of the organisation, such as start-up, growth, maturity and decline.
At different times in the planning process, disturbance can occur which may impact on the monetisation of forecasts and plans according to Kepczynski et al. (2018). For example, the willingness to meet goals set at the end of a quarter (or other period) within the business brought about by pressures in the accounting activities of the business can lead to issues such as changes in the supply chain, among others (Kepczynski et al., 2018). However, overall in the big picture, planning for monetisation of forecasts needs to consider multicurrency exchange rates, selling prices and variations in these according to geography, profit margins, business risk and opportunities, customer segmentation and the overall portfolio (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Taking into account all of the key factors and monetising forecasts and plans effectively can help an organisation to achieve sustainable competitive advantage (Williamson and De Meyer, 2020).
The ultimate goal of monetisation of forecasts and plans is opined by Kepczynski et al. (2018) to be answering a number of key questions. These include the volumes that are going to be sold, and what is going to be supplied. Avoiding problems in this monetisation process needs to ensure that volume and value are understood, that risk and opportunities are taken into account, whether there is transparency with regard to volume and value and whether the product mix and monetary assumptions are accurate (Kepczynski et al., 2018) since all too often these can be incorrect. In particular, forecasting with regard to foreign currency fluctuations can be rather difficult, but can have a tremendous impact on aspects such as profitability, so if the monetisation is to be effective it must take this into account to the highest degree of accuracy achievable. When correct, all of the factors evaluated can then be used to inform other aspects of business planning, such as logistics and supply chain management – for example to ensure that demand can be met in such a way that customer satisfaction can be achieved and business performance elevated (Blecker, 2014).
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Please explain Strategic Planning & Forecasting
In understanding what strategic planning and forecasting are, it is helpful to define these terms. Abraham (2012, p.ix) explains that strategic planning can be defined simply as “nothing short of complex decision making in uncertain and ambiguous environments.” As Abraham (2012) highlights, the definition is somewhat vague, but he asserts that this is why strategic planning is problematic to do effectively. Forecasting can be explained in its simplest form as looking at past and present data and trying to extract from that what might happen going forward based on the analysis of trends that can be seen within the data (Krunig and Kuhn, 2018). Strategic planning and forecasting is helpful from the perspective of being able to make sound strategic decisions as far as possible within an environment of complexity (Triantis, 2013). Indeed, Triantis (2013) argues that strategic forecasting is an essential component within the strategic decision making process because it helps with understanding the possible reason for following one particular direction over another.
Businesses can benefit from strategic planning and forecasting. As explained by Kepczynski et al. (2018) strategic planning is typically considered to be long range in nature, and it will focus on a period of three to five years, or potentially even longer. Planning of this nature will break down the activity into units of time that might be year or quarterly (Kepczynski et al., 2018). It is acknowledged within this strategic planning and forecasting process that there will likely be discrepancies between what was expected to happen and what actually happens due to the long range nature of the activity (Grunig and Kuhn, 2018). On the basis of this, businesses have to take steps to adjust their strategic planning and forecasting at various points which will in some cases lead to a revision of the strategies that are being worked on (Grunig and Kuhn, 2018). This is well illustrated by considering the example of the Covid-19 pandemic which likely led to most businesses having to revise their strategic plan. Commenting on this issue, Nikolopoulous et al. (2021) show how planning and forecasting of the pandemic can feed into strategic planning and forecasting for businesses to revise their strategic plans accordingly. Therefore while strategic planning and forecasting can be very difficult amid such times of uncertainty it is still possible to achieve with sound data, and further discrepancies will still need to be addressed.
As Kepczynski et al. (2018) explain, in strategic planning and forecasting, the business will often work on a baseline forecast, which considers both strategic and operational forecasts and actual performance for the past three years. This helps to see the difference between what was projected to happen and what actually happened, enabling improvements to be made in the strategic planning and forecasting process. Again, examining the Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely that businesses made many projections for 2020 that turned out to not follow the expected trends, and from time to time, catastrophic events such as this will make strategic planning and forecasting rather challenging
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Please explain Planning New Product Line
One aspect of business planning that may be undertaken by businesses from time to time is the planning of a new product line. Planning a new product line requires that the business links strategy to operations to understand whether the line will be likely to perform in an optimal manner (Kaplan and Norton, 2008). Kepczynski et al. (2018) explain that in planning for new product lines, in many cases the information that is needed to achieve this effectively may not be available within existing systems. This requires that the business goes out and investigates, undertaking research to gather appropriate data and then storing it and maintaining it so that the strategic decision can be justified (or not) and supported (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Being able to effectively gather and process suitable data from the market is fundamental in whether success or failure will be achieved with new products (Goldenberg and Mazursky, 2002).
One of the key areas that need to be understood in planning a new product line is the short and longer term revenues and the margins that can be achieved through doing this (Kepczynski et al., 2018). In addition, Kepczynski et al. (2018) explain that product lifecycle must be taken into account, as must price, revenues and quantities. The analysis that is undertaken must also consider the impact of launching a new product on other areas of the business and importantly, on other product lines (Kepczynski et al., 2018), and timeline for development and implementation needs to be taken into account, as does whether compliance can be achieved with the product.
Introducing a new product requires that the new product development is integrated into the overall business planning activities, and demand needs to be taken into account (Kepczynski et al., 2018). It is important to be aware that the New Product Development (NPD) team may have an unrealistic perspective with regard to what is achievable for the new product, though their input is obviously very important to consider in planning a new product line (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Furthermore, as Kepczynski et al. (2018) highlight, the window of opportunity for new product lines may be relatively small, and the forecasting of demand must take this into account. This may be the case regardless of whether the new product line is an adaptation of an existing product, or a disruptive innovation (Harvard Business Review, 2011).
For this reason, much of the recent literature is focused on minimum viable product development when launching new product lines, as this minimises the level of development that is undertaken before product launch and enables customer feedback to be drawn into the development of the product beyond that point (Thornton, 2021). Bland and Osterwalder (2019) concur with Thornton (2011) in this regard given that the use of a minimum viable product strategy is helpful in lowering waste of both funds and resources on new product lines that may not be successful and that may simply be bad ideas.
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Please explain How to Improve Operational Planning
To know how operational planning can be improved, it is important to consider what it is and what it takes into account. For a business to meet its objectives it must be organised in a manner such that the operation can deliver. To achieve this, operational planning must be optimised (Burrow and Kleindl, 2014). Operational plans include plans for a few different areas/functions of the business, and as Mentzer and Moon (2004) argue, these are production or manufacturing, procurement and distribution, among others. Others that Mahadeven (2010) assigns to this category are human resources too. As with other forms of planning, operational planning can be shorter term, considering production over a period perhaps of just a month, or longer term, considering future demand (Mentzer and Moon, 2004). Kepczynski et al. (2018) argue that operational planning in the shorter term is often very granular with regard to detail. Bonham (2008) argues that operational plans are fundamentally concerned with control, and they consider how operational activities will be aligned with the business strategy.
Mahadevan (2010) demonstrates how forecasting is integral to improved operational planning and control. This is because it helps understand whether the operational plan delivers sufficient capacity in order to achieve the organisational goals (Mahadevan, 2010). After all, there is no point in developing a sales plan that forecasts high levels of sales if the operation is not set up to deliver sufficiently to meet the demand. Ultimately, operational planning must be improved so that it can be seen how forecast demand can be met both efficiently and effectively (Mentzer and Moon, 2004).
Operational planning can be improved by focusing on time spans that are relevant to the business – for example, as Kepczynski et al. (2018) point out, some businesses operate seasonally, or others may want operational planning to be applied in order to meet the needs of a specific marketing campaign. Kepczynski et al. (2018) also argue that involving all of the relevant stakeholders is an important step in improving operational planning, to ensure that no perspectives are ignored in the development of the operational plan. Importantly, those that undertake actual operational roles must be drawn into this process so that operational responsiveness can be based on the realities of what is achievable for the business given a set allocation of resources (Kepczynski et al., 2018). This helps the most to be achieved from the resources that the organisation has available to it and it takes into account factors such as inventory, price, margins, orders and logistics, among other areas (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Kepczynski et al. (2018) explain that for operational planning to improved optimally it needs to actually involve the use of helpful and clear data that informs it. Ultimately, for operational planning to be improved to the best it can be the different components must be considered in conjunction with one another. For example, there is no point in production being able to achieve manufacturing to a certain level of demand, if the storage and distribution logistics are not in place to be able to deliver.
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Please explain End-End Business Risk Opportunities
Understanding end to end business risk opportunities is an important part of the business planning process. As Kepczynski et al. (2018) opine, this needs to take draw in a number of factors relating to demand, supply, pricing and cost, the product itself and finance. All of these areas are interlinked with one another. For example, price will influence demand and supply, and changes to the product will have an effect on demand too (Kepczynski et al., 2018).
In effective business planning, organisations can develop scenarios that help to understand cause and effect (Kepczynski et al., 2018). This will be useful in understanding how different aspects that influence opportunity and risk may be related to one another. It can also help in developing models that help understand the risk related to different elements of risk and opportunity (Akkizidis and Bouchereau, 2005). In looking at cause and effect relationships, organisations can gain new insights that can enable informed decision making (Joia, 2007).
Data is essential in understanding end to end business risk opportunities (Young and Coleman, 2010). The data gathered must be relevant and appropriate, rather than all data available, so that it helps to understand the specifics of cause and effect (Young and Coleman, 2010). Young and Coleman (2010) argue that it is also helpful to understand the sources of risk with regard to any given situation, which can be categorised as being external events, people-related or driven by systems or processes. Some causes of risk or opportunity may have an effect on the complete end to end of a business activity or process (Franzetti, 2016). The budgetary considerations of different levels of effect should be taken into account within this, and factors such as timing, volumes, geographic location and customers should also be borne in mind (Kepczynski et al., 2018).
Kepczynski et al. (2018) argue that businesses need to build so called “what if” scenarios to help them better understand the risk and opportunity scenarios they might potentially be faced with. This is helpful in seeing how the business would look if affected by a specific scenario and calculating the effects of it (Kepczynski et al., 2018). For example, Kepczynski et al. (2018) suggest that end to end “what if” simulation should be developed to understand business risk and opportunity with regard to both volume and value. Aspects that can be considered as a part of this are outlined to be possible different timings since this may impact on either risks or opportunities positively or adversely (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Moreover, the level of the risk or opportunity should be factored in as this will have a bearing on the decision making process (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Trying to be as accurate as possible about assumptions underlying this sort of modelling may also be helpful in determining the impact of end to end risk and opportunity possibilities for the business. It is also important to make sure that all relevant inputs to the scenario are considered for the best results with this activity (Kepczynski et al., 2018).
Please explain Integrated Reconciliation
Kepczynski et al. (2018) explain that integrated reconciliation is an important part of understanding risk and opportunities. Moreover, they highlight how it can be used to look at market demand, manufacturing and the long term financial view all at the same time, to help understand different possible strategic scenarios that might come about. Integrated reconciliation is when “demand, supply and financial reconciliation happens” according to Kepczynski et al. (2018, p. 48). In undertaking integrated reconciliation gaps between demand and supply can be understood. At a higher level, the authors outline how end to end scenario planning can be performed as part of the integrated reconciliation process in order to make recommendations to management that consider the pertinent factors that have been highlighted (Kepczynski et al., 2018). The overall process helps in reviewing demand to look at how supply planning can be addressed to ensure that replenishment is adequate and timely (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Furthermore, this will help address financial aspects relating to this and to consider reconciliation of supply (Kepczynski et al., 2018). From reviewing supply, demand and sales can be considered so that the business can take action to impact on demand, and plan for scenarios such as being out of shelf life, and well as anticipate the need for financial write offs, among other issues (Kepczynski et al., 2018).
Ptak and Smith (2011) argue that integrated reconciliation is a process that should be undertaken prior to a review carried out by the senior executive team. Moreover, Ptak and Schragenheim (2003) point out that this process is helpful in making decisions and developing revised plans on the basis of what has been learned from the integrated reconciliation. Specifically, by undertaking an integrated reconciliation activity and presenting the information for management review, it is possible for senior managers to pinpoint the most critical issues, rather than to have to try and wade through a large volume of data (Ptak and Schragenheim, 2003). However, as Hammami et al. (2012) argue, integrated reconciliation is not typically straightforward to achieve, and sufficient thought needs to be put into the process to ensure that it will be effective and delivery helpful information to the senior management team. In addition, the complexity of the business environment can introduce complications in achieving effective integrated reconciliation that informs the business (Hammami et al., 2012). However, when undertaken effectively it can be very beneficial with regard to making continuous improvement in the planning process which in turn better informs on how the business operates, which feeds into strategic decision making (Hammami et al., 2012). Herein is where the biggest benefit lies, since as Hammami et al. (2012) indicate, the process of integrated reconciliation helps to bring about business change that will lead to the organisation operating more efficiently and effectively. Overall it might be considered to be a fundamental component of an effective operating plan for the business which helps it to increase its chance of being successful in delivering to its strategic goals.
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Please explain Sales Planning
Sales planning is an activity that is undertaken with a view to understanding demand from customers for the upcoming several years (typically five) and with a special emphasis of examining what will happen in the upcoming sales season, according to Kepczynski et al. (2018). Kepczynski et al. (2018) explain that sales planning is an important component of overall business planning because it helps with the analysis of what needs to be done in terms of production, in addition to considering the different supply elements that will need to be brought in in order to meet demand and achieve sales objectives (Kepczynski et al., 2018). In short, as Palmatier and Crum (2002) put it, sales planning helps with the integration of both sales and operations into an overall process of planning that is better integrated and controlled. It helps align the strategy with the efforts that are undertaken to go to the market (Cespedes, 2014) and therefore is of fundamental importance to the business. Of help, De Silva (2020) highlights that in the overall sales management remit there are five areas of responsibility, namely planning, organising, staffing, directing and ensuring performance, and clearly getting the planning phase right is integral to achieving the rest.
According to Cravens et al. (2011) understanding how sales planning fits into the overall strategic picture is necessary for business effectiveness. This is not least because the market has become ever more complex in the past, as a result of uncertainty in the business environment, but also consumer sophistication (Cravens et al., 2011). Cespedes (2014) argues that sales planning cannot be divorced from understanding what is occurring within the overall business environment. Moreover, the speed of change has increased considerably and there is a need for the sales element of the organisation to adapt and become more dynamic than ever before to react to the level of change in the environment (Cravens et al., 2011). Through better understanding of the environment in which sales is occurring, and planning sales effectively, it is possible to make improved, more informed decisions (Cespedes, 2014). Without good sales planning this may be difficult to achieve, arguably. Undertaking sales planning helps with the aligning of the sales function with the overall business strategy, which should help in driving competitive advantage for organisations (Cravens et al., 2011).
Ultimately, the activity of sales planning helps to link together demand and supply in order to develop a production schedule that will ensure that supply is achieved to meet demand (Palmatier and Crum, 2002). It is an integral part of a strategic planning process. Looking at how complex this is can be seen by examining what has happened with Covid-19 and the bicycle industry. Planning sales has been extremely challenging in most cases because many businesses did not predict what would happen with the pandemic. This has led to a tremendous uptick in demand, with sales planning for 2020 and 2021 mostly failing to take this into account. Moreover, supply of parts for the production process has also been impacted severely as a result of the pandemic, further complicating the sales process.
Please explain Key Planning Levels
Planning is usually structured into different levels which might be considered to be key planning levels in an overall planning hierarchy . How these are categorised or explained in the literature varies between authors, but one classic way of explaining the key planning levels is dividing them into corporate, business and functional, as outlined by Johnson et al. (2009). Johnson et al. (2009) argue that at the corporate planning level, the focus is on the overall direction in which the business is moving. At this level, the goal is to define the overarching strategy, decide on the markets of operation and look at the ways in which those markets will be entered and what activities need to be done to achieve this (Johnson et al., 2009). Subsequent to this there is a business planning level, which is another key planning level. At this level of planning, the focus will usually be on looking at the different strategies and tactics that will be needed for the various markets the organisation operates in, and this will include examining and pinpointing how business units will work to the planned tactics that have been devised (Johnson et al., 2009). At this level the strategy is evolved from the overall corporate strategy which was developed at the higher level. Beyond the business strategy, the next key planning level is considered to be the functional level of planning, which is also sometimes referred to as market level strategy (Johnson et al., 2009). This is much more operational in nature and advises the means by which the daily operations will ensure that the company continues to operate effectively and achieve its goals (Johnson et al., 2009).
Other authors such as Katsioloudes and Abouhanian (2016) concur with the division of key planning levels proposed by Johnson et al. (2009). They present examples looking at what the different levels mean in specific businesses. For example, a company such as News Corp’s corporate level of planning would be at the corporate level of the business. Lower down, the business level planning would occur within the different businesses such as at Foxtel, a subsidiary business. At the functional level, planning occurs in the human resource department, the marketing department, the operations department and so on, in each of the different subsidiary businesses. Katsioloudes and Abouhanian (2016) argue that planning is needed at each of these three levels, and that failing to address one of the layers effectively will be likely to result in the business failing to deliver to its targets or move effectively in the desired direction. Moreover, as Kim and Mauborgne (2015) highlight, this type of process of focusing on the key planning levels ensures that the big picture is considered, but the actual means by which this will be operated within is also taken into account within the overall planning process. It is also acknowledged within the literature that the specific number of planning levels may vary in different organisation (Bhandari, 2013) depending on the company.
Please explain Automate Process Management
Process management can benefit from automation as Kepczynski et al. (2018) outline. Kepczynski et al. (2018) suggest that many processes at a tactical and operational level have a lot of regularity and repeatability about them, and that this can make them suitable for automation. There are increasing opportunities to automate process management and make it more intelligent, as outlined by Berruti et al. (2017) to have come about as a result of developments in technology and specifically artificial intelligence and machine learning activities.
Automation can be organised based on a number of different factors, and Kepczynski et al. (2018) suggest that one example of this is automation based on dates. They explain that some processes might be expected to start on a specific day of the week or month. Payroll might be considered a good example of this. Automation can also be based on task completion according to Kepczynski et al. (2018). They describe how this can be achieved by ending specific steps in an automated manner once the tasks within that step have been undertaken. There is also an opportunity to automate process management based on the application job completion (Kepczynski et al., 2018). This can be understood by considering how an end step might only be completed when an application job is finished, and the subsequent associated task can only be started after that point (Kepczynski et al., 2018). Within an automation programme to run processes, rules can be specified and built in that allow activities to start and stop at different times based on these different criteria (Kepczynski et al., 2018).
It is worth mentioning that as highlighted by Gillot (2008) complete end to end process management in an automated manner may not necessarily be possible, but nonetheless there may be the potential to automate large proportions of the process. There are also a wealth of opportunities to automate process management across many businesses and there are a number of important benefits that can be gained from doing so. For example, Fish (2012) explains that when automation of process management is effective, it may be possible to lower costs for the business. In particular, process management automation can be helpful because it may reduce manual intervention needed which in turn can reduce the number of errors (and associated costs) for the business (Herold, 2008). In deciding whether to automate process management, Fish (2012) argues that it is necessary to consider the length of the process both before and after automation in order to determine the costs and benefits of doing so. As highlighted by the McKinsey Institute (2018) an important factor in success of automating process management is ensuring that this is a strategic priority and making sure that a systematic approach is undertaken to this activity. It is also important to ensure that the IT team understands the way in which the process management should work in order to automate it effectively and avoid introducing problems within the process that require unnecessary manual workarounds.
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