“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower. Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principals. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brain storming sessions although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is to developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principals, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is they only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.
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