Planning is a critical process in which organisations create and maintain plans but perhaps more importantly properly consider what is required in order to achieve future goals. Winston Churchill once said "plans are of little importance, but planning is essential".
The principles of a good plan:
- Explicit: All steps completely spelled out
- Understandable: Able to be understood by those who will have to carry it out
- Flexible: Capable of withstanding some change
- Written: Clearly and concisely written in a reference document
Benefits of planning:
Reduces "fire fighting": All too often organisations are reacting to the operational environment, through planning, future problems and circumstances can be anticipates and avoided and even capitalised on.
Aligns plans with goals: Most organisations have a general idea of where they would like to be, however an organisations plans are sometimes at odds with these goals, by planning, plans and goals can be aligned.
Aligns team members with goals: With an explicit, understandable, flexible and most importantly written plan document, team members will be in no doubt about how to proceed with the organisational goals.
Indicates professionalism and ability: With a well documented and professional planning document, organisations will look capable in the eyes or financiers, suppliers and customers. This can be extremely important if for example the organisation is attempting to gain finance for a project.
The planning cycle:
Planning is best thought of as a cycle rather than a direct process. The planning described here brings all major aspects of planning into one unified process.
Analysis of current circumstances: This is where an organisation looks at their current environment; sometimes a SWOT or a PESTAL analysis is employed to gain a better picture.
Identification your goals: The next step is to define in a clear an concise way, what it the organisation wants to achieve. The organisation needs to ask questions like:
Where do we want to be 10 years in the future?
How do we want our customers to perceive us?
What kind of standards do we want?
What kind of profit do we want to see on our profit and loss statement?
Explore options: Once a clear goal has been articulated, as many possible options/solutions should be formulated. A group brainstorming session is often very effective at generating ideas.
Selecting the best option: The process of selecting the best option can be time consuming. However the cost of making the wrong decision can be even more time consuming. When making a selection, organisations often make decisions base on:
- Risk assessment
- Future financial projections
- A decision matrix
- Decision trees
Create plan: When creating a plan it is vitally important to document in a clear and concise manner not only to assist the planning process, but so the plan can act as a reference for all individuals involved. A plan should have the following components:
- The current situation with stated SWOT and/or PESTAL
- The stated goal
- A detailed breakdown of the tasks allocating individual responsibility and timelines
- A regular review process to determine the success of the implementation of the plan
Evaluation of the plan: At this stage, an organisation must review the plan. This is best done as objectively as possible; sometimes this means that the plan should be reviewed by individuals not involved in the planning process. Some of the methods for evaluating plans include the following:
- Feasibility assessment
- Financial projections
- Survey of stakeholders
- A detailed pros and cons assessment
Implementation: This can be the hardest step. Simply following the plan may not always produce the desired results. It is often necessary to revisit the plan, make changes and improve the document. This is achieved through the regular review process that is detailed in the planning document.
- Concluding the plan: The final stage is simple, once you have fully implemented the plan it is time to determine its effectiveness. It is sometimes a good idea to document the conclusions so future planning activities may learn from previous mistakes.