What's Involved in Planning?
One of the most common activities in management is planning. Very simply put, planning is setting the direction for something, and then guiding it to follow the planned direction. There are many kinds of planning in organisations.
Common to these different types of planning are the various steps involved and guidelines for carrying them out as effectively as possible.
Some Basic Terms
Planning typically includes use of the following terms.
NOTE: It's not critical to understand the definitions of each of the following terms. It's more important for planners to have a basic sense of the difference between goals/objectives (results) and strategies/tasks (methods to achieve the results).
Goals are specific accomplishments that must be achieved in total, or in some combination, in order to realise some larger, overall result preferred from the system, for example, the mission of an organisation.
Strategies or Activities
These are the methods or processes required in total, or in some combination, to achieve the goals. (Going back to our reference to systems, strategies are processes in the system.)
Objectives are specific accomplishments that must be accomplished in total, or in some combination, to achieve the goals in the plan. Objectives are usually "milestones" along the way when implementing the strategies.
Particularly in small organisations, people are assigned various tasks required to implement the plan. If the scope of the plan is very small, tasks and activities are often essentially the same.
Resources (and Budgets)
Resources include the people, materials, technologies, money, etc., required to implement the strategies or processes. The costs of these resources are often depicted in the form of a budget.
Basic Overview of Typical Phases in Planning
Whether the system is an organisation, department, business, project, etc., the basic planning process typically includes similar activities carried out in a similar sequence. The complexity of the various phases depends on the scope of the system. For example, in a large business, the following phases would be carried out in the corporate offices, in each division, and in each department, and in each group, etc.
NOTE: Different planners might have different names for the following activities and groups them differently. However, the nature of the activities and their general sequence remains the same.
NOTE: The following are typical phases in planning. They do not necessarily comprise the complete, ideal planning process.
- The Purpose ("Mission") or Desired Result During planning, planners have in mind (consciously or unconsciously) some overall purpose or result that the plan is to achieve. For example, during strategic planning, it's critical to reference the mission, or overall purpose, of the organisation.
- SWOT Analysis This SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) is always done to some extent. During strategic planning for example, it's important to conduct an environmental scan to examine opportunities and threats to the organisation. This scan usually involves considering various driving forces, or major influences, that might effect the organisation.
- Analyze the Situation During this analysis, planners can use a variety of assessments, or methods to "measure" the health of systems.
- Establish Goals Based on the analysis and alignment to the overall mission of the system, planners establish a set of goals that build on strengths to take advantage of opportunities, while building up weaknesses and warding off threats.
- Establish Strategies to Reach Goals The particular strategies (or methods to reach the goals) chosen depend on budgets, practicality and efficiency.
- Establish Objectives Along the Way to Achieving Goals Objectives are selected to be timely and indicative of progress toward goals.
- Assign Responsibilities and Time Lines With Each Objective Responsibilities are assigned, including the implementation of the plan, and for achieving various goals and objectives. Ideally, deadlines are set for meeting each responsibility.
- Write and Communicate a Plan Document The above information is organised and written in a document that is distributed around the organisation or system.
- Acknowledge Completion and Celebrate Success This critical step is often ignored -- which can eventually undermine the success of many of the future planning efforts. The purpose of a plan is to address a current problem or pursue a development goal. It seems simplistic to state that you should acknowledge if the problem was solved or the goal met. However, this step in the planning process is often ignored in lieu of moving onto the next problem to solve, or goal to pursue.