Planning Skills

A Management Tool

What is planning?

Planning is described as a future-oriented decision-making process. It is a process, not a blueprint.

What's it about?

The planning process involves the task of understanding the purpose, and then creating the mission and objectives for the organisation.

The mission should not be too namby pamby or generalised. It should be fairly specific, clear and unique to the organisation.

Usually the terms planning and strategy are used interchangeably.

Why do we plan?

Things do change (superficially speaking). Governments change office, budgets are different every year. Although much of this are superficial changes, we need to know how to deal with them. So we need to plan.

The purpose of planning is to reduce uncertainly in a changing environment and so reduce costs and help others to focus on what is important in life. This focussing aspect is important because people need to continually look at themselves and where they are going and refer this to the direction taken by an organisation. It flows into many different areas of working life: such as performance appraisal etc.

Is planning and decision-making the same terms?

Planning affects decision-making, but decision-making is not always based on planning. As R. L. Ackoff writes in A Concept of Corporate Planning published in Long Range Planning:

"...planning is clearly a decision-making process; but, equally clearly, not all decision-making is planning." (R. L. Ackoff, A Concept of Corporate Planning: Long Range Planning 3:2 (1970)) Person 1983, p.53.

What's the difference between good planning and a bad planning?

Good planning is the development of a dual plan system. It shows alternatives. Never create a plan based on current variables until you also develop a plan to counteract the likelihood of opposite variables appearing.

A good plan should also be seen as a guide, and never something for people to abide by in the stricktest possible sense. The plan should be flexible as new information is received over time.

Remember, good planning is necessary to ensure a few good decisions are made to help solve many problems and so reduce the uncertainty in a changing environment. This is what good managers should do.

What stops a manager from planning and/or implementing the plan?

The only thing affecting the planning and implementation process are (i) the resistance shown by people to planning activities; and (ii) blocks to innovative planning.

Whenever we plan something new, we are usually about to make changes within an organisation. People resist changes. Therefore the plan itself must be well-thought out before it can be implemented because it will affect people in some way. As Ewing wrote in his book titled The Human Side of Planning:

"Probably the most universal difficulty arises from people's fears of planned change. As indicated earlier, almost all ambitious plans are intended to produce new patterns of thought and action in the organization. However, as has been said innumerable times, people resist changeƑor, more accurately, they resist being changed by other people, e.g., planners." (Ewing, The Human Side of Planning, p.44; Person 1983, p.69)

The reason for the resistance is varied, but it usually includes such things as fear of doing something different, 'threat of being manipulated, conflicting interests, constrained freedom of choice in work activities, failure to see the value of planning, to increased workload due to planning activities." (Person 1983, p.69)

The problem is best solved through good quality education (i.e. showing the value of planning and how much better the organisation and the people will be) and providing reward systems for people (either financially or otherwise).

Another way to reduce the resistance is to practice "long-range" planning and involving people in the decision-making process. As Steiner writes in his book Contemporary Managerial Planning:

"Long-range planning is a new and significant communications system. It permits people to participate in the decision-making process. People are more adaptable to change because they participate in making the change." (Steiner, Contemporary Managerial Planning, p.346; Person 1983, p.69)

The only slight problem with this "participation" approach is that if too many people are involved in the long-range planning and decision-making process, it can be time-consuming and expensive to come up with a final plan and it can be easy for people to tackle the minor problems instead of the major ones.

Innovative planning - what is it?

It is a natural fact of life: people do not like to change. To help people understand the reason behind change (and to make sure the manager knows the change is necessary), managers implement a management tool called innovative planning.

To permit innovative planning, brainstorming is the approach of getting people to participate in the decision-making and planning process in a creative way. They will use their creativity to create alternatives and then choose the best solution.

To ensure there are no people blocking the innovative planning process, certain rules should be in place:

  1. No analysis or evaluation of any ideas is permitted until all ideas have been stated;
  2. People are encouraged to freely express any idea they want without fear of being ridiculed or victimised.

What does it take to implement the plan?

The implementation of the plan affects people. Therefore, make sure everyone has been involved in the planning process and then help the people (i) to be motivated to implement the plan with reward systems; and (ii) have the cognitive and physical skills to implement the plan.

The planning process

The essential planning process is as follows:

  1. Set goal(s)

    What are the social responsibilities and management values.

  2. Gather information

    Do an analysis on the internal and external environment using SWOT.

  3. Establish promoting and restraining factors

    Establish opportunities and threats/problems facing your organisation.

  4. Develop plan or set of actions to reach goal(s)

    Create the strategy to help fulfil the goal(s). You do this by stating specific objectives to take advantage of those opportunities and then the actions for achieving those objectives. Develop contingency plans for dealing with the threats. Next, identify costs of the strategies and forecast acceptable performance levels and usage levels when achieving the goal(s). Develop an alternative plan in case something should go wrong.

  5. Evaluation and review

    What were the results after a period of time and is the plan accurate and useful. What changes do you think you will need to the plan?

We call this Management by Objectives (MBO).

What is SWOT?

This is a management tool for determining the current state of your organisation in the real world.

What managers do is draw two lines on a page that look like a giant plus sign (+). All the quadrants should be given a name. The names are as follows:

S Strengths

W Weaknesses

O Opportunities

T Threats

In the "Opportunities" and "Threats" quadrants, write down all the factors affecting your organisation. In the other quadrants, write down all the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation when it comes to handling these opportunities and threats.

Once you have this completed, you can begin to write a plan to help you take advantage of the opportunities and minimise the threats.

Planning requires consulting

You don't know the factors affecting your organisation or whether your plan will work? Don't worry. You just have to remember one thing. Gather information before you create the plan and before you implement it.

The most important part of planning is the gathering of information. You need to consult with people, to read journals, articles and books, to test the service (or use the product) of the organisation to see how well it is working etc.

This can be the most time consuming part. However, the more information you can gather, the more accurate is your plan.

Consult organisational members and customers. Also consult with outside members like sponsors. This is the people-side to planning. Often you will have a consulting committee in an organisation to perform this information gathering activity for you. Consultation with people should involve the insignificant to the significant, basically everyone who is likely to affect the organisation in some way and who might be affected by your plan.

Consultation is all about understanding the needs of everyone. So always announce the consultation day to allow everyone to put their views across.