Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Plan

The Second Item you need to overcome the inertia in your organization is: a plan.

It is quite common for folks to denigrate planning, and many are fond of quoting the apocryphal comment from the German General Staff officer that the reason the US Army was successful was that ‘war was chaos and the US Army practiced it every day.’

That makes for a good quote, but it is mostly nonsense.  If you don’t think the movement of military forces requires planning then you are confused.  The larger and the faster you are moving them, the more planning that is needed.  The planning necessary to reliably to purchase gear, train people, maintain aircraft and ships, etc., and then move to a combat theater is substantial.  US training may emphasize being able to improvise, but the ‘improvisation’ is built on a foundation of detailed planning.

And, the fact is we all make plans – simple ones and complex ones – all day long.  But when we are trying to figure out how we achieve our goals with our company or organization we really need to engage in formal planning. 

There are real limits to planning as well, the most important being that plans work very well for tightly focused organizations (such as armies).  This is one of the (many) reasons that large, broadly scripted organizations, such as governments, routinely perform so poorly: the planning attempts the impossible – achieving multiple complex goals under a single plan.  Narrowly focused organizations – to included tightly focused governments – can achieve great things (think NASA and the race to the Moon); broadly focused organizations rarely do.  And this is one place where planning gets a ‘bad reputation.’  But in that case it isn’t planning that fails, the organization has already failed by reaching for too many goals at the same time.

Briefly, assuming that you have a clearly stated goal, your plan should explain what is happening, why each major step is taking place, and, as you work down into the details, the role of each individual or group in each step.  Everyone must be provided a meaningful role in the new plan.  Cosmetic roles will be spotted in an instant and are poisonous to the organization.

The process is simply stated and each step is completed in order:
- Clear Goals
- Guidance & Intent – from the boss – what he means and what he is thinking
- Assumptions (Major issues – if your premise is the price of oil has to be $100 per barrel for everything to work – you need to tell everyone that…)
- Constraints and Restraints - Things we must do and things we will never do
- Understanding the World Around Us – particularly the market sector of this organization
- Develop various Courses of Action
- Choosing a Course of Action
- Developing a detailed implementation plan and a kick-off plan
- Execution

These steps are easily stated, but not easily completed.  Good planning requires a committed and involved leadership, a small but well-chosen planning team, and inevitably the complete support of the entire organization.  Bringing in someone to help orchestrate the planning and the planning team is also a good idea.  But it has to be the leader’s and the organization’s plan.  A good plan aggressively executed is better than a perfect plan with no commitment from the front office or buy-in from the organization as a whole.


At September 1, 2013 at 8:51 AM , Anonymous mike noll said...

Hello Pete. I thin the US military is bad at deliberate planning but good at improvising. We therefore often start out poorly but learn fast. Those wicked old Germans were always most dangerous with their first punch - the one they planned in advance.

Mike Noll


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