Friday, December 20, 2013

Branches and Sequels

‘It is a bad plan that admits of no modification.’ - Publilius Syris

Planning is a strange thing: everyone does it to some extent, some people are more diligent and formal about it; but very few people do it well.

There are some simple reasons for this, but the two key reasons are this: a well constructed and complete plan is usually a good deal of hard work, and such a plan requires hard choices and that means good leadership.  But the thing of it is, a well-constructed plan is actually worth a great deal more than simply the plan itself.

This is because of a couple of things that are intrinsic elements of the process of making a good plan.

1) The boss (irrespective of what kind of organization) views the plan as his.  Good plans begin with the ‘goal’ of the organization, and that goal comes from one person: the boss. 

2) The first details – the ‘guidance and intentions’ that spell out what the Boss really wants and how he, in general terms, he wants to get it – are also creations of the boss. 

3) As the planning process advances and the plan is developed, the Boss stays involved, works with the planning team, and approves the plan at each major step.  Good plans thus become completely infused with ‘the Boss.’  And that means he has completely ‘bought in.’

4) Good bosses know that the plan IS the future, and they put their best people on the planning team.  These people will first plan the team and then assist in its implementation.  No one knows the plan better then the planning team, and no one will know better how to implement it then the planning team.

5) Good planning means that the planning team has spent considerable amounts of time understanding the environment in which they function: the economy, the technology, the law, the competition, the local and regional business climates, etc., etc.  They understand the organization itself: its strengths and its weaknesses.  They understand the trends, and they also understand - at least as well as anyone else in the organization - various indicators that something has changed.  They will know when to execute the basic plan, and will also know when the situation has changed and the plan no longer ‘fits.’

6) Good planning also means that a wide range of options – courses of action – have been considered before a final recommendation was made to the boss from which to develop the strategy and implementation plan.  Those options form the basis for variations on the plan, what are called ‘branches and sequels.’  Branch plans are variations of the plan that are designed to respond to changes in the organization, the environments – particularly the competition – or both.  Sequels are follow-on plans, plans for what happens if the first plan succeeds – based on the new conditions, and plans for what happens if things don’t go quite as per the plan, again with variations based on those new conditions.

The result is that the value of a plan is as much – or more – in the process that produces the plan as in the central plan itself.  When done right the process produces not simply the plan but a small core of people who are fully informed as to the goals and motives of the boss, his boundaries – what he will and won’t do, what he will and won’t consider for further action, a detailed knowledge of the organization and its capabilities and limitations, a detailed knowledge of the ‘world’ in which they are operating – competition, laws, technology, etc., and a ready ‘playbook’ of actions that have been looked at, in some cases studied in great detail, perhaps even ‘gamed,’ and a knowledge of what might and might not work in given situations.

Plans come and go; every good leader and every good organization not only has decent plans, they know when to modify the plan, and when to flex to a branch plan, and when to move to a sequel, and when to move into a new plan development cycle.  Good plans and good leaders don’t fall in love with their plans; they stick to their goals and use the plans and the planning process to achieve them.

The lesson here is summed up best by President Eisenhower, who had helped to craft a wide range of US military plans throughout the 1930s and throughout World War II: ‘the Plan is nothing, but the Planning is everything.’


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