Games Motorists Play

You’ve just joined the tail end of the serpentine queue of automobiles lined up on a busy road in your city. You don’t know for how long the queue stretches ahead of you and neither do you have an idea how long you’re going to be held up there. With the whole lot of time to kill you tune in FM radio and watch the rage drivers coercing others into tailgating, speeding, and weaving between lanes right under the very nose of the horde of traffic police that stands there to regulate traffic. With a constant homeostatic balance to achieve in traffic, motorists are impulsive to take care of Number One in this street war zone. Utterly non-caring, opportunistic, people weasel their way with hardly any feelings for fellow human beings. Cows and bulls that stay to the side of the road, nothing stops them from walking in it, crossing it, or taking a nap in it. There inside an auto, children are folded and packed, after careful geometric calculations, until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all… and then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage.The many virtues of culture and religion, real and imagined, are no consolation for the many ugly warts and moles that people display through behavior. Many of the social ills, like the serious lack of concern for fellow human beings or the VIP culture, stem from the attitude, namely the ‘I, me and myself’ attitude to life, fairness be damned. Motorists that are lined behind their side of the road refuse to keep lined up one behind the other on their side of the road. They jump lanes to right, potentially obstructing traffic that will come from the other side. Initially, a line of vehicles starts building up on both sides of the crossing in an orderly fashion. If both the lines wait calmly in their designated lanes all the vehicles will cross on time.


The testosterone-plagued macho man joins the tail-end of the queue on one side. Too antsy to sit still he notices that the road to his right is fairly empty, though that part of the road is meant for the oncoming traffic. He can’t but steer to the right all the way to the front. His strategy is that he’ll be the first to squeeze through to the other side in no time. Strangely enough other motorists in the line don’t stop this ‘assemblage of organic algorithm’ from doing that. As he opens a new lane others join him in the line. If nobody on the other side adopts the same strategy he’s through, hassle-free. But then those on the other side are no fools. They come from the same stock as this naked ape. They follow his strategy. The resultant logjam is ruinous for all. Even if one motorist jumps the lane demonstration effect leads many others to follow suit. ‘Why should I wait longer only to let the other idiot cross over sooner?’ ‘And why should I cut my nose to spite my face?’ The strict enforcement of traffic discipline becomes the important imperative but then that isn’t the option available in our world.Being rational and selfish is more or less the same. For the queue-jumper, this is perfectly rational. So his decision is unquestionable. While he does so he doesn’t think he overestimates his rationality though it means he underestimates that of the others. If jumping the queue to minimize his time in it is the best strategy for him, it doesn’t perhaps strike his mind that it must be so for others in the queues as well who are equally selfish and rational. As he knew what was the best strategy for him so did others have the mutual knowledge of the best strategy.As if each of us thought we alone were privy to this strategy and act as if they’re unaware that all the others are also aware of the same common knowledge of the best strategy. We all have mutual knowledge that of the best strategy. We don’t have the common knowledge that the best strategy is, in fact, the common knowledge. For us to obey simple traffic rules it isn’t enough that everyone knows about the rule. Even when all the people know the rule they may not follow it if they don’t simultaneously know that all other road users are also aware of it. Everyone is aware of the rule means there is mutual knowledge of it. But everyone being aware that all others know about it too is what constitutes common knowledge. Common knowledge implies that everyone knows and everyone knows that everyone knows.


We all have the mutual knowledge about what is the best for us individually but don’t have the common knowledge that what is best for me is also best for all others and that all others know it and that all others know that all others know it. My time is more important than everybody else’s time is mutual knowledge but not common knowledge. We hardly (socially) disapprove queue jumping. Ironically enough it’s the objector that experiences social disapproval as he often finds his to be the lone dissenting voice. Queue jumpers may or may not be numerous than those objecting to them. Those that are exalted may not be questioned by lesser mortals when they jump the queue. We’re too intelligent for our own good. In effect, we use much of our intellect to figure out ways of circumventing laws, regulations, and norms in a bid to twist and turn every available opportunity to our immediate advantage. Plagued with the lack of self-regulation, we’re largely reluctant to penalize wrong conduct in others. As we don’t feel like following or implementing systems, we instead rear a kind of propensity to look holes in law. This is massaged only if we’ve got the ‘authority’ to break rules.

Are Non-Profits Prepared For Strategic Planning?

I wish I could count the number of times I have attended a non-profit strategic planning session, or discussed the need to have (or update) one in a board meeting, or been invited to serve as the facilitator. It has always – always – struck me that the strategic planning session should just be starting about the time that it is actually ending (e.g., too much time is wasted at the beginning and then a frenzy results at the end). The purpose of this article is to outline some observations over 30 years of strategic planning experience and to share suggestions that will improve the chances for a successful outcome.

Holding a Strategic Planning Session
At some point in time, every member of a non-profit board is going to hear the suggestion: “let’s hold a strategic planning session!” from a fellow board member or staff member. It’s not a bad idea but, unfortunately, it’s often a waste of time and produces no measurable outcomes. I want to share some observations and thoughts about strategic planning – invite debate – and see if we can come up with some guidelines that make the investment of time worthwhile. I have often said that strategic planning is a ‘process’ and not an ‘event’ – and I still very much believe that statement is true. However, maybe I should also add the caveat that a successful ‘process’ does indeed require an ‘event’ – or series of events – which is precisely the point. If you agree with my belief that the event often ends about the time it should be starting, then you would have to agree that additional follow-up after the event is required in order to create a meaningful strategic plan because the plan stopped short of completion during the original event. And a lot of time was used inefficiently, which also makes people reluctant to participate in the future.
 
A Working Document
Without a doubt, the primary way that I judge a successful strategic plan is by seeing a copy of it a year after the ‘event.’ If it’s a bit too dusty (which is often said in jest, but is true!) and if the pages are in pristine condition, then the event that created the plan was obviously not successful in motivating action. However, if the copy is dog-eared, marked up, added to, pages tagged, and otherwise well-used; then the event was super successful because a ‘process’ was indeed born and the need for ongoing action was instilled. In my opinion, successful outcomes are too rare in the strategic planning ‘implementation’ phase. The copy of the strategic plan that I described as a success is one that has become a working document, which is what planning is all about.
 
Defining ‘Strategic’
From an analytical standpoint, one way to define something is to determine what it is not. Strategy is different from ‘tactical’ or ‘operational’ (which is actually performing a task). Strategy is more subjective and cerebral; it involves thinking about an issue in broader terms than usual; thinking about circumstances that do not currently exist (i.e., future oriented) and determining how to adapt the organization to benefit from those predicted opportunities or avoid anticipated threats. Often, it involves thinking about an issue totally differently than ever before (which is VERY hard to do). Strategy development is not the same as operations implementation. For example, when I have been invited to ‘do’ strategic planning for an organization, I always ask if there is an Operating Plan; i.e., if you don’t know how to perform your core business every day (Operating Plan), why would you want to spend time working on a future-oriented process (Strategic Plan)? Strategy (highly subjective) is the opposite of operational (highly objective/defined/specific). Objective is ‘cut and dried’ – there is a procedure/process/outcome that arises from certain actions, done at certain times, in a certain way to produce known/certain outcomes. We already know if we do these certain things what we will get. Most people can adequately perform what they are taught/instructed. However, developing strategy – even the process of thinking about it – is very different. A strategic planning session led by a ‘doer’ instead of a ‘strategist’ and ‘critical thinker’ will yield disappointing results; however, ‘doers’ can be very helpful in participating in the development of strategy if they are properly guided. A couple of very simple examples of strategic vs. operational issues will make the point:

Funding
Operational – How are we going to make payroll next month?
Strategic – How do we need to adapt our operations to comply/excel with the recent changes for non-profits by Congress?

New Program
Operational – We need to add a new program to our existing series.
Strategic – We need to add a new series to cover new topics that will take our organization in a new direction.

Operating Plans Are Important
Let me be quick to tout the benefits of an Operating Plan. Properly executed, an Operating Planning Session can provide or refine specific guidance/clarification/policy on any number of day-to-day issues that really can be a big help when running the organization. The primary difference between strategic and operating (which is a huge difference) is that operating plans deal with the ‘here and now’ – with processes and policies that will improve the current business function – strategic plans, simply put, engage the participants in thought processes meant to challenge the current business function by looking into the future and assessing opportunities, threats, weaknesses, and strengths. A good Operating Plan can minimize daily confusion/questions about the manner in which specific job functions should be conducted. The ‘event’ of operations planning – getting the appropriate team together to discuss, debate, and decide the issues – is, in-of-itself, a very worthwhile team-building and clarifying session (if properly planned and executed). While Operating Plans are beyond the scope of this article, I wanted to make sure they were mentioned in a positive context.
 
The Mission Statement and The SWOT Analysis
Unfortunately, most strategic planning sessions seem to begin with either a review of the mission statement or a SWOT analysis. Both are usually ‘deal-busters’ in that they bog down the process of innovative thinking for strategic planning. For example, unless the core business of the organization has been totally disrupted (e.g., by lack of funding or policy, political, social, or technology changes), then the existing mission statement should be in reasonably good condition. To delve into the mission statement – and debate specific words and placement within the text – sucks the life out of the planning session and can often pit individuals against each other right from the start over silly things like wordsmithing. Not only is this unfortunate, but I would suggest that it is totally unnecessary. How can you revise a mission statement until you go through the rigors of the strategic planning process and determine whether or not there are bona-fide strategic issues worth pursuing? My preference is to hold the mission statement for a separate planning meeting after the strategic plan has at least been through an initial rough draft process. Perhaps a good analogy is to look at the mission statement from the back end – maybe it should be thought of as more of an executive summary?
 
Preparation For The Planning Session Is Critical
There is probably no exercise that requires more preparation than strategic planning. Why? Because the participants must be the right ones (those with authority and accountability), the purpose of the exercise must be made very clear (to stay ‘on point’ and eliminate confusion and fear), and the process must be known and engaging in advance (so participants can be prepared to contribute their very best). The most obvious difference between a private-sector strategic planning session and one for a non-profit organization is the inclusion of volunteers, namely the board of directors. The good news is that the planning session will include a diversity of opinion; the bad news is that most board members have probably been through some type of strategic planning before and have preconceived notions about the process based on their previous experiences (hence, the importance of preparing for the session in advance). I will discuss the dynamics of the volunteer participants in a later section.
 
I strongly recommend using an experienced professional outside facilitator (not a staff member, a board member, or a friend of a friend…) for at least three reasons:
 
(1) It is important to have 100% involvement of the entire board and staff members, so using participants to lead sessions or write on flip charts takes them out of the game.
 
(2) The selected facilitator must fully understand the main points presented in this article and have familiarity with applying them in actual planning sessions. (I will discuss some thoughts on selecting a facilitator in a later section.)
 
(3) You cannot be a prophet in your own land – your fellow board members and/or staff will resent you for being the strategic planning leader (even if you are experienced). Obtaining outside help eliminates this problem.
 
If possible, share copies of previous strategic plans (with the participants and the facilitator) as part of the preparation process that takes place well in advance of the event. Successful planning takes more time in preparation than it does in execution; this is a good rule of thumb to remember. If very little (or no) planning goes into the preparation, the participants will show up without direction and without having pondered creative solutions to some known issues to get their juices flowing; the event will likely be a disaster (and a waste of a lot of precious time).
 
Conducting The Advanced Preparation
Plenty of lead time is important; six months is not too long. Start by regularly discussing the need/desire of a strategic planning session at board and staff meetings. A letter to the board from the chair is a good way to officially announce that a strategic planning session is necessary. That letter should include a few examples of issues that are pressing the organization for strategic solutions. The board may wish to name a committee responsible for the planning (or, the board may already have a Strategic Planning Committee). Remembering that the plan is intended to be forward looking, it is important to involve up-and-coming board and staff members; their participation will be critical to the future implementation of the plan, so it is imperative they be involved in the development of it. Newer participants are often more reluctant to engage during the planning session because they conclude, perhaps rightly so, that there is a lot of history that they do not know. Remembering that strategic planning is forward looking, the facilitator must work hard to bring everybody into the dialogue because past history is less important than future strategy.
 
Let’s cover a few aspects of the advanced preparation checklist:
 
Participation
Remember that inviting the participants is easier than getting them to attend the session! This is one of the best reasons for beginning the discussions about the planning session six months in advance. My suggestion (this is a bit radical) is that it be made clear that if a participant cannot arrive on time and stay for the entire event, then they should not attend. This rule will make clear the importance of full participation. Reiterating this for several months prior to the session will make it less likely to have a misunderstanding on the day of the event. (If the organization is extremely proactive, then it already has a policy on board attendance and what is considered an excused absence.)
 
The Venue
How important is the selection of the place to hold the planning session? I would argue that it is more important than most people think (i.e., it is very important). I would strongly suggest that the venue be away from the normal meeting places. In addition, distractions like golf courses should be avoided; and, selecting a location where there is no cell phone reception takes care of a whole host of problems. Included in the selection of the venue are a number of other seemingly mundane issues, but planning in advance can make the difference between success and failure. A few examples:

  • Make sure the primary meeting room is extraordinary. It must be comfortable in every way, from the chairs to the location of the restrooms. If possible, select a meeting room with full technology tools; you want the session to be impressive.
  • Do not expect the attendees to bunk together. Secure enough rooms in advance to accommodate all of those who plan to attend. Private bathrooms are a must.
  • Food selections should be made in advance, particularly taking into account vegetarian preferences. Avoid caffeine and sugar as much as possible because studies have found that while both spike attention, there is ultimately an attention crash.
  • Decisions about alcohol, smoking, group recreation activities, etc. should all be made in advance. To keep things simple, I suggest avoiding all of the above.
  • Regular breaks – where some exercise is suggested and some quiet/alone time is provided – will increase the productivity of the output in the sessions. Make sure there is a printed agenda – distributed well in advance of the session – and spell out all events to the minute. Do not deviate from the schedule.

Length of the Planning Session
Determining the proper length of the session is important. I continue to believe that planning sessions end about the time they should be starting/continuing. Why? Because without a lot of advanced planning and attention to detail, the event begins sluggishly and does not naturally find a participative course until too late. However, I have never been to a multi-day ‘seminar’ that I thought was worth my time because I do not play golf and am not looking at seminars or planning sessions for my recreation and social outings. I feel strongly that the importance of the planning session should be kept paramount in the minds of the participants. There is no reason to draw things out just for the sake of having a lengthy planning session. How short is too short? A strategic planning session cannot be successfully held in one morning. How long is too long? Anything longer than a couple of days will cause a negative impact on the operations of the organization, given that the entire leadership team is at the strategic planning event. However, the best session I ever attended lasted the better part of three days. And, it was a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (intentionally selected so as not to interfere with normal operations).
 
Planning Session Case Study
An appropriately sized inn was selected – in a rural area and about 90 minutes out of town – and the organization rented the entire facility. It was extremely well planned, in advance, and all contingencies were considered (private rooms, meals, walking trails, multiple meeting rooms, no cell service, personal time built into the agenda, etc.) Written materials had been distributed weeks in advance. The facilitating team (outside consultants) had met individually with each participant prior to the event; the five-person consulting team arrived Friday morning to set up. There were 24 participants (ranging from the CEO to new managers), who arrived after lunch on Friday, checked into their rooms, and were in place for the afternoon (opening) session at 3 p.m. on Friday. Another session was conducted after dinner on Friday evening and multiple sessions were conducted on Saturday. The event concluded at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Of special note is that every participant left the session with a copy of the draft strategic plan that commemorated the first session in the planning process. Updates were added as they became available in the days, weeks, and months to come. Goals and objectives were established to produce measurable outcomes and revised as necessary. Organization-wide communications were important, so assignments were made to brief the entire employee population on the plan and its iterative changes. This strategic planning event remains the best I have ever attended. Contrast this brief description with the planning events you have attended and you will see the difference that commitment can make. And, important to mention: the resulting strategic plan completely transformed the organization, as was intended (the organization reduced its service territory and its product offerings, opting to focus on its core strengths). A better outcome could not be imagined.
 
The Cost of Strategic Planning
I do not believe in the old saying, “you get what you pay for.” Instead, I believe you will get no more than you pay for and you might not even get that much if you are not fully engaged with the service provider. Good strategic planning is not cheap. Many for-profit organizations cannot afford it, so it is no surprise that the non-profit organizations struggle mightily with the cost. A common practice is to have a friend-of-a-friend conduct a 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (with lunch!) planning session for free (or for a few hundred dollars). How successful is this approach? I would suggest not successful at all – and, potentially giving a negative impression to strategic planning because the session was so grossly inadequate. If this is true, then it is literally better not to have a strategic planning session that to have a bad one. Fees vary all over the board but, for example, the case study presented above cost $50,000 (negotiated down from $75,000 in conjunction with the experimentation of producing the draft plan during the session) – and that was over 15 years ago. I am familiar with a recent strategic plan for a non-profit organization – conducted by a national consulting firm specializing in the operations of that specific non-profit industry – and the cost was $75,000 about two years ago. However, take note: a donor sponsored 100% of the cost under the belief that without a strategic plan, the organization was in trouble. So, my suggestion would be to seek donor funding for the strategic planning costs. Also, I would suggest that the organization tout the existence of its strategic plan in its printed material and on its web site, thereby demonstrating that it is proactive and performs in a business-like manner, which can provide a competitive advantage during fundraising.

 
Selecting a Strategic Planning Consultant
The case study above mentions a five-person consulting team. This was part of an experiment that required that number of consultants because the end product, as explained above, was a draft copy of the strategic plan in the hands of every participant. This required the appropriate technology to be on hand (PC, projector, screen, copiers, etc.) and a typist who was the fastest I have ever seen. Part of the experiment was to enable the participants to be fully engaged in the conversation by not taking notes; instead, everything that was said was typed on the PC and projected on the screen. During breaks, the consulting team would group suggestions into logical sections. One consultant handled all contingencies. The other three took turns facilitating the various sessions to offer a distinct change of pace. During lunch on the closing day, copies were made for all participants and reviewed in the final session before adjournment. Admittedly, this was extreme; however, it certainly was effective. Generally speaking, however, find a consultant from a reference, meet with the person (or persons) to determine if you have a good personality fit (important), discuss the specific scope of work, ask for references (and check them), and ask to review copies of other strategic plans the consultant has led (these may be proprietary, but a reference can provide you with a copy – or at least let you look at a copy – so you can see the actual work product and evaluate it). Make sure that the consulting fee includes preliminary work and follow-up work. Also, make sure that the consultant’s background is a good fit for the type of organization (some people believe that a good facilitator can facilitate anything, but I disagree; there are always strengths and weaknesses in a person’s knowledge base).
 
The Dynamics of the Planning Session
The biggest challenge for any planning session is to keep the group ‘on point’ (i.e., on the subject) and to involve, ideally, everybody in the group in the dialogue. Speaking of ‘dialogue,’ the word is not interchangeable with ‘discussion’ – you want a dialogue not a discussion – the word discussion is derived from percussion which indicates ‘banging, striking, scraping, etc.’ (precisely the wrong connotation) and is usually an informal debate (also the wrong connotation). Dialogue, on the other hand, is a conversation and an exchange of ideas (not a debate). Managing personality differences, tenure differences (who knows what because of how long they have been associated with the organization), starting on time (even if everybody is not present!), ending on time (i.e., following the agenda), and recording the comments of the participants are rightful expectations for the client to have of the facilitator/consultant. Basic issues of respect (we are all adults) is the responsibility of each participant. I have never attended a strategic planning session where there was not at least one person who did not want to be there – and, unfortunately, it was obvious through words and body language – which projected a certain amount of negativity on the entire group. In cases such as this, it is up to the CEO to determine how the situation should best be handled; I recommend removing the negativity from the session.
 
Next Steps for Successful Implementation
Too often (if not the majority of the time!) “what happens at the strategic planning retreat stays at the strategic planning retreat…” While this may work in Vegas, it is a sorry outcome for serious strategic planning! Information must be shared after the retreat. My experience indicates that success comes from follow-up, follow-up, and more follow-up. I suggest a “champion” – an individual (or very small team) that will manage the implementation of the strategic plan – with unimpeded, direct access to the CEO. (If the CEO is not fully supportive then the strategic plan is doomed to failure.) Most importantly, I suggest that everyone involved understand, accept, and embrace the unequivocal fact that additional changes will be needed during the implementation phase. This is as it should be. Documenting these changes (and why), revising goals and objectives, timelines, assignments and providing printed copies to be inserted into all the individual strategic planning notebooks is the best way I know to keep the entire team involved in the process. (Remember, we are striving for a process, not an event…)
 
Conclusions/Recommendations
The purpose of this article was to share some observations over 30 years of strategic planning experience and to share suggestions for pre-planning that will improve the chances for a successful outcome. I remain concerned that the non-profit sector (more so than the government sector or the private sector) is typically not ready for strategic planning because they don’t have the funds to do an adequate job and the pre-planning is not thorough. A successful outcome from this article would be to get non-profit leaders to think about the subject of strategic planning more seriously – and to halt any existing plans until key elements of this article are at least considered. Entire books are written on the subject of strategic planning, so this article does not portend to be conclusive, only to make clear the importance of strategic planning and doing it right. Feedback and comments are invited.

Strategic Planning With Implementation in Mind

Plans come in all shapes and sizes, but the sorts of plans that I have in mind are those whose effective implementation is vital to the organisation’s continued well-being. The plan might be a marketing plan involving the development of new markets and products; it might be a restructuring to enhance flexibility and customer focus or the adoption of a concept such as lean thinking. It might be all of these which, together, form the elements of a strategic business plan. The common denominators are that the effective implementation of the plan involves many more people than were involved in the plan’s formulation and the price of failure to execute is high.

The three fundamental reasons for poor strategy implementation are:

  1. Planning and implementation are seen as two entirely separate activities whereas the reality is that the seeds of success or failure are sown the moment the planners sit down to plan.
  2. Planners spend a disproportionate amount of time deciding what they are going to do rather than dividing their time equally between that and planning how they are going to do it.
  3. Too few people are involved in the “how” process – assessing the plan’s feasibility and its impact on all the organisation’s resources.

These are further broken down into the following 13 barriers to good planning:

Planning Barrier No.1 – “The plan did not take into account the new environment we were operating in”.

If the plan ignores the present or fails to predict the future environment that the organisation will be operating in, it is doomed to failure from the start.

Planning Barrier No.2 – “The rationale behind the plan was never incorporated into the written document”

It is said that 70% of people will change, given a good enough reason to do so. Since almost by definition these days plans involve change, the rationale behind the proposed changes must be explained and justified. It is not sufficient to state that “this is what we are going to do”. Management has to articulate the debate that resulted in a particular course of action being proposed.

Planning Barrier No.3 – “There was no overall goal that everyone could relate to”

My company conducts Customer Satisfaction Surveys and one of the key outcomes is a weighted Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). A division of a large public company recorded an average CSI that was satisfactory but which masked a significant problem – inconsistency. The 24% of clients who rated the supplier very highly was offset by the 27% of clients who were dissatisfied with the supplier’s performance. The supplier decided to set an overall goal of a certain CSI to replace the contribution margin that they had previously used. Although the staff found the new measure of performance much easier to relate to than the old one, it would have been even better if the revised goal was to eliminate any customer ratings below an agreed figure in an agreed time frame.

Planning Barrier No.4 – “The plan was just a series of activities – there were no clear results to aim for”

If you were trying to lose weight, you might decide to exercise more, drink less alcohol and eat more green vegetables. These are activities. I’m sure your campaign would be far more successful if you set a goal weight to be achieved at the end of 12 months together with intermediate monthly targets. Corporate plans are no different.

Planning Barrier No.5 – “Those responsible for the plan’s execution were not sufficiently involved at the planning stage”

There is an old adage that says that the more people who plan the battle, the less there are to battle the plan. Not only does this strategy begin the transfer of ownership from the “planners” to the “implementers” but it also results in a better quality of planning.

Planning Barrier No.6 – “The planners failed to integrate the plan with the current circumstances facing the organisation”

Very few planners start with the luxury of a clean sheet of paper. As a consequence any plan needs to address the present as well as the future. Womack & Jones in their book “Lean Thinking” recount the story of a company that decided to embrace the concept of “Just-in-Time” – reducing inventories and manufacturing batch sizes. Unfortunately for them, they made no fundamental changes to their production system that remained as inflexible as before. Manufacturing costs and freight costs skyrocketed due to increased machine downtime and the need to airfreight customer orders to meet delivery times.

These six barriers are connected to the first component of any plan which is deciding “this is what we are going to do”. The next stage is to think through the implications of stage 1 of the plan on every function that makes up the organisation.

Planning Barrier No.7 – “The implications of the plan were not sufficiently worked through by the planners”

For example, what if the plan calls for the development of six new products a year? Such a target has implications for Development, Production, Marketing, Sales, Distribution, Supply, HR and Finance. To minimise this problem, you need to involve the people with detailed knowledge of these functions at the planning stage.

Planning Barrier No.8 – “Insufficient time was spent planning before moving to implementation”

You would think that with all their experience, Boeing could design and bring into service a new airliner in the timeframe originally envisaged. This certainly wasn’t the case with the 787 “Dreamliner”. It was four years late into service mainly because of the problems encountered by not only out-sourcing the production of many components using new technology but in some cases also out-sourcing design. As one senior Boeing executive admitted – “… we put a global supply chain together without thinking through some of the consequences”.

Once the issue of “how we are going to do it” has been thought through, the next step is to look at the implications for human resources and finance. These are the two key Enabling Functions. Without people and money, no plan can be implemented.

Armed with the knowledge of “this is what we want to do” and “this is how we are going to do it”, the next set of questions to be asked is whether the organisation has the right number of staff with the right expertise in the right places to effectively implement the plan.

Planning Barrier No.9 – “The implementation of the plan required changes in the current organisational structure that management was not prepared to make”

Furthermore, is the organisational structure suitable to implement the planned changes? Under the direction of Lou Gerstner IBM underwent massive organisational changes in the 90′s as it moved from a technology driven hardware company to a market driven services company. The “old guard” resisted such changes to the status quo and the reorganisation would not have succeeded, had not Gerstner redistributed the “levers of power”.

Planning Barrier No.10 – “The planners underestimated the cost of implementation”

By this stage of the planning process, you will have built up a shopping list of the requirements necessary to bring your plan to reality. New infrastructure, new equipment, new IT systems… to say nothing of new people for new roles. If you cannot afford to implement the plan in its present guise, then maybe you can stagger investment or extend the period for implementation – or maybe you have to reduce the scope of the plan so it is within your means to execute. Far better that you come to the realisation now that you cannot afford the costs of the strategy implementation than discover it six months down the track.

Planning Barrier No.11 – “There were no clear subsidiary objectives”

It was the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu who said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Similarly, the achievement of the goal will be dependent on a large number of subsidiary objectives and the strategies to achieve them. It is so important that these objectives are related to “how we are going to do it” rather than “this is what we want to do”. In effect, we plan from the top down but execute from the bottom up.

Every plan should conclude with an initial Action Plan. “Initial” is emphasised because action planning is a rolling exercise. As some actions are completed, others take their place. The final two barriers relate to the transitional phase where the focus on strategic planning gives way to one on execution.

Planning Barrier No.12 – “There was no Action program that set out the objective of each action, who was to be responsible for it and its completion date”

There is one action that is frequently overlooked and that is to communicate the totality of the plan to everyone who will play a part in its execution. If you want to engage your staff – and who doesn’t – you have to explain where the organisation is now, where it’s going and why and each person’s role in getting there.

Planning Barrier No.13 – “Management underestimated the time required for implementation – we simply did not have enough hours in the day to complete the actions that we were responsible for by the date indicated and do our “normal jobs” at the same time”

This very real barrier needs to be addressed at the planning stage – not when the execution of the plan starts to flounder. Before agreeing to completion dates with those responsible for completing actions, talk with them, make sure you understand what is involved in carrying out the action and arrange for them to receive assistance if necessary.

The quality of execution is dependent on the quality of the strategic planning. The good news is that as you successfully tackle each barrier in sequence the next barrier, and the one after that become less daunting.

Thirteen Elements of Effective Planning

All plans are not good plans. In fact, even good plans can fail. We cannot predict the future – we can only imagine it imperfectly. In our companies and organizations, effective planning is a social activity. Deciding on a strategic planning process as a group, rather than as an individual, adds even greater complexity to an already complex task. Collaborative and effective planning techniques, then, require 13 essential elements.

1. Effective and Strategic Planning Process

First, effective planning requires a process, and that strategic planning process should include the remaining 12 elements of good planning. In collaborative team planning, that process must be structured and disciplined in order to be efficient and thorough. Without a process, your planning techniques will be awkward, inefficient and often insufficient.

2. Effective Planning Techniques: An Envisioned Future / Objective

When we envision the future, we must describe it clearly and provide specific measurements in order to judge our success. To this end, the objective of our effective planning techniques is goal we envision attaining in the future. Objectives must be clear to all involved. They must also have a scope that is commensurate with the span of control of those involved with the effective planning process. An objective that is not achievable by those tasked with developing a plan is, obviously, doomed to failure. Objectives must also be measurable. Without measurements of success, there is no means of establishing whether or not the objective was achieved, and your strategic planning process will be flawed.

3. Dynamic, Adaptable Planning

In terms of effective planning, “dynamic” means that plans are adaptable, in two ways. First, the act of effective planning considers the current and predicted environment and adapts the plan accordingly. Second, in the strategic planning process, plans must be devised in such a way so that they are not overly detailed. Effective planning ensures that your plans can adapt to changes that occur while the plan is being executed.

4. Iterative Improvements

Effective planning at your organization will also be iterative. By “iterative,” we mean that a plan will improve continuously from one iteration, or version, to another before it is executed in the strategic planning process. The iterative nature of planning supports its adaptive or dynamic nature. Iteration can be sped up by an effective planning technique known as “Red Teaming.” In Red Teaming, a group of individuals outside the planning effort are invited to criticize the plan or expose its weaknesses, acting as a form of rapid iteration and improvement.

5. Effective Planning Requires that You Learn from Experience

A complex and rapidly changing environment demands the ability to rapidly learn from the changes in that environment. Even the most well-educated and trained organization will soon become obsolescent as changes in the environment eventually overwhelm it. Good organizational planning requires sophisticated and effective planning techniques that the organization learns continually, through interaction with its environment and the execution of its plans.

6. Means to Achieve / Course of Action

The central element of all effective planning techniques is the Course of Action (COA). These are the actual tasks that must be completed, whether in parallel, in series, or a combination of both, to achieve the goal. For the most part, in a strategic planning process, the Course of Action, for simple plans, is intuitive or even obvious. However, for most organizations, plans may require great detail. Therefore, an effective planning process must be flexible enough to handle both simple and detailed plans. Effective planning processes should have the ability to repeat the planning process at successively lower levels in the organization, while supporting the objectives of the overall plan.

7. Decentralized Effective Planning

Another effective planning technique is the decentralization of plans, closely related to the flexible and successively repeatable nature of the Course of Action. Effective planning teams should not plan beyond their scope or expertise. In other words, the executive team of a large corporation should not develop the details of a strategic planning process to replace a main server in their IT infrastructure. Such a task is both out of their scope and, most likely, their expertise.

8. Individual Accountability

The scope and detail of effective planning is concluded when each task within a Course of Action is assigned to a single individual, not a team, to complete. Without individual accountability to each task and each plan, there is a significant risk of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and ultimately, failure.

9. Effective Planning Techniques Support Initiative and Good Judgment

General George S. Patton said that plans “[...] should be made by those who are going to execute them.” Decentralization and accountability go far in supporting the success of effective planning techniques. However, when a strategic planning process is developed by the team responsible for accomplishing the plan’s objective, the overall quality and likelihood of creating a successful plan improves exponentially.

10. Consider Resources

Effective planning means not committing to or wasting resources unnecessarily. In a strategic planning process, planners must determine the appropriate targets or objectives and focus resources upon those objectives. Because resources are often limited, prioritizing and planning successive phases of implementation may be necessary.

11. Assess Risk: Leadership Responsibility

Resources are considered carefully at every level of effective planning. Furthermore, the assessment of objectives, threats and resources are critical steps in every strategic planning process that, when taken together, form the basic risk assessment for any plan. Without the necessary resources to either avoid or mitigate the threats to accomplishing an objective, the risks in undertaking that plan should be given due consideration by the leadership within the organization. Because risk is often necessary, the final decision to execute the plan is left to its leaders, not the planning team.

12. Participatory and Cognitively Diverse

Isolating planning in a single individual or a group of individuals without the benefit of field experience and a diversity of knowledge, skills, and abilities is a recipe for failure. The world we live in is increasingly complex. Problem-solving in our complex world requires teams of cognitively diverse individuals contributing their unique knowledge to form a combination of effective planning techniques. If planning is conducted by a single individual or by groups of people with similar knowledge, skills and abilities, the qualities necessary to solve complex problems and to create an innovative strategic planning process will be absent.

13. The Most Effective Plans are Simple

The more complex a design, the more likely it will fail. As Statistical Process Control and Six Sigma methodologies instruct, the greater the number of steps in a process, the greater the potential for a defect. That is why it is critical that the planning process remains simple. Simplicity is not just about minimizing the number of tasks, it’s about making sure that each task is clearly defined through answering some simple questions: “who will do what and when.”

There is a paradox at work in effective preparation. It is simply this: that our human tendency is to implement plans rigidly while the purpose of a plan, in light of the complexity and constant change in the world, is to define objectives and establish a point of departure to react to change. The paradox of the strategic planning process is that effective planning does not involve merely creating a list of sequenced tasks, but establishing a constantly evolving problem-solving process that adapts and thrives in the environment.