Friday, May 22, 2009

On Planning: Notes to Self

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I have been asked many a times in my career, questions on the advantage of planning, necessity for planning and so on.... Though I tried to answer the questions to the best of my ability, i was always looking for something concrete to answer all the questions that are usually asked related to planning and its purpose.

Thanks to a discussion in the CriticalChain yahoo groups on OODA, I happened to read a
Manual on the theory and philosophy of planning as practiced by the US Marine Corps.

What i have given below is a condensed version of a chapter, that Defines what Planning is and isn't, value of Planning and Reasons for proper planning - as i have read and understood. I hope this helps people to answer questions like those i faced.

Definition of Planning
  • Planning is the art and science of envisioning a desired future and laying out effective ways of bringing it about.
  • Planning is a preparation process.
  • People are requested to understand the clear difference between a Process (a dynamic system of related activities) and a Procedure (A Prescribed sequence of steps for accompanying some specified task).
  • Planning process may often involve the use of procedures to perform certain tasks, but planning overall is too complex and situation dependent to be treated as a routine procedure.
  • Planning is also distinctly a process rather than merely an act because it involves a number of ongoing, iterative, and interdependent activities.
  • Since situations continuously change, we must continue to adapt our plans as time allows.
    Planning is a process that should build upon itself – each step should create a new understanding of the situation which becomes the point of departure for new plans.
  • Planning encompasses two basic functions – envisioning a desired future and arranging a configuration of potential actions in time and space that will allow us to realize that future.
  • Planning is thus a way of figuring out how to move from the current state to a more desirable future state – even if it does not allow to us to control the transition precisely.
  • Planning involves projecting our thoughts forward in time and space to influence event before they occur rather than merely responding to events as they occur. This means contemplating and evaluating potential decisions in advance. It involves thinking through the consequences of potential actions to estimate whether they will bring us closer to the desired future.
  • Planning is a learning process – it is a mental preparation which improves our understanding of a situation.
  • Planning is thinking before doing,In simplest terms.
  • Even if a plan is not executed precisely as envisioned – a few ever are – the process should result in a deeper situational awareness which improves decision making.
  • A plan is any product of planning. It may be a formal articulated document or an informal scheme. Since planning is an ongoing process, it is better to think of a plan as an interim product based on the information and understanding known at the moment and always subject to revision as new information and understanding emerge.
  • A plan is thus a structured configuration of actions in time and space envisioned for the future.
  • A Plan is the basis of action, cooperation and adaptation.
  • Planning for a particular action, only stops with execution, even then adaptation continues during execution.
  • Planning can mean different things to different people, to different organizations, or to different echelons within an organization. There is no universal procedure or technique equally suited to all requirements. We must adapt the planning methods we use to the particular requirement we face.

Value of Planning
  • Planning, keeps us oriented on future objectives despite the problems and requirements of the present situation.
  • Nearly all activities in Project management benefit from some kind of planning.This is not the same as saying planning should be done in every situation or that every problem requires a planned solution.
  • The value of planning changes with every situation, with every type of activity, and with every level of an organization.
  • Some situations require extensive planning and some none at all. Hence we may succeed without planning and we may fail with it. Hence Planning alone doesn’t necessarily ensure success.
  • The mere act of planning is not valuable in itself. Use of a prescribed planning procedure does not guarantee that we will improve our situation.
  • Planning takes on value when done properly, using methods appropriate to the conditions and the activities being planned.
  • Done appropriately and well, planning is an extremely valuable activity which greatly improves performance and is a wise investment of time and effort.
  • Done poorly and in appropriately, planning can be worse than irrelevant and a waste of valuable time and energy.
  • Plan is not executed precisely as envisioned – a few ever are – the process should result in a deeper situational awareness which improves decision making
Reasons why Proper Planning is essential
  • First, Planning can be essential to the ability to seize initiative. Proper planning puts us in the position to be ready to act when necessary or advantageous and not merely to react to developments.
  • Second, Planning is essential to reduce the unavoidable time lag between decision and action, especially at higher levels. Proper planning should help us reduce crises by dealing with situations before they reach crisis proportions. This is because in many situations, prompt action requires advance thought and preparation.
  • Third, Planning is essential when situations reach a certain level of complexity. When a situation is more complex, consisting of numerous interrelated activities and decisions, we may not be able to keep track of the various possibilities without working systematically through the problem. One of the basic reasons for planning is to come to grips with complexity.
  • Finally, Planning can be essential in novel situations in which experience is lacking. In situations in which we lack specific, first hand experience, we may use planning to think through the problem systematically and devise a workable solution.

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