Plan your steps systematically
Introduction to the planning process
Planning can be regarded as one of the most important tasks of a leader, and it forms the basis of all other management tasks. How well these other management tasks are carried out, will depend on the quality of the planning process. the planning process also involves investigations to obtain information for this purpose. It includes setting out this information in an orderly fashion and using the decision-making process for selecting the best methods to achieve the objective.
Planning bridges the gap between where we are and where we want to be. It enables us to avoid the pitfalls of hasty judgment and haphazard action. Planning is vital to effective teamwork, for the only way that we can integrate the efforts of innovative, productive people is to encourage them to think thoroughly.
Definition of the planning process
The planning process involves the work a manager does to predetermine a course of action. It involves setting objectives and establishing policies and procedures to attain them. Plans are what you intend to do in the future and are the result of the planning process. The planning process involves a reflection of a basic or theoretical manner of policy, rules, procedures, strategies, methods, skills and expertise by the leader to achieve and realize aims and objectives through people and resources.
The purpose of the planning process
The importance of the planning process is as follows:
it predetermines future purposes;
it is the starting point of the management action and gives direction to the action;
it provides time for reflection;
it causes the leader to think continually about set objectives;
it can lead to the better utilization of people and resources; it facilitates teamwork;
it reduces the chances of overlapping; it saves time, money and effort;
it ensures better control because of set criteria.
Principles for effective application of the planning process
There are various principles which are applicable to planning. If we use and apply these principles correctly, it assists us in planning more effectively.
1 – The influence of present choice.
This means that planning decisions already made, or that are now being made during the planning process, can influence future action. If wrong decisions are made, it can lead to serious problems for the organisation in the future.
2 – Positive action
The planning process, however good it may be, must be followed up by active steps, otherwise it is totally useless because nothing will come of it without action.
3 – Concurrent action
The amount of attention (planning and achievement time) that is devoted to a specific task must correspond with the size and complexity of a specific task or objective to be attained thereby.
4 – Planning stability
The further planning is done in advance, the greater the chances are that the planning can change. Planning over a shorter period of time should be more accurate. We can therefore say that planning which extends over a period of five days, is subject to fewer changes, than planning which extends over a period of five years.
5 – Coordinated planning
The activities of the different sections within a department influence one another mutually, with reference to the interaction between the persons. Effective communication and good timing should exist amongst everyone involved in the planning process.
The planning process must be coordinated with respect to the following.
External inputs (people, services);
Priorities linked to objectives;
Appropriate policy and procedures.
Principle of integrated planning
in the planning process, the planning at all levels must be integrated with one another. Planners must have insight about all activities related to the planning. This principle is closely connected with the previous one. In order to reach objectives, planning must fit into each other for all levels within the same department, so that mutual objectives can be attained.
6 – Continuous planning
Planning is not something which is done only sometimes. Because of potentially changeable environmental factors, planning might often need to be adapted. Planning will therefore constantly and continuously be updated, expanded and adjusted. For this very reason computers are becoming all the more popular during the planning process.
7 – Resistance to change
The further planning deviates from existing accepted ways, the greater the potential resistance by the persons who must carry out the plans. People tend to oppose change, if, however, the change is gradual, the resistance will be the least.
8 – Critical minority
In any given group of events it happens that a small number of causes gives rise to the largest number of results. Within any enterprise a small number of departments is often responsible for the largest number of accidents which take place within the enterprise.
9 – Competitiveness
Under competitive circumstances, planning must always be made with consideration of the activities of the competitors.
Activities of the planning process
1 – Forecasting
Forecasting is the starting point of any planning process and is done by taking a look into the future. Managers perform forecasting in order to to predict and estimate future conditions and events and the needs and opportunities associated with them. Forecasting is an art, not a science, and no-one can predict the state of the economy, or an organization’s probable situation in ten years’ time with a great degree of accuracy, but the better the forecasting, the better the plans can be.
There are two principles to keep in mind when doing forecasting as part of the planning process:
Principle of cause and effect. That future events are usually the outcome of the current and past occurrences.
Principle of gradual economic change. Economic factors, as well as political, social and technological influences at work, tend to take place gradually over the long term.
Steps to take in forecasting
Identifying the critical factors (money, customer demands, old or new product, etc.) that will influence the end result.
Gather enough information to know what in the past and why it happened.
Brainstorming : List all possible future events, however unlikely.
Arrange your forecasts from the worst case, best case and most likely options.
Communicate the progress at regular planning meetings – people will want to know what became of the ideas they contributed.
Prepare for adaptation in case your forecasting diverges from the reality.
2 – Formulating purpose, policy and strategy
The aim or purpose of a company is the one overriding goal against which all other goals are measured. The purpose statement defines the master plan of the company. Without this master plan there would be no sense or purpose for the company to exist. The purpose dictates the whole strategy of the planning process.
Policies are broad guidelines, philosophies, general statements, or commands which management establishes in support of its organizational goals. These are to be used by managers in setting goals and making their decisions. Policies must be formulated before decisions can be made or plans laid down. Both planners and workers need a well-defined policy that is applied consistently. The planning process must always be completed within the framework provided by the policy. Formulating policy and setting goals are interdependent. Just as a certain policy could dictate the setting of certain goals, in the same way existing goals can lead to the formulating of a specific policy.
Strategies is the determination of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary to carry out the basic long-term goals and objectives of an enterprise. Strategies and policies are closely related.
3 – Setting goals, objectives and standards
Defining of goals and objectives is the starting point of the planning process. A leader wanting to manage effectively must have clearly defined goals and objectives. Before you can develop plans, you must first set goals and objectives.
Goals are generalized and broad and are usually formulated over the long term. They are fairly permanent. Goals say something about what should be achieved after the activity is over and not how things will be during the course of the activity. Note the following guidelines:
Goals should be generally understood;
Goals should be concrete and specific;
Goals should be acceptable to those involved;
Goals should be balanced and,
Goals should be achievable.
Goals come before plans. You must first decide what it is that you want your department to accomplish. You should goals carefully and systematically using the following steps:
Consider the goals of the whole organization, not just those of your department.
Estimate the strengths and weaknesses of your department.
Do not jump to conclusions at this early stage and be alert to new opportunities.
Consult with those who will have to help you carry out your plans and with those who can offer you their support along the way .
Pick a reasonable set of goals. They should be attainable and contribute to the organization’s goals.
Arrange your department’s goals in a hierarchy of objectives to be used in the most effective and best way. Watch out for limitations (think about restrictions that may be imposed on you by your company).
Objectives are intermediate targets towards which an organization strives. A goal is usually sub-divided into objectives. An objective operates in the short term and in a sense quantifies the goals as it can be measured and evaluated. Objectives in turn, can be sub-divided into tasks, and tasks into steps.
Before goals and objectives can be established, they must comply with set standards. A standard is a specific performance goal that a product, a service, a machine, an individual, or an organization is expected to meet. In other words, the criteria by which work and results are evaluated.
4 – Programming
Reaching the main objectives requires many activities or tasks that relate to one another. These actions cannot take place all at the same time but rather in a set order. Programming has to do with the identification of the different activities and where it should fit into the process. Programming is laying down the most effective order of the actions needed to reach specific objectives. Details are also giving regarding the resources needed for each step.
The following steps of the programming process are laid down during the planning process.
Ensure that all the necessary steps needed to reach the objective is included in the program.
Order these steps logically.
Identify all equipment and materials required for each step.
Identify all the people who are going to execute the activities.
5 – Scheduling
Plans work best when employees know exactly what is required of them. Scheduling is the systematic lay-out of the times when each different activity should take place. This ensures that work is completed on time, and also that resources are used according to the plans laid down during the planning process.
A time-limit must be laid down for each step within which the concerned step must be completed. In order to determine realistic times for the execution of each step.
End point scheduling.
This method is used during the planning process when the final date for a project is known beforehand. In this case the final date is entered opposite the last step in your framework and from there a date is allocated to each preceding step until the starting step is reached.
Starting point scheduling.
This method is used during the planning process when the final date for a project is unknown, but a time schedule must nevertheless be submitted for approval. One would start by setting a completion date for the first step and then progressively add completion dates for each successive step until the last step is reached.
6 – Setting up regulations and procedures
Work of the same nature should always be completed in the same manner and should be specified during the planning process.
Regulations are special rules, limits or controls within which employees are free to do the job their own way.
Procedures are standardized methods prescribed by management, for proper and consistent forms, sequence, and channels to be followed in completing standard activities. These methods are calculated to save time, to effectively use manpower, equipment and materials, to standardise the training of workers and to simplify control.
As part of the planning process, clear and concise instructions for the step by step completion of the task should be written down for easy reference, detailing the exact manner in which each activity must be accomplished.
7 – Budgeting
Budgeting has to do with costs and is an integral part of the planning process. Management must plan ahead what it would cost to execute their plans to reach their goals. Budgeting is the work that must be done in order to assign the available resources for the attainment of goals. Budgets are set up from experiences in the past and from forecasts. It is only guidelines, but must be as accurate as possible as all the activities of the organization will be based on it. Budgets simplifies the planning process because it help in decision-making.
When budgeting is done properly, it has the following advantages:
It assists the planning process in making the best use of resources and thereby controlling where they go, and how they can be applied effectively.
It gives an indication of the funds needed in the section to complete the project.
It facilitates control. It sets a standard by which progress can be measured, and deviations can easily be detected.
Budgeting is done with regard to people, material, time and money.
8 – Setting up a plan of action
The steps of the planning process, namely goal-setting, programming, scheduling and budgeting, are usually used as a basis for a plan of action. This plan of action can differ from department to department, but a reasonably general format appears as shown. After the plan of action has been drawn up completely and approval obtained, a copy must be given to everyone concerned so that effective communication through understanding and acceptance is effected.
Persons are now bound to the plan of action and know who all are involved, what their share in the project is, and when they must carry out the tasks. If any change should arise, everybody MUST be notified about it.