Monday, March 1, 2010

The Structure of Planning: Process, part 1

There are many reasons to plan and many effective ways to go about the planning process. There are also some common ways that planning goes wrong. This post is the first in a series about how a well-conceived structure can tilt the odds toward success.

In our work we divide a planning process into five activities: preparation, assessment, engagement, plan development, and implementation. They are sequential, with some overlap (e.g. once it starts, engagement keeps going for the rest of the process). We have found this framework to be an effective starting point for thinking about the requirements of any planning process. It is a deceptively simple organizing principle. Thought of in the negative, most planning goes wrong through failure to address adequately one or more of these activities.


Preparation begins with the design of a process that is attuned to the nature, needs, situation, culture, and experience of an organization. A well-designed process will engage issues and stakeholders in a way that will lead to a relevant, meaningful and strategic plan. A formulaic process that may have worked beautifully for one organization may well fail miserably to meet the needs of another.

It is important to develop a clear work plan and timeline. If the organization is using a consultant these issues will likely have been included in an initial agreement, but conditions evolve, and they should be discussed and adjusted throughout the planning process. If the process is being run internally, an explicit work plan and timeline are, if anything, more essential. One of the things a consultant can offer is discipline. On your own, there can be a subtle and dangerous tendency to drift.

If the impetus for planning did not come from the governing board, it is critical at this point to get full board commitment to the planning process. If they don’t feel they own the process and the plan, they probably will not follow through to monitor implementation, and the plan will fall flat.

Also part of preparation is selection of a planning committee chair with the needed leadership and management skills, and a capable committee. This may be the first thing to do, or depending on the roles of chief executive, board chair and possibly a consultant, the committee may be assembled after the initial phases. The job descriptions of the chair and the committee will vary greatly from one organization and its process to another, as may the timing of their appointment, but for the process to result in success, the right fit can be critical.

Next post: Assessment

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