Effective planning is synonymous with organising skills. This is the ability to manage self and/or others, and resources including time and surrounding circumstances to reach a specific goal.
The old adage: Fail to plan, and plan to fail, or so the saying goes, is at the core of effective planning. Whether you are putting together a project plan, business plan or arranging an event at work, the top tips given here will help in ensuring you have got everything covered.
Dear Reader, please rate yourself on PLANNING and PRIORITISING basing each category on these behaviours:
- 1 = I do this very well. I am consistent and successful in it
- 2 = I am good at this. With some practice I can make it perfect!
- 3 = I am getting better, but still need to work on this a bit more.
- 4 = I am not particularly good at this – yet!
- Do you accurately estimate time and effort required to complete a task?
- How often do you identify and organise systems and required resources?
- Do you organise personal time to carry out responsibilities?
- Do you ever maintain adequate preparation time for scheduled meetings/deadlines?
- How often do you develop schedules and timetables with clear, specific milestones and deadlines?
- Have you ever established how to measure results and milestones for yourself?
- How often do you identify critical tasks?
- Do you often arrange tasks in a logical order?
- Do you establish priorities systematically, differentiating between i) urgent, ii) important, and iii) unimportant tasks?
- Do you use a “to do” list, task plan, or similar planning devices to note action plans or deadlines?
- How often do you monitor and adjust priorities and/or eliminate tasks on an on-going basis?
How did you fair?
Now let us go step by step on how effective planning entails:
Decide What You Are Planning For
In order for your plan to be effective, you need to have a clear purpose in mind.
If your purpose is to improve your team’s productivity, for example, first you need to determine what the current level of productivity is. Then you need to decide what your plan should achieve.
The more specific you can be, the better: e.g. ‘I want to improve my team’s productivity by 10% by the end of this quarter’.
Consult Relevant Stakeholders
Unless your plan is very small in scope, you will need to seek the input of key stakeholders to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
For a project plan, for example, you may wish to involve the project sponsor, project team members and your senior manager.
Consulting key stakeholders during the planning process has a number of benefits. For example it:
- gives you access to a breadth of knowledge and opinion
- enables you to agree on others’ level of involvement
- helps to secure buy-in for your plan
- ensures that nothing important is left out
Break Your Plan Down
Think about what you need to do before your plan becomes a reality.
Break your plan down into its relevant component parts.
For example, if you are planning for your team’s performance reviews, you might need to:
- gather evidence
- schedule the meetings
- book a room
- complete any appropriate paperwork. You can then allocate the necessary resources, e.g. time, money, or people required for each stage.
- Once you’ve identified each step for your plan, look to see if the step can be broken down even further.
Identify Appropriate Timescales
Consider how long each of the different parts of your plan is likely to take.
When considering timescales, it may be useful to think about:
- whether the different stages in your plan need to happen in sequence, or, if some can run concurrently.
- asking any external parties or suppliers involved in your plan to provide you with their own timescales.
- how much contingency time you might need to build into your plan.
Use SMART Objectives
The best-laid plans have SMART objectives; in other words, they are:
- Specific – you have specified exactly what you want to achieve from your plan and there is no vague or ambiguous language.
- Measurable – you are clear about how you will measure the success of your plan, and how and when you will know if it has been a success.
- Achievable – your plan, while stretching or challenging, must be realistic.
- Relevant – there is a clear purpose or benefit to your plan, e.g. the outcome is relevant to you or your team’s work roles or aims.
- Time-bound – your plan needs to have deadlines or it will drift.
Communicate Your Plan
Once you are happy with your plan, it is essential to communicate its contents.
You might wish to do this by emailing it round, posting in on your intranet, or sharing its contents during a team or departmental meeting.
When considering who to communicate your plan to, consider:
- Who will be involved in putting your plan into action?
- Who will be affected by your plan?
- Who else might need to know about it?
Monitor And Review Your Plan
Once you have started to implement your plan, be prepared to monitor it and amend it, in line with any changing circumstances and shifting expectations.
Once all the actions in your plan have been completed, it is good practice to look back over your plan and do a proper review.
For more complex plans, this is particularly effective if you do this review with everyone else who was involved in the planning process.
During your review, consider:
- What aspects of your plan worked well?
- What didn’t work so well?
- Was there anything that you failed to anticipate during the planning process?
- What could you do differently in future to make your plans more effective?
This final step in the planning process is often missed out. However, it is extremely worthwhile.
While subsequent plans may differ in nature, you may well be able to apply some of the lessons you have learned here to help you plan even better in future.
As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!