Category Archives: Planning Skills

And We Have a Winner!

“We have an idea for a new product line,” Alicia sounded off. “It’s a logical extension of our core product. We all think it will be a winner.”

“How are you going to fund the startup and who are you going to assign to this new project?” I asked.

“Well, that’s a problem. We are currently under a hiring freeze and while we have a budget for development, actually ramping into production is going to pinch,” she grimaced.

“What are you going to let go of?”

Alicia was a bit surprised. “We hadn’t really discussed shutting anything down.”

“Alicia, the biggest mistake that young companies make is that everything looks like an opportunity. Before long, all their resources are spread thin and their product portfolio is a hodgepodge. They can’t figure out if they are in the shoe business or the construction business.

“To be truly successful, the company has to decide on its focus, and create a discipline around that focus. Especially in times where resources are tight, we have to make sure we have enough staying power. This requires an approach of systematic abandonment. As you adapt to the market, it is important to cut off those projects that are no longer returning value.” -Tom

But, It’s Our Reputation

“But the project you are talking about abandoning is a service that we have provided for more than a decade. Our customers have come to expect it. Heck, part of our reputation stands on it,” Byron protested.

“So, is it your moral duty to continue something that is no longer producing results? Or can you accept that, what you are known for, once served a market, but that market was temporary? And that proud service no longer satisfies a customer need.” -Tom

Dead Horse

Byron was thinking back. “I think we have done what you suggested. Every year, in our annual business plan, we look at the cost structure in each of our project areas. And each year, we find one or two things that don’t quite measure up.”

“What was the last project that didn’t measure up,” I asked. “And what did you decide about it?”

Byron’s curiosity turned into a muffled laugh. “You’re right. Now that I think about it, the people involved, in the last project going south, negotiated more time and actually spent a ton of market research money to find out that there wasn’t as big a market as they thought. Their dwindling net profit went underwater the more they studied it.”

“And now?”

Byron shook his head. “They are still holding on to some hope that the market will turn around.”

“The answer is NOT, how can we make another research study? The answer is, how can we get out of this? Or, at least, how can we put a tourniquet on the bleeding?” -TF
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The failure to accomplish a goal does not prove that more efforts and resources are needed. The failure to accomplish a goal may indicate that efforts should be stopped and a different path should be taken.

Old Indian saying, “When the horse is dead, it is time to get off.” -Tom

Breeding Overhead

“I know how to say NO to new things coming up, but most of our troubles are from decisions we have already made,” Byron confided.

“Each year, don’t you review your decisions about what you will and will not do, including the cost structure for each of those decisions?” I asked.

“You mean, our budget?”

I nodded. “Yes, your budget. When you look at each budget item, whether it is a direct cost or an indirect cost, you have to ask this question.

“Is this absolutely necessary?

“If the answer is NO, get rid of it, dismantle it, idle it.

“If the answer is YES, move to the next question. What is the absolute minimum necessary to perform this function to our spec?” -Tom

Time Span of Intention

This week, I shared a planning document (you can download it below), with the headline, “What is your intention?”

Elliott closed his last book with this notion of intention, in a drawing he described as, the most important illustration of his book, the Axis of Intention.

Planning is simply the documentation of your intention.

We have two dimensions of time, the past and the future, separated by the nanosecond of the present. Events that occur are measurable by a stopwatch. The melting point (time to melt) of a metal at a given temperature is predictable, can be scientifically documented. It is known, concrete, tangible.

In life, the Axis of Achievement (the past) is overlaid by the Axis of Intention (the future). What is your intention? What is the time span of your intention?

I get pushback on planning.

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

We don’t have time to plan. Then what is the time span of your intention, that you don’t have time to consider your intention?
Actual results never meet the plan. Of course not, but actual results are shaped by the axis of your intention.
We might be held accountable for what we said. Accountability is output. Accountability is the reconciliation between these two dimensions of time –
The past, axis of achievement.
The future, axis of intention.

The linchpin is this understanding of time span. What is the time span of your intention? That is what will shape your world. -Tom

You can download the planning document here. 2017 Planning Template

Habits and Planning Effectiveness

Many of you asked to receive a copy of my planning template for this year. It is a simple template based on a gap analysis.

  • Where would you like to go?
  • Where are you now?
  • What’s the gap in between? (Resources, milestones and obstacles)

I am working with several people preparing their plans for management team meetings, peer executive groups and 1-1 meetings, so I get to see what people actually put to paper.

One element strikes me as critical, the role of habits.

It is one thing to work on each goal as a project, with a discrete start and finish, very results oriented. But the real power in your ability to create lasting impact over time is in the creation of a habit. A habit is a grooved, routine behavior, often below consciousness that continuously moves us toward the goal.

All behavior is goal oriented. We think we create our own success. We do not. We only create our own habits, and it is our habits that determine our success. -Tom

You should be able to download the planning template here. 2017 Planning Template

What Are Your Intentions? – 2017 Planning Guide

It’s 2017. What are your intentions?

Benefits to planning –

  • Gain agreement from stakeholders on what is necessary to be achieved.
  • Gain agreement on reality. No plan survives its train-wreck with reality.
  • Gain agreement on how we will know. Really, how will we know? What are the measurements, key performance indicators.

Blocks to planning –

  • We don’t have time.
  • Actual results never meet the plan.
  • We might be held accountable for what we said.

You decide.-Tom

If you would like some help, you can download the planning template here. 2017 Planning Template

Biggest Variable in Workforce Planning

“What things do you need to pay attention to that will have an impact one year from now?” I asked.

“This company is pretty stable in what it does,” Melanie replied. “We may replace a machine or our volume might go up or down. But what is really volatile, is the people. You never know what is going to happen with the people.” Melanie’s mind began to race like she had just discovered uranium. “The biggest change is always the people. And even if the people don’t change, the people change. It’s still the same people, but, they are not the same people.”

Melanie’s discovery of uranium was shifting to panic. This new world that opened up just a few seconds ago, suddenly got very scary.

“It’s not just the people that change,” I smiled. “It’s the relationships. Organizational structure is the working relationships between our team members.”

“So, as a manager, I have to see the way things are now, and think about the impact a year from now?”

“Yes,” I nodded. -Tom

The Value of One Year into the Future

“Why is it important for a Manager to think one year into the future?” I asked.

Melanie had finally opened her mind to discovery. “If I had been thinking out a year, I could have had conversations with my supervisors a long time before they quit. I would have known what changes to make to keep them challenged. I didn’t think they would be interested in learning new things and stepping into more difficult projects.”

“So, if I asked you, as a Manager, to take a single piece of paper and chart out your team members, think about their capabilities and interests, and develop a one year plan for each one, could you do it?”

“Well, yes, but I would probably have to talk to each person, to make sure I was on target, it’s going to take some time,” Melanie replied.

“So, what do you have to do that is more important?” -Tom

Difference Between Preparation and Planning?

“Did you ask about preparation?” I asked.

“Preparation? You mean planning? I asked questions about planning,” Erin replied. “And that’s why I am concerned. The person we hired had created a number of plans. Project plans, operational plans, personnel plans. But now, in the role, this person is failing.”

“Preparation is different from planning,” I suggested. “We can plan til the cows come home, but if we are not prepared, life will take us sideways. Did you ask about preparation?”

“I am not sure what you mean,” Erin was curious.

“There are some things we can plan for, but many things that are out of our control. We cannot plan for those things out of our control, we can only prepare. Some people can face the same challenge ten times, but on the eleventh time, are still not prepared. Others can face a brand new challenge, one they could not have planned for, yet they can handle the uncertainty, because they are prepared. Did you ask about preparation?”