Category Archives: Planning Skills

The Plan and Its Train Wreck

“Why is planning so important?” I asked.

“Well, if we have a plan, we know what to do,” Susan replied.

“And, if we know what to do, then we will get what we want in terms of the outcome?” I pressed.

“Well, most of the time.”

I shook my head. “Rarely. Planning only works until its train wreck with reality. Most of the time, things turn out the way they turn out, regardless of the plan. So, why is planning so important?”

It was Susan’s turn to shake her head. So, I continued.

“Think about planning as the mental exercise of anticipation.”

Susan’s head shaking became a nod. “Anticipation sounds like what ifs. We don’t know the what ifs in the future, all we can do is guess. What if we guess wrong?”

“So, our planning has to include what if-yes and what if-no,” I said. “And, is there more than one variable in the future?”

“Always more than one variable,” Susan replied.

“And, if we take variable A-yes, variable A-no and variable B-yes, variable B-no, that gives us four quadrants to plan in.”

Susan jumped in. “And if we take short-term and long term slices.” Susan stopped.

ScenarioPlan

“Planning is the mental preparation for making decisions down the road in the face of uncertainty,” she continued. “And the further into the future we plan, the more uncertainty there is. It is not the plan on the piece of paper that matters. It’s the mental fitness, exercised by planning, that makes the difference in the problems that must be solved and the decisions that must be made.”
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For more information on scenario planning, visit Gideon Malherbe.

Second Order Consequences

I got an email last night warning that the low-hanging fruit has been picked. The CARES Act is past, PPP applied for and received, people furloughed, cautious re-openings. We are very good at those tasks right in front of us.

Another friend of mine, Gideon Malherbe warns of the second order consequences. What are the longer lasting impacts of WFH, online services, digital relationships, telemedicine, distance learning, end-to-end system integration? More important, how can you plan for those things unseen? Worth a read.

Overestimate and Underestimate

I don’t know for certain what will happen tomorrow, but I have a pretty good idea. I can even forecast the number of COVID-19 deaths that will occur tomorrow, within a reasonable margin of error. But, tomorrow is not where the game is played.

For the most part, we can anticipate what life will be like in three months time.

“People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years.” – J. C. R. Licklider, Libraries of the Future, 1965.

It is important to make sure your teams are assembled and safe to do the work tomorrow, but the real chore for the CEO is to imagine life (markets, regulations, labor, technology) in five years time.

In four years, your five year plan will be your one year plan.

Back to Work Velocity

Let’s get back to work. Unlocking the door and greeting your first customer feels positive, but is it enough to sustain?

As the business leader, more importantly is understanding the viability of your re-opened business operation.

Total Throughput
As operations resume, parts will come humming back, but in the background will be friction. This is not a game of spinning plates. One or two high performing departments won’t cut it, you have to look at total throughput. Restaurant kitchens always have output capacity, but throughput is constrained by the dining room. People only eat so fast, tables turn only so many time during a meal period.

Velocity
And, in the near term, dining room capacity will artificially be constrained by 75 percent. How fast does profit travel through your output system?

It feels good to open the doors, but there will be new constraints imposed that have to be accounted for in your business model. Those that survive will figure this out, now, and make appropriate adjustments.

In Three Months Time

Things look dire. We are on the precipice of disaster. Twist of fate with permanent consequences.

All these headlines are designed to hijack the primal brain. The primal brain only asks this one question – Is what I am about to hear going to kill me? If it is, then I will pay attention. And, it does.

The leader has to engage beyond the primal brain. But, how? We cannot deny the primal brain was stimulated to cry out an extreme warning. We simply have to thank the primal brain for sharing, “thank you for sharing.” And, move on.

It’s not a matter of what is happening now. The leader has to think, how will things be in three months time? How will things be in six months time? This emergency will be over, and then what?

The Crisis is Over (Soon)

We created our crisis response. Uneven across the landscape, some more affected than others. By now, we are doing what we thought prudent. For some, that will necessarily be maintained, others may see dramatic shifts in the next four weeks.

Get Ready
While your crisis response is set (one way or the other), it is time to plan for a transition. It is time to blend your crisis response team with your transition team.

Time Frames and Scenarios
Look at the extremes that may happen in your what-if scenarios. Look at the time frames

  • April 30 will see the expiration of current “essential services” guidance. Some places will see continued guidance, other places will see re-definition.
  • Four weeks out, there will be some re-mobilization, and that experience will teach us more about how we will proceed (or retreat).
  • Two months out, we will begin to understand our companies in the midst of this chronic condition. And we will learn more about what is possible and not possible given the circumstance.
  • Four months out (August), we will gauge our ability to cope and determine how to leverage our assets in the face of circumstances.
  • Eight months out, we should see what we will look like going forward into the future, however modified, however different.

This is not something that will just get fixed. This is more likely a chronic condition we have to adapt to. Even if herd immunity kills off COVID-19, you can rest assured there will be a COVID-20.

This is Not a Pause and Restart

One month ago, perhaps we thought this would be a V shaped recovery. Pause, restart. With 6.6 million unemployment claims this week, we are in for a longer haul. In the midst of damage control, if you are the leader, you have to think a bit further out.

Now is the time to plan out some variations in your what-ifs. April is gone. What if May? What if June?

What if June sees a relaxation and there is a resurgence in cases? What if additional government intervention occurs because of case resurgence?

Think about the variables and the combination of variables. We will emerge from this pandemic, we will. This is not the time for despondent thinking. This is the time for resourcefulness in the face of uncertainty. Think beyond emergency measures. What will life be like in two months time, three months time?

Vision is Where Enthusiasm Lives

When I trained for a marathon (at the ripe age of 39), Thursday would arrive at 3:30a. The alarm clock would ring and I had a decision to make. I could throw it against the wall and return to my slumber, or I could put on my shoes and head out the door.

At 3:31am, I put together the connection between vision and motivation.

The goal was clear, 16 miles, in the cold. But for some reason, that goal did not get me going. In fact, counterproductive reality. The only thing that got me out of bed was the vision at the end of the marathon. My vision was a slow-motion movie-like first-place finish breaking the tape, wind in my hair, looking sharp in my fancy running togs. It was only that clear and compelling vision that got my feet on the floor.

Here is the truth. Your team doesn’t care about your goals. They are not exciting. The only tool you have, as a manager, to get your team juiced up, is a clear and compelling vision of the future. A vision complete with vibrant color, exciting sounds and the smell of success. It is a description of the details that breathe life into a project. Vision is where enthusiasm lives, energy, drive and inspiration.

Goal Setting is Not the First Step

Miriam crept into the conference so as not to disturb the rest of the meeting. Everyone was working hard on their business plan for 2020. “I’m having a bit of trouble,” she said. “I know all the steps for the plan, but I am just stuck.”

“And, from our structured planning model, step one is what?” I asked.

“Step one is to create the vision for my department. And that was easy. I think I got it all captured in a couple of sentences. It’s the rest of the plan that I am having difficulty with.”

“Interesting,” I replied, “that you can capture that much detail in two sentences.”

“Well, you are right,” Miriam confessed. “There isn’t a lot of detail, but I thought it would be better if it was short.”

“Miriam, here is the way the vision part of the plan works. The more detailed it is, the clearer the images are, the easier it is to write the rest of the plan. Instead of two sentences, write two pages. I want to know who your customers are and what services you provide. You probably have more than one customer segment, tell me how they are different and how your services to each are different? Tell me what position you hold in the marketplace, what your market share is? Who are your competitors? Tell me what your competitive advantage is, what are your core competencies? Who are your key personnel, how do you find them, how do you grow them? Tell me about your facilities, your plant? How do you control quality? How do you guarantee performance?”

Miriam left the room with a bit of thinking to do. A couple of days later, I read her vision statement. It contained all the detail we talked about and more. The plan that followed was clear and detailed, all driven by a carefully constructed word picture of the future.

The first step in the plan is vision.
—–
Vision
Inventory of Current State
Goals
Action Plan
Resources (Budget)
Communication Plan
Follow-up Steps

Not Just a Picture

“We have to find a purpose that has us?” Rachel was confused. “I’m not sure I understand. We are trying to do strategic planning for 2020. I get that we have to define our purpose. I know that purpose will drive the rest of the plan. But you make it sound like that purpose has to be some powerful compelling force. We bake bread.”

“Exactly!” I said. “What kind of bread do you bake?”

“Well, we bake all kinds of bread.”

“So, why do you bake bread?”

“I don’t understand.” Rachel’s head was moving from side to side. She wasn’t disagreeing, but she was having difficulty with the question.

“Why do you bake bread?” I repeated.

“Because our customers buy it.”

“And, why do your customers buy it?”

“Well, bread is consumed at almost every meal in some form or another. People eat a lot of bread. It’s a comfort food.” Rachel was trying.

“Why is bread so important to people?”

“It’s just part of life, bread goes with everything. It’s universal. Around the world, all cultures eat bread. When people get together, they break bread. It’s almost a bond between people.”

“And do you bake quality bread?” I asked.

“The best,” Rachel smiled. “Hot out of the oven, warm, soft, drizzle a little honey on it, just the smell of it makes you feel good.”

“Rachel, you are on the right track. Somewhere in what you describe is purpose. Somewhere in there is vision. Somewhere in there is mission.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” she said. “In the hallway is our mission statement, only it’s just a picture, of a steaming loaf of bread emerging from an oven door.”