Tag Archives: planning

Planning and Execution

From the Ask Tom mailbag:

Question:

I have been with the company for only 7 months now, and am very thankful I’ve found this site.

The biggest problem I face is three years of rapid growth in a family owned company. The culture is not keeping up with the changes in methods required to handle the increased volume. People still are working from memory instead of set processes, and are reluctant to train others in what they were solely responsible for years. Trying to force these changes seems to only increase turnover.

How can I influence my “older,” and most valued for technical skills, employees to change their ways of thinking?

Response:

If you continue to force these changes, turnover will eventually remove the resistance, and that’s not likely your intention.

In the meantime, think about these two things, planning and execution. Of the two, which is more difficult?

Flawless execution, to the fundamental processes, with speed and accuracy is best accomplished under a form of organization government known as a dictatorship; tyrannical may be the most effective. (BTW, you cannot be the dictator).

But, to be able to execute flawlessly, requires a planning process to support it. And this planning process must be created under a very different form of organizational government, a democracy. I know it is slow, requires participation, accommodation, discussion with divergent points of view, but it is absolutely necessary.

Plan like a democracy, execute like a dictatorship. It sounds as if you have things backwards. You are planning like a dictator, and you experience democratic execution. You are dictating and forcing processes, but the execution is slow, with much discussion (grumbling), divergent points of view and resistance.

You have to reverse the process. Plan like a democracy, execute like a dictator. Call a meeting. Explain the situation. You have increasing volume and the need for greater speed. Tell them the meeting will reconvene in twenty four hours, at which time, you will listen to their plan to handle the increased volume. Adjourn the meeting.
___
This process is explained in more detail in Driving Force by Peter Schutz.

For Well Over a Decade

“But, I thought, to do planning, the first step was to create some goals?” asked Nicole. “That’s what we have always done.”

I nodded. “That’s where most people start. And goals are important.” I stopped. “How do we make sure we are going after the right goals? And how do we make sure the targets are set high enough?”

“Well, we have to know where we are headed,” Nicole replied.

“Exactly, and that is what we have to define first.”

Nicole winced.

“There are a number of ways to do that,” I said. “We could take a picture, draw a picture, describe a picture of where we are going?”

“What do you mean?”

“A company I know, just finished a brand new building, something, as a team, they had been working toward as long as I knew them. For years, hanging on the wall, there was an artist’s rendering of that building. That was it. That was the vision. And everyone who walked by or sat in that office knew precisely where the company was headed.

“Year after year, without wavering, that picture stood inside the heads of the management team. It drove them to perform with that single thought in mind. Two weeks ago, they had their grand opening. It is amazing how that single visual picture drove their thinking, their performance, their goals for well over a decade.

“The first step in planning is vision.”

The Future Looks Like?

Miriam creeped into the conference so as not to disturb the rest of the meeting. Everyone was working hard on their business plan for 2021. “I’m having a bit of trouble,” she said. “I know all the steps for the plan, but I am just stuck.”

“And step one is what?” I asked. We were working with a structured planning model.

“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.

Speed of Necessity

What’s changed? In your market, in your industry, in your company, in your team, with yourself?

COVID accelerated many things that were already in play. This acceleration was not brought about because COVID released us to do new things, but because COVID constrained us. Our response to new constraints quickly moved us to change. Change is not fun, most immediately has a negative impact on profit, so why do we do it?

We change because it is necessary, the mother of invention. Human beings have always adapted. Just, not so rapidly as now.

There is a software programming methodology called agile, successfully adapted to other work scenarios. Agile, typically organized in two week sprint intervals, doesn’t mean we work really hard to get everything finished in two weeks. Code written, tested, de-bugged, tested, de-bugged, published.

Agile means every two weeks, we stop. We take inventory, where we have come, progress made, but most importantly, to take inventory of what has changed. What has changed in your market, in your industry, in your company, in your team, with yourself?

And, to take inventory to remind us of purpose. The easy questions ask whether our activity, our work, moved us toward our purpose, or away from our purpose. The harder questions ask if our purpose is still valid in the midst of change.

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.”
______
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.

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?

Rate of Change in the Plan

“Good work, so far,” I said. “If things work out this way.”

“Well, it’s a plan,” Miguel replied.

“What if things don’t work out this way?”

Miguel closed his eyes, trying to visualize something he had not considered. When he opened his eyes, I could tell he had drawn a blank.

“You expect things to occur, your customers to want a certain product line and your volume of orders to reach a specific threshold. What will you do if these things don’t happen?” I continued.

Miguel shifted in his chair. “I know. I was thinking, as I put this plan together, am I working to finish the plan just to get it done? Or am I really thinking through different scenarios. This year already seems a bit weird. Sales are sluggish even though we have really been working our bids.”

“So, what do you think?” I asked.

“I think the world changed faster than our plan.”

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.