Seven Key Steps in Effective Planning

Seven Key Steps in Effective Planning
by Richard Walton

Organizational Planning is a key step in goal achievement. Very little can be successfully achieved without planning in today's complex business environment. Yet often, planning seems to result in budget breaking cost over runs, failure to meet scheduled completion dates, and quality that is unacceptable to the user. In this article we will identify the key principles in effective planning that will yield the results we are seeking. The ideas I shall present are based upon a 40 year career in executive management, teaching, and consulting with a number of organizations in both the private and public sector.
Number 1) Plans must be made in sync with overall organizational objectives. Plans must not be independent of the overall (strategic) goals of the enterprise. For each level within the organization, plans must support the long term strategic objectives of the firm.
Number 2) Plans must be focused first on the business fundamentals such as cash flow, marketing and production. The organization must be financially stable first in order to undertake further goals for growth and expansion. Only after the business fundamentals are addressed, can the organization reach for 'breakthrough goals'. These goals are what is otherwise known as 'stretch' goals that propel the organization to greater heights of achievement and recognition.
Number 3) The planning process must include the people who will implement the plan. This is the only way that plans can be made realistic in terms of the amount of effort that can be devoted to achieving the objectives and goals of the plan. To attempt any plan without the involvement of those who will implement the plan only invites error in the process and ultimate failure to achieve the goals.
Number 4) Planning must contain objectives which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. (Note: Plans that contain these elements are known as SMART plans). Not only must the end objectives be listed, but so too must the means, resources, and manpower be identified that will be available to carry out the requirements of the plan.
Number 5) Plans must contain provision for monitoring progress in plan implementation. We should not wait until the end of the period to assess whether we have reached the goals. Regular progress updates enable the implementers to correct under performing aspects of the plan while making permanent the gains that have been achieved. Both are important.
Number 6) Simultasking both for quality and quantity is an essential process in planning. We should never satisfy quality in pursuit of quantity. In fact one of the key premises of effective planning is the concept of continuous improvement under which the firm in all its operations constantly strives to do better. It is typically not a question of working harder as much as it is a question of working smarter.
Number 7) (and last) Planning should be undertaken in a collaborative atmosphere where input is sought from all levels within the organization. Plans should not be dictated by senior executives and left for implementation by those who had no part in their development. A culture of collaboration and cooperation will position the firm for success in both planning and implementation of those plans.
In conclusion, this seven point program can greatly improve organizational planning and implementation processes, thereby yielding greater results to the firm and its personnel.

Richard Walton is a counselor for SCORE, and President of ERMACORP, a consulting firm. His email address is:, telephone 301-462-9850.