How to Do to Planning

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Sections of this topic

    How to Do to Planning

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting,
    Adapted from the Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and FacilitationField Guide to Nonprofit Program Design, Marketing
    and Evaluation

    One of the most common sets of activities in the management
    is planning. Very simply put, planning is setting the direction
    for something — some system — and then guiding the system to
    follow the direction. There are many kinds of planning in organizations.
    Common to these many kinds of planning are various phases of planning
    and guidelines for carrying them out as effectively as possible.
    Information in this document can be referenced as a basis from
    which to carry out various kinds of planning, ranging from highly
    complex to simple and basic. (The library topic Planning describes a wide variety of plans.)
    To help make the following information applicable to as many situations
    as possible, the scope of the following planning information is
    to the “system”, which is fully explained below. The
    following process should be customized by planners to the meet
    the needs and nature of the planners and their organizations.

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Context of Planning

    Putting Planning in its Larger
    Context (Working Backwards Through Any “System”)

    Quick Look at Some Basic Terms in Planning

    Typical Overall Phases in Planning

    Basic Overview of Typical Phases in

    Guidelines for Successful Planning and Implementation

    Step-by-Step Procedure
    Involve the Right People in the Planning Process
    Write Down the Planning Information and Communicate
    it Widely

    Goals and Objectives Should Be SMARTER
    Build in Accountability (Regularly Review Who’s Doing
    What and By When?)

    Note Deviations from the Plan and Replan Accordingly
    Evaluate the Planning Process and the Plan
    Realize that the Recurring Planning Process is at Least
    as Important as the Plan Document

    Ensure the Nature of the Process is Compatible to the
    Nature of Planners

    A Critical — But Frequently Missing Step — Acknowledgement
    and Celebration of Results

    General Resources

    Major Types of Plans
    Other Types of Plans
    Additional Perspectives on Planning

    Also consider
    Planning (Many Types)

    Project Management

    Related Library Topics

    Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Planning

    In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs
    that have posts related to planning. Scan down the blog’s page to see various
    posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of
    the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog.
    The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

    Business Planning Blog

    Library’s Building a Business Blog
    Leadership Blog

    Project Management Blog

    Strategic Planning Blog

    Library’s Supervision Blog

    Planning in its Larger Context (Systems Planning)

    Working Backwards Through Any “System”

    Before we jump into the typical phases in the standard “generic”
    planning process, let’s stand back and minute and briefly look
    at the role of planning in its overall context. This is more than
    an academic exercise — understanding this overall context for
    planning can greatly help the reader to design and carry out the
    planning process in almost planning application.

    One of the most common sets of activities in the management
    is planning. Very simply put, planning is setting the direction
    for something — some system — and then working to ensure the
    system follows that direction. Systems have inputs, processes,
    outputs and outcomes. To explain, inputs to the system
    include resources such as raw materials, money, technologies and
    people. These inputs go through a process where they’re
    aligned, moved along and carefully coordinated, ultimately to
    achieve the goals set for the system. Outputs are tangible
    results produced by processes in the system, such as products
    or services for consumers. Another kind of result is outcomes,
    or benefits for consumers, e.g., jobs for workers, enhanced quality
    of life for customers, etc. Systems can be the entire organization,
    or its departments, groups, processes, etc. (For an overview of
    various systems in organizations, see Basic Definition of Organization and Various
    Ways to Look at Organizations

    Whether the system is an organization, department, business,
    project, etc., the process of planning includes planners working
    backwards through the system. They start from the results (outcomes
    and outputs) they prefer and work backwards through the system
    to identify the processes needed to produce the results. Then
    they identify what inputs (or resources) are needed to carry out
    the processes.

    Quick Look at Some Basic Terms

    Planning typically includes use of the following basic terms.

    NOTE: It’s not critical to grasp completely accurate definitions
    of each of the following terms. It’s more important for planners
    to have a basic sense for the difference between goals/objectives
    (results) and strategies/tasks (methods to achieve the results).


    Goals are specific accomplishments that must be accomplished
    in total, or in some combination, in order to achieve some larger,
    overall result preferred from the system, for example, the mission
    of an organization. (Going back to our reference to systems, goals
    are outputs from the system.)

    Strategies or Activities

    These are the methods or processes required in total, or in
    some combination, to achieve the goals. (Going back to our reference
    to systems, strategies are processes in the system.)


    Objectives are specific accomplishments that must be accomplished
    in total, or in some combination, to achieve the goals in the
    plan. Objectives are usually “milestones” along the
    way when implementing the strategies.


    Particularly in small organizations, people are assigned various
    tasks required to implement the plan. If the scope of the plan
    is very small, tasks and activities are often essentially the

    Resources (and Budgets)

    Resources include the people, materials, technologies, money,
    etc., required to implement the strategies or processes. The costs
    of these resources are often depicted in the form of a budget.
    (Going back to our reference to systems, resources are input to
    the system.)

    Basic Overview of Typical Phases in Planning

    Whether the system is an organization, department, business,
    project, etc., the basic planning process typically includes similar
    nature of activities carried out in similar sequence. The phases
    are carried out carefully or — in some cases — intuitively,
    for example, when planning a very small, straightforward effort.
    The complexity of the various phases (and their duplication throughout
    the system) depend on the scope of the system. For example, in
    a large corporation, the following phases would be carried out
    in the corporate offices, in each division, in each department,
    in each group, etc.

    NOTE: Different groups of planners might have different names
    for the following activities and groups them differently. However,
    the nature of the activities and their general sequence remains
    the same.

    NOTE: The following are typical phases in planning. They do
    not comprise the complete, ideal planning process.

    1. Reference Overall Singular Purpose (“Mission”)
    or Desired Result from System

    During planning, planners have in mind (consciously or unconsciously)
    some overall purpose or result that the plan is to achieve. For
    example, during strategic planning, it’s critical to reference
    the mission, or overall purpose, of the organization.

    2. Take Stock Outside and Inside the System
    This “taking stock” is always done to some extent, whether
    consciously or unconsciously. For example, during strategic planning,
    it’s important to conduct an environmental scan. This scan usually
    involves considering various driving forces, or major influences,
    that might effect the organization.

    3. Analyze the Situation
    For example, during strategic planning, planners often conduct
    a “SWOT analysis”. (SWOT is an acronym for considering
    the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities
    and threats faced by the organization.) During this analysis,
    planners also can use a variety of assessments, or methods to
    “measure” the health of systems.

    4. Establish Goals
    Based on the analysis and alignment to the overall mission of
    the system, planners establish a set of goals that build on strengths
    to take advantage of opportunities, while building up weaknesses
    and warding off threats.

    5. Establish Strategies to Reach Goals
    The particular strategies (or methods to reach the goals) chosen
    depend on matters of affordability, practicality and efficiency.

    6. Establish Objectives Along the Way to Achieving Goals
    Objectives are selected to be timely and indicative of progress
    toward goals.

    7. Associate Responsibilities and Time Lines With Each Objective
    Responsibilities are assigned, including for implementation of
    the plan, and for achieving various goals and objectives. Ideally,
    deadlines are set for meeting each responsibility.

    8. Write and Communicate a Plan Document
    The above information is organized and written in a document which
    is distributed around the system.

    9. Acknowledge Completion and Celebrate Success
    This critical step is often ignored — which can eventually undermine
    the success of many of your future planning efforts. The purpose
    of a plan is to address a current problem or pursue a development
    goal. It seems simplistic to assert that you should acknowledge
    if the problem was solved or the goal met. However, this step
    in the planning process is often ignored in lieu of moving on
    the next problem to solve or goal to pursue. Skipping this step
    can cultivate apathy and skepticism — even cynicism — in your
    organization. Don’t skip this step.

    Guidelines to Ensure Successful Planning and Implementation

    A common failure in many kinds of planning is that the plan
    is never really implemented. Instead, all focus is on writing
    a plan document. Too often, the plan sits collecting dust on a
    shelf. Therefore, most of the following guidelines help to ensure
    that the planning process is carried out completely and is implemented
    completely — or, deviations from the intended plan are recognized
    and managed accordingly.

    Involve the Right People in the Planning Process

    Going back to the reference to systems, it’s critical that
    all parts of the system continue to exchange feedback in order
    to function effectively. This is true no matter what type of system.
    When planning, get input from everyone who will responsible to
    carry out parts of the plan, along with representative from groups
    who will be effected by the plan. Of course, people also should
    be involved in they will be responsible to review and authorize
    the plan.

    Write Down the Planning Information and Communicate it Widely

    New managers, in particular, often forget that others don’t
    know what these managers know. Even if managers do communicate
    their intentions and plans verbally, chances are great that others
    won’t completely hear or understand what the manager wants done.
    Also, as plans change, it’s extremely difficult to remember who
    is supposed to be doing what and according to which version of
    the plan. Key stakeholders (employees, management, board members,
    funders, investor, customers, clients, etc.) may request copies
    of various types of plans. Therefore, it’s critical to write plans
    down and communicate them widely. For more guidelines in this
    regard, see
    of Writing and Communicating the Plan

    Goals and Objectives Should Be SMARTER

    SMARTER is an acronym, that is, a word composed by joining
    letters from different words in a phrase or set of words. In this
    case, a SMARTER goal or objective is:


    For example, it’s difficult to know what someone should be
    doing if they are to pursue the goal to “work harder”.
    It’s easier to recognize “Write a paper”.


    It’s difficult to know what the scope of “Writing a paper”
    really is. It’s easier to appreciate that effort if the goal is
    “Write a 30-page paper”.


    If I’m to take responsibility for pursuit of a goal, the goal
    should be acceptable to me. For example, I’m not likely to follow
    the directions of someone telling me to write a 30-page paper
    when I also have to five other papers to write. However, if you
    involve me in setting the goal so I can change my other commitments
    or modify the goal, I’m much more likely to accept pursuit of
    the goal as well.


    Even if I do accept responsibility to pursue a goal that is
    specific and measurable, the goal won’t be useful to me or others
    if, for example, the goal is to “Write a 30-page paper in
    the next 10 seconds”.

    Time frame:

    It may mean more to others if I commit to a realistic goal
    to “Write a 30-page paper in one week”. However, it’ll
    mean more to others (particularly if they are planning to help
    me or guide me to reach the goal) if I specify that I will write
    one page a day for 30 days, rather than including the possibility
    that I will write all 30 pages in last day of the 30-day period.


    The goal should stretch the performer’s capabilities. For example,
    I might be more interested in writing a 30-page paper if the topic
    of the paper or the way that I write it will extend my capabilities.


    I’m more inclined to write the paper if the paper will contribute
    to an effort in such a way that I might be rewarded for my effort.

    Also consider
    A Fun Look at SMART Goal Setting!

    Build in Accountability (Regularly Review Who’s Doing What
    and By When?)

    Plans should specify who is responsible for achieving each
    result, including goals and objectives. Dates should be set for
    completion of each result, as well. Responsible parties should
    regularly review status of the plan. Be sure to have someone of
    authority “sign off” on the plan, including putting
    their signature on the plan to indicate they agree with and support
    its contents. Include responsibilities in policies, procedures,
    job descriptions, performance review processes, etc.

    Note Deviations from the Plan and Replan Accordingly

    It’s OK to deviate from the plan. The plan is not a set of
    rules. It’s an overall guideline. As important as following the
    plan is noticing deviations and adjusting the plan accordingly.

    Evaluate Planning Process and the Plan

    During the planning process, regularly collect feedback from
    participants. Do they agree with the planning process? If not,
    what don’t they like and how could it be done better? In large,
    ongoing planning processes (such as strategic planning, business
    planning, project planning, etc.), it’s critical to collect this
    kind of feedback regularly.

    During regular reviews of implementation of the plan, assess
    if goals are being achieved or not. If not, were goals realistic?
    Do responsible parties have the resources necessary to achieve
    the goals and objectives? Should goals be changed? Should more
    priority be placed on achieving the goals? What needs to be done?

    Finally, take 10 minutes to write down how the planning process
    could have been done better. File it away and read it the next
    time you conduct the planning process.

    Recurring Planning Process is at Least as Important as Plan

    Far too often, primary emphasis is placed on the plan document.
    This is extremely unfortunate because the real treasure of planning
    is the planning process itself. During planning, planners learn
    a great deal from ongoing analysis, reflection, discussion, debates
    and dialogue around issues and goals in the system. Perhaps there
    is no better example of misplaced priorities in planning than
    in business ethics. Far too often, people put emphasis on written
    codes of ethics and codes of conduct. While these documents certainly
    are important, at least as important is conducting ongoing communications
    around these documents. The ongoing communications are what sensitize
    people to understanding and following the values and behaviors
    suggested in the codes.

    Nature of the Process Should Be Compatible to Nature of Planners

    A prominent example of this type of potential problem is when
    planners don’t prefer the “top down” or “bottom
    up”, “linear” type of planning (for example, going
    from general to specific along the process of an environmental
    scan, SWOT analysis, mission/vision/values, issues and goals,
    strategies, objectives, timelines, etc.) There are other ways
    to conduct planning. For an overview of various methods, see (in
    the following, the models are applied to the strategic planning
    process, but generally are eligible for use elsewhere):
    Overview of Various Planning Models

    Critical — But Frequently Missing Step — Acknowledgement
    and Celebration of Results

    It’s easy for planners to become tired and even cynical about
    the planning process. One of the reasons for this problem is very
    likely that far too often, emphasis is placed on achieving the
    results. Once the desired results are achieved, new ones are quickly
    established. The process can seem like having to solve one problem
    after another, with no real end in sight. Yet when one really
    thinks about it, it’s a major accomplishment to carefully analyze
    a situation, involve others in a plan to do something about it,
    work together to carry out the plan and actually see some results.
    So acknowledge this — celebrate your accomplishment!

    There are many types of plans for people, teams, processes and organizations.
    All of them — if they are well done — tend to follow the above guidelines.

    Major Types of Plans

    Planning (plan a new business organization, product, business department, etc.)

    Basic Guidelines
    for Successful Planning (basis for many types of plans)

    (comprehensive process to ensure organizational goals being met)

    Program Planning (design
    and carry out a major, internal or external org’l function)

    Project Planning
    (design and carry out a specific, one-time effort, eg, building, product, etc.)

    Strategic Planning
    (establish organizational goals and how to reach them)

    Other Types of Plans

    and Promotions Planning


    Career Planning
    Computer Systems

    Plans (nonprofit)

    Development Planning

    Development Planning

    Marketing Planning
    Performance planning
    (for organizations, groups, employees, etc.)

    Performance Improvement
    planning (organizations, groups, employees, etc.)

    Research Design Planning
    Staffing Planning
    Supervisory Development

    Training and Development

    Additional Perspectives on Planning

    Big Dog on Planning

    Productivity: Are You Doing What Really Matters?
    Project Producing: My Way
    Twelve reasons why planning is more critical in challenging times

    For the Category of Planning and Project Management:

    To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may
    want to review some related topics, available from the link below.
    Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

    Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been
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