There are different types of planning necessary to achieve different outcomes. We like to consider the desired outcome and use an appropriate planning process to structure its achievement. These are the common processes with which we deal.
There is an abundance of texts that discuss "strategic planning", and it clearly has a contextual meaning. Our interest is in practical and applied strategy - the development of an approach to achieving one or more goals with limited resources under conditions of uncertainty.
There are a host of common tools and processes adaptable for most circumstances: SWOT, Porter's Five Forces, Competitor Analysis to name a few. We unashamedly borrow and tailor that which is applicable.
A strategy must provide three things:
- a clear understanding of the goals. Quoting Alice's Cheshire Cat, "if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there."
- boundaries and constraints. Few organisations can operate without constraint, resources being a common issue, but timing and areas "out of consideration" also need to be clear.
- detailed coherent activity. This is the outlines for contributing projects and activities that, together, will deliver the goals. Understanding inter-relationships, intermediate outcomes, timing and resource allocation is essential, but a detailed plan for each activity is not yet necessary.
Strategies are needed for many purposes: new programs and new businesses, recovery and remediation, procurement, capture and sales. We like Richard Rumelt's statement in "Good Strategy, Bad Strategy. The Difference and Why it Matters" (Deckle Edge, 2011)
"You don't have to be a movie director to know it's a bad movie."
If you recognise that you have a poor strategy, or none at all, at least review it. It may just need some clarity and coordination.
The planning process is essential if a coherent action plan is to be built. Unfortunately this process can seem interminable - consuming resources in return for declining momentum.
In this we can learn from the military. They tend to be challenged by limited time to plan complex operations coordinated across complicated organisations. For them momentum is a key to success. They have, across multiple militaries, developed a largely common and proven, process - with local variations and jargon to confuse the innocent.
It is an approach usefully adapted to business activity.
If you are interested in getting an organisation moving, quickly, see an introduction here.
Program and Project Management
There is recurring debate about when an activity is a program or a simply a large project with multiple streams. In our view a program is an initiative where not all of the component projects need to be completed in order to gain an outcome.
A well designed program gives Governments and Executives choices. They can redirect resources to changing priorities while still gaining an outcome, albeit limited. The logical breakpoints are usually called tranches.
In a project, however, all elements are interdependent and redirection of resources or early termination affects the entire outcome.
Prince2 (tm) ,MSP(tm) and PMBOK are the favoured processes for managing complex projects and programs. Any one is better than none, and they all have advantages. We have practitioners in all disciplines and are experienced in delivery using these processes. We use them when our client wishes.
However, in our work we see their implementation typically to be cumbersome, leading to unnecessary effort in compliance and governance for little gain. Senior executives become involved in multiple steering committees and boards that offer little additional value. Project and Program teams become sidetracked from delivery with extensive reporting, briefing and compliance obligations.
At Kiah, we have an adapted the best of these processes to deliver Initiative Management - a process, developed through necessity to deliver rapid outcomes. It tailors the traditional processes for the task at hand while seeking to accommodate the organisations relevant processes. This is, in fact, what the doctrine espouses. Unfortunately it is rarely followed.
Teams tend to follow a compliance path as it is safe, avoiding debate with auditors and reviewers. Too many "advisors" are comfortable with resource intensive processes.
Unquestioned compliance with theory is wasteful, counter-productive and, if one is after rapid outcomes, inappropriate.