Planning: What It Is, Why We Do It, and What “Great” Planning Looks Like

Written by:
Afterburner Team

Done poorly and inappropriately, planning can be worse than irrelevant and a waste of valuable time and energy.”

Planning Doctrine, United States Marine Corps

All organizations plan to some extent, but not all planning is performed to the same standard. As the first step in the Flawless ExecutionSM model, and one of the most common functions in organizations around the world, a deeper understanding of planning is a must to further develop your current strategic planning process.

Planning Leads to More Effective Strategy and Execution

Some (or most) of you might be thinking “do we really need to define planning?” While seemingly trivial, defining planning provides the foundation for why we do it, and also what a “great” strategic planning process truly is.

Planning can be defined in a variety of ways. Most simply, the process of planning is an organized method of formulating actions in advance. A very simple definition but one that highlights the pillars of a plan: first, that it is a method or framework and second, that it establishes an envisioned future or goal. What planning is not, and this is where many organizations err, is the creation of a step-by-step procedure. Planning is the development of an iterative and dynamic process of strategy and execution. Procedures are rigid in structure and allow little room for agility and flexibility. Plans should allow for adaptation to changing circumstances and newly acquired knowledge–some of the most crucial aspects to success.

Developing a Strategic Plan Sets You on the Right Course

When you walk into the meeting room with your team, planning may seem little more than a collaborative gathering of expertise and experience. Don’t be fooled–developing a strategic plan is an incredibly simplistic take on the process. The intent to plan, and the circumstances in which it is done, has conscious and subconscious, controllable and uncontrollable elements.

Research has shown that planning is dependent on social and emotional contexts, and is often times greatly influenced by personal and cultural beliefs, whether we as participants are aware of it or not. These circumstances are highly influential to the individual and group efficacy of planning, thus it is integral to promote a supportive social and professional environment in order to produce the highest quality plan.

The “why” of developing a strategic plan seems an odd question as well; one can simply restate the aforementioned definition of planning. Yet once again the seemingly simple is not so. As a species, we humans undertake the process of planning in order to adapt. Adaptability is a less impressive mental capacity than, say, problem-solving, but it is the ability to adapt that is most critical to the sustainment of any organism, organic or organizational. There is deep relevancy in evolutionary theory to the survival and success of businesses. Change happens, whether you have prepared or not, and success in the previous environment holds no bearing on the post-change, new normal. As we saw with the bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the devastating financial crisis that began in 2008, it is only the ability to adapt to your surroundings that will save your from otherwise devastating change, and there is one thing that strengthens your adaptive abilities: planning.

Knowing what planning is and how and why we do it is necessary, but it doesn’t get you and your team far without knowing what great planning is. This is not to say that a great plan does not fail, as they may. However, “great” planning, as defined below, will help you to mitigate the effects of unpredictable events and influencing circumstances you may be ignorant of during the planning process.

Great planning is a dynamic, iterative learning process intended to establish the means to achieve an envisioned future respective of existing or acquirable resources while assessing the risks involved and assigning individual accountability for success.

This definition attends to the tangible, action-based characteristics of the strategic planning process. Using this definition, does your team have a great planning process?

  • Does your team follow thorough planning guidelines each planning session?
  • Do your planning sessions establish a clear path toward your envisioned future?
  • Do you completely vetted your available resources?
  • Threats—do you consider the risks?
  • Does your strategic planning process produce effective actions for each stakeholder?
  • Does your plan promote individual accountability?

Still not sure where your planning process lies on the quality scale? Explore the strategic business planning strategies that will provide insight into the characteristics your planning process needs in order to be great.