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Tailoring Your Planning Process

February 26, 2014 7 comments

It is that time of the year when you typically conduct planning session with your teams. I just came from one that I facilitated a week ago. I would like to share the planning methodology that we used. This planning process that I am going to share with you is nothing new and nothing that I came up with. You can find a lot of planning methodologies out there, if you Google it.

It is important to understand the current situation and needs that your organization has in a particular point in time, and then use it to tailor your planning process.

It is important that your team understands the entire planning process—what it is that you are trying to accomplish and what are the expected deliverables. I usually allot an adequate portion of the planning meeting to explain the “tailored” planning methodology. At this particular instance, I started out by showing the team the atlas of the universe; then the solar system; and then a picture of our planet earth; then I showed the a picture that represents our company or the business enterprise that we belong to; and finally, a box with an arrow going upward. I told the team, “that box represents us.” I explained why.

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Mission and Vision

The box represents us—our mission and vision as an organization (see diagram below). Our mission defines our purpose— what is in and what is out. It represents, in the broadest sense, who we are. The vision is where we want to be as a group in a period of time in the future. The arrow from where we are now (point a) to where we want to be (point b) represent the shortest path to achieving our vision.

Our group had the opportunity to define our vision in our planning session last year, so that was something that we carried on and will carry on in the next couple more years. It is an input to this year’s planning process.

It is important to know where you are at the multi-year planning cycle to best tailor your team’s planning process for that particular year.

Last year, the first year of our planning cycle, we did the following:

  • Invited key stakeholders of the company to speak to us about the business strategy, their expectations and needs.
  • Gathered customer feedback from different forums and channels.
  • Analyzed operative and project results from previous years.
  • Conducted a team discussion around organizational concerns.
  • Identified and discussed our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats as a team.
  • Established our vision for the next 4 years- articulated in a vision statement.
  • Define our objectives and goals for the first year.

All the things that we accomplished in our planning session last year were used as inputs. We also analyzed the relevancy of some of our foundational objectives.

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After reviewing the inputs from last year, the next thing that we did as a group was to do the “look back”. We talked about the operative and project successes from the past year. It was important to identify lessons learned and to convey key messages that align to the overall company direction and strategy. We had the team present those success stories by relating their experiences and journey. 

Balance Scorecard and Strategy Mapping

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To articulate our P&IT strategy we decided to use the time tested Balanced Scorecard approach and complemented it with Strategy Mapping. The Balance Scorecard, created by Robert Kaplan and David Norton, is one of the most popular and comprehensive tools for defining strategy and reporting performance in executing that strategy. This approach forces you to classify key measures and objectives used in your organization according to the four main perspectives— customer, financial, business process/ internal services, learning and growth. The key questions that we answered were:

  • Financial – To succeed financially, how should we appear to our stakeholders?
  • To achieve our vision, how should we appear to our customers?
  • To satisfy our stakeholders and customers, at what services must we excel and what projects must we deliver?
  • To achieve our vision how will we sustain our ability to change and improve?

The next complementary step is the mapping and analysis of the foundational objectives identified in the Balance Scorecard using Strategy Mapping techniques. By mapping how different objectives relate to one another, leaders can clearly see how to accomplish the stated objectives and how each one relates to the other. Many of those relationships go in a natural path from learning and growth to internal processes, to customer, finally to financial. To illustrate this concept, please refer to the diagram below. The blue boxes represent the identified foundational objectives classified in all four Balance Scorecard concepts. Then by relating those objectives based on causal linkage you form a story—your story, your strategy. In this strategy, the story goes:

You believe that by improving team culture, it is going to improve service delivery. And by improving service delivery, you believe that you will have more satisfied customers. And finally with improved service delivery and improved customer satisfaction you optimize IT cost. How those objectives flow and link represents your strategy.

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Objectives Setting

After we defined and agreed on a strategy and with it the foundational objectives, the next step is the most tedious and difficult step of the entire planning process. It is the actual definition of departmental, team, and individual objectives. When you get to the point when you start identifying what you need to do to accomplish the strategy, real work begins. The team needs to have a clear understanding of the strategy, the role of their department/team and their individual role in making it happen.Image

  • The first step is to break foundational objectives into departmental objectives. You can do this using a breakout session.
  • Teams within their departments identified next level objectives and initiatives that they are responsible for.
  • It is important to identify not only the initiatives/actions but also the measure and target by which the performance of the action will be measured.

In this process the common SMART method comes in handy. Your objectives have to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

Finally, you have your mission and vision; you have your strategy and a detailed game plan (objectives) on how to bring your goals to fruition. The next challenge is to make it happen. I believe that the planning process does not stop after the initial planning process, which to me is the annual planning meeting. It is an ongoing process throughout the year. I like to borrow a term PMI uses- “progressive elaboration”.  As you go through the year, you monitor and control the execution of the plan, as well as the changes to it. As you progress through the year, you will gain more information, priorities might change, and business requirements might change– you progressively elaborate your plan aligned to the business and IT strategy.

Time Management Lessons from Raising Twin Boys

At the dinner table, my wife and I were talking about the piece she just published in her blog, The Red Sticks. She spoke about how she manages her time while raising our twin boys. You can read her whole post here — Dividing Time.

In summary, she mentions five important things to remember:

1. It is okay not to be able to do everything.
2. Prioritize.
3. Don’t forget me time.
4. Use your kid’s downtime to your advantage.
5. Enjoy your kids.

Although the post was written with parents — particularly Moms — in mind, these lessons can be applied to one’s personal and professional life. No wonder she is doing a great job with the boys and on top of this, she is still able to do her personal stuff (like writing).

We discussed how her tips in managing her time at home can apply in business and this is what we came up with:

  • It’s okay not to be able to do everything. This is true in business as well. You can’t possibly do everything. If you insist on trying, then most likely you will just get frustrated and miss more important tasks and goals.
  • Prioritize. This is about making the best use of your limited time and resources when demands are seemingly limitless. Your day only has a limited number of hours. This is the same for your week, your month, your year, etc. There is a maximum number of things that you can possibly do (with good quality) in a period of time— therefore, you need to prioritize.
  • Don’t forget me time. “Me time” at work is the time you dedicate to developing yourself. Identify areas of improvement in your skills and capabilities. Talk to your boss and your peers to get feedback and continue to improve yourself. Part of accountability is continuous self-improvement.  Not only do you look at what you’re already good at but also what else you can improve on.
  • Use your downtime to your advantage. Obviously, there are times at work when things are toxic — everything needs to be done right away and deadlines overlap. However, there are also down times. There are two ways you can make use of your office down times. First, you can schedule your vacation at this time and make sure you maximize the number of days you go on leave. The other way is is through extracurricular activities in  at work such as organizing a community outreach and writing in the newsletter.  If there are opportunities for you to use or exhibit your talents, then volunteer.
  • Enjoy your work. Look forward to it everyday and think of having fun. Try not to see work as work but as an opportunity to learn something or mentor someone. You will see how it will impact your productivity!

So who says managers can’t learn from Moms? This post is a perfect example.  After all, our Moms are probably our first “managers”.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles.

What Prioritization and Planning Can Do for You

Prioritization and planning are two sides of the same coin. Planning is thinking about the tasks required to achieve the desired goal on some scale . Prioritization is ensuring you are doing the right tasks. Planning and prioritization are two of the best skills a manager can have. They ensure good use of your own efforts and those of your team. 

Prioritization is making the best use of your limited time and resources when demands are seemingly limitless. Every single day a manager is bombarded with demands with “ASAP” written all over it. Unending meeting requests, continuous daily reports, pressing operative issues and urgent project tasks — you name it—the list goes on and on and on! If you get into that vicious cycle of trying to do everything, you’ll end up burned out, frustrated and unhappy.   

Prioritization in principle means doing “first things first;” as a process it means evaluating a group of items and ranking them in order of importance and urgency.    – Business Dictionary

Your day only has a limited number of hours, this is the same for your week, your month, your year etc. There is a maximum number of things that you can possibly do (with good quality) in a period of time— therefore you need to prioritize.

If everything is important then nothing is important. If you qualify the “not-so-important-tasks” as very important it devalues any other “more-important-tasks”. 

Start your day by devoting a fair amount of your creative energy to planing your day. This will jump start your day on the right track. You will know your action items (things that matter) and backburners (tasks that can wait).

Perhaps a year is a much longer period but even though, there is a maximum number of things you can do in a year—therefore, you still need to prioritize. Annual planning sessions are important endeavors for companies wanting to set priorities right for the year and align objectives with strategic goals. Nothing beats starting the year in the right direction; you have a game plan and you understand what needs to be done to accomplish your goals.

By planning ahead you are in the best position to adjust priorities. Proper planning is building enough room into your plans for additional demands. New demands pop-up and they may also be important. Adjusting priorities is commonplace; you should always assume that there will be unexpected requests. Set aside time for them. As long as they are important tasks that bring you closer to you goal, they must be done!

Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

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