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.