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.
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 same.
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.)