One approach to planning that I like is an issues oriented approach which includes the ideas of readiness and rapid results. Let us imagine we have been asked by a management group to lead them in a planning process.
The first step is to interview each of the participants and ask each one what are the burning issues the planning process must address. Likely in a team of five members you will get likely fifteen issues. As a general rule I like to limit the process to five issues so the first step is to get the group together to decide on the highest priority issues. This step really is the first step in planning and is an agenda setting exercise. When we have narrowed down the issues we ask for one person to be the sponsor of an issue and do some pre-work on the issue. If you cannot find a sponsor then you need to wonder "Who Cares?" The pre-work is to do some research on the issue and produce a brief paper describing the issue by answering the question "Where are we now?" The author can also take the liberty of adding ideas on how to address the issue. Prior to the planning session we ask that these papers be sent out to all the participants for their review.
Now we are ready to set an agenda for the planning session or sessions. A good idea to have a meeting with the management team to get agreement on the agenda and the timing for each issue. For each issue, we will have three items on the agenda:
- General Discussion with the sponsors paper as the starting point
- Discussion of solutions or approaches to dealing with the issue
- Selection of an approach
- Identification of some immediate next steps that can be taken in the next six weeks to improve the situation
- Initial assignment of responsibility for action on each issue for the next six weeks
After all the issues have discussed the facilitator will then summarize the commitments to action over the next six weeks and seeks agreement by the team that these are realistic. The actions should be modified based on reluctance or practical factors.
The next step is the facilitator produces "An Agenda for Action" by the team and works with each member to help them make progress over the six week period.
A new planning sessions is convened to discuss progress and to revise any aspects the team wants to change. During this session the management team will reflect on any learning that has taken place in dealing with these issues. In addition, the team will now make commitments to take actions to get some bottom line improvement on each issue quickly.
As time progresses, the monitoring of progress becomes part of regular management meeting with planning work sessions with the facilitator every two to three months.
Several factors are included in this design. The readiness of the management team to deal with the issues is being tested at every step in the process. If a lack of readiness is detected, the issue needs to be discussed to try to uncover the hidden factors that are influencing the readiness. The achievement of rapid results is designed in the agenda and the early review of results. The team needs to be challenged by the leadership in the group to produce rapid results.
In addition to dealing with burning issues facing the organization, the team has a great opportunity to learn about how the effect change quickly in their organization. The facilitator leads a sharing of reflection of lessons learned regularly with the group and individually.