Burgess Laughlin

Plans: Nature, Examples, and Benefits?

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The military makes plans -- strategic and tactical. Businesses have plans for particular projects and for their business overall. Investors make financial plans. Professionals develop career plans. Teachers make lesson plans. Students have study plans.

What is a plan? What benefits does a plan offer? When should a plan be used?

I have made no special study of planning. Following is my understanding based only on my experiences and observations in various fields.

NATURE

What is a plan? For me, a plan has at least four essential elements.

(1) A plan has a statement of purpose (also called "goals" or "intentions" or similar terms). This is a statement of what I want to accomplish in a particular area of my life.

(2) A plan lays out the series of actions I will need to take in order to fulfill my purpose. If particular times are attached, the plan is also a schedule.

(3) A plan identifies, where appropriate, the resources needed to reach my goals.

(4) A plan spells out -- before the action begins -- my measures of success. The measures of success must be spelled out ahead of time to avoid the trap of retroactively adjusting criteria to fit results.

EXAMPLE

In another topic-thread, Paul's Here has provided links to examples of plans for war. His first example contains some of the elements I have listed above.

Here is the NATO Plan.

The "Preamble" section contains context-setting statements and assurances that the planners won't violate conventional standards of behavior. A preamble might be helpful but it is not an essential characteristic of a plan. The "Objectives" section is a list of what the planners want to accomplish. (Sometimes "goal" means the thing to be finally achieved and "objective" means an intermediate step, a milestone; but in other situations "goals" and "objectives" are synonymous.) The "Mechanisms" section is an identification of organizational resources. The "Action Plan" section is what it says it is: a list of actions various organizations will take. Note however that in this example these actions are generally on-going actions that may run in parallel. This is not a sequence of actions, nor is it a schedule (a chronological sequence with dates attached). (Those two items probably shouldn't be public anyway in a war plan.)

What is missing from this plan is measures of success. Objectively, how will the planners -- and the public they are protecting -- know they are succeeding and to what degree? A reader could perhaps make inferences, but spelling out the measures of success is more objective, especially when done ahead of time. I have seen many cases where planners adjust their evaluation of success or failure to fit the results they actually achieve. That is subjectivism.

BENEFITS

I see several major benefits of planning. First, the process requires me to think through everything clearly. For example, a plan that identifies resources at the beginning alerts me to the need to make sure those resources are actually available.

A second benefit of a plan is, ironically, flexibility for deviating from the plan. If I have a plan and must, because of some unexpected factor, deviate from the plan, then I know I am deviating and I know to what point I can return when the emergency is over.

A third benefit is efficient mind-management. By having a written plan, I proceed one step at a time without needing to rethink everything every time I take an action.

WHEN SHOULD A PLAN BE FORMED?

I make a plan, usually in writing, anytime reaching a goal requires more steps than I can easily keep in mind and remember. The plan might be really simple: a simple list of the stores I intend to visit today. This plan might not even have a written goals section or measures-of-success section. On the other hand, if I start a new book, I do write out a detailed plan at the beginning, and often for individual sections.

SUGGESTIONS?

What are additional characteristics, examples, and benefits of plans?

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WHEN SHOULD A PLAN BE FORMED?

I make a plan, usually in writing, anytime reaching a goal requires more steps than I can easily keep in mind and remember.

Same here. I also make a plan when I can't do something right now. If something is simple and I can do it now, I don't plan. I just do it.

SUGGESTIONS?

What are additional characteristics, examples, and benefits of plans?

Perhaps this can be subsumed under "measures of success," but a plan should have a deadline or there is no real impetus to carry it through. In the words of one of my favorite quotes, "Goals are dreams with a deadline."

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In the words of one of my favorite quotes, "Goals are dreams with a deadline."

I like that one.

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