- 8 minute read
Let’s start with a joke: A CEO asks one of his senior executives to prepare the annual plan for the upcoming year and wants to focus on the marketing and business development plan. After a couple of weeks, a status meeting scheduled to present the preliminary deliverables. At the meeting, the senior manager presented his yearly plan: Two lines in excel, one for 'marketing plan' and the second for a 'business development plan', with 52 columns to represent the weeks. Then, in every single cell in the plan is one word: "On-Going."
If it wouldn’t have been sad, it would have been funny.
One of my hobbies is 'planning'. Literally. A decade plan, a five-year plan and an annual. There is some satisfaction that cannot be explained when you set goals for several years ahead, build a strategic plan, outline initial tactics and get going. Then, after a few years, you achieve the same goals. The thing is, the real satisfaction does not come (only) from achieving the goals themselves; after all, the strongest internal desire for those goals was several years ago. The real satisfaction is after achieving the goal, looking back on all those years of work, from the starting point, smiling. Like a mountaineer who reached the mountain's peak, looking at the view and contemplating about his entire journey, from the moment he decided to conquer the mountain till that very peak. Like a wormhole connecting a direct line from the past to the future, traversing throughout all dimensions of time.
There are dozens if not hundreds of planning tools. For projects, software, product and company management. Starting with the basic Excel, MS Project, and in recent years, new and high-quality tools such as Monday.com, ProWorkflow, Asana, Notion and more have come into the market. Note that this is a planning tool for projects, departments and companies.
But the catch is, you can learn and master any planning tool, know all the features and tricks but if you don't know *how to plan*, you are considered as a new driver in the Formula-1 racing car. It’s charming that you know to recognize the steering wheel and pedals, but you are definitely going to meet the wall in the first corner.
Over the years, I have created one approach that has helped me dealing successfully with the planning-design issue,especially when it comes to startups that are full of uncertainty and their plans are frequent changes. This approach is - the Planning Layered Approach. No matter which planning tool you use to manage your startup/company/project, using this method will make the design of your plan a success, better than any other approach. That includes the common one, which only concentrates on the "expert" aspect (for example, a product plan, focusing on the development time of the various parts, without linking to different elements outside the project itself).
The concept of the Layered Approach is straightforward. There are seven layers of planning in a defined order, while starting to build the plan from the bottom up.
As befits to a building, the first floor holds the second floor and those above it. The second-floor rests on the first one and holds the third floor and those above it... and so on. If there is a "fracture" (e.g. lack of planning or poor planning) in one of the "floors", all the floors above it will collapse as simple as that.
Here are the seven layers of planning. Starting with the first base layer and moving up to the other layers:
Layer 7: Tasks
Layer 6: Individual
Layer 5: Department
Layer 4: Basic
Layer 3: Events
Layer 2: Constraints
Layer 1: Anchor
Notice that each Layer represents a “dimension”, which is usually managed by different people, employees and departments. Combining them all creates the perfect design of planning. Even if on the surface, it looks like each dimension “lives” by itself, the concept bridges the various dimensions and naturally creates an outline of synergy and relationship-entities. Just like the traffic-laws, that combines pedestrians, cars, trucks and trains into a whole movement, the various employees and managers need to adhere to only one rule – to pay attention! Pay attention to the rest of the elements when building a plan, wherever entering a new task, mission or milestone.
Examples of specification of the layers (arranged in the order of designing and building the planning):
Although we have made a lot of progress since planning by sticky notes, try to imagine just for a moment the following analogy: The company has a vast wall exposed to all the company’s employees. The wall is 7 meters high (meters per Layer) and 52 meters wide (meters per week per year). Now, imagine you are playing Tetris, with the whole company.
As defined in the concept, proper planning will begin in the first Layer. At first, the data input should be done serially, Layer by Layer in the giving order (#1 to #7). Each manager/employee must fill the Gantt’s timeline in his/her Layer with *all* activities and events contained in their Layer, even if there is not necessarily a robust direct connection between the event and its specific project. Each time we climb a layer, the activities we feed, their locations and their continuation on the Gantt will be derived from the events in the lower layers just like Tetris.
When building the initial plan, it is essential to get into the details. The more activities and events included in each Layer (again, even if not directly related to the essence of the project/s), your planning will be:
A. Stronger and more stable; The plan's quality will be denser in multidimensional vision, which will significantly reduce surprises and changes in the schedule.
B. Flexible for changes; Making proactive changes in planning, by scheduling or pivoting, will become a relatively simple task, almost like rearranging a kitchen’s cabinet.
Just as every structure requires maintenance, so does your planning. Assuming you made the initial plan, thoroughly, with thought and getting into details (this is the set-up phase). The on-going planning updates are expected to be simple and easy. It is crucial to define and determine in advance when you do a review for your plan and check the gaps between the actual to the plan. And update the plan accordingly. When you must regularly update the basic dimensions (#1 to #4). When the last Layer, the Task layer, is your work and "production layer".
As much as the idea of building an enormous 25mX7m wall and having to build and manage the company's plan can be something magical and cool, it is clearly ineffective. Today, there are quite a few tools that are an excellent and high-quality planning platform. Find the one that is convenient for you and your company/team to work with and run with it. The ideal is to work on one platform for the whole company, which incorporates the entire seven layers of planning. But the reality is that usually, those seven layers are on several different platforms. For example: managing the project on Monday.com; using the Google Calendar; managing and tracking tasks on Trello; managing sales on Pipedrive CRM; keeping company goals on internal Excel or PowerPoint and executing inter-organizational communications by Slack. So, it's your responsibility to make sure that there is automatic integration between all the different tools you work with to avoid a "broken phone" between the different layers.
And you should always remember that neither technology nor the most advanced practices make a difference, but the people! Determine the tools you want to use, set up the necessary integrations, write the procedures and protocols required for proper, efficient and high-quality work. But first and foremost, you need to teach and train the company's employees to use the organizational infrastructure you set up properly. Otherwise, you will get a tower of Babel. An impressive technology, lousy communication.