The Planning Cycle brings together all the aspects of planning a one-off, small- to medium-sized project into a single, coherent process.
For example, let’s say your business is growing so rapidly that you need to relocate to a larger office. Great news. But the job of planning and organising the move has fallen to you. You will need to consider whether the move is viable, and think about criteria for suitable premises. You’ll have to factor in costs, timings, and how to minimise business downtime.
So, where do you start?
What Is the Planning Cycle?
The Planning Cycle is an eight-step process that you can use to plan any small-to-medium sized project: moving to a new office, developing a new product, or planning a corporate event, for example.
The tool enables you to plan and implement fully considered, well-focused, robust, practical, and cost-effective projects. It also helps you to learn from any mistakes you make, and to feed this knowledge back into your future planning and decision making.
For larger projects that involve many people over a long period of time, you may need to use a more formal approach.
For shorter projects that need a fast turnaround, you should also consider Agile Project Management.
The Planning Cycle
The Planning Cycle has eight steps (+ Feedback), as outlined below.
1. Analyse Your Situation
First, clarify what you need to do. An office move, for example, would require you to find the right premises, with appropriate access and parking.
Gather as much information as possible at this stage. This will help you to formulate a more detailed and robust plan further down the line.
Start by examining your current position, and deciding how you can improve it. There are a number of techniques that can help you to do this (ie SWOT analysis, risk analysis etc).
2. Identify the Aim of Your Plan
When you’ve completed a realistic analysis of your situation, and the opportunities for change, the next step is to precisely define the aim of your plan. This sharpens your focus, and stops you from wasting effort on irrelevant issues.
Express your aim in one simple sentence, so that it’s clear in your mind. If this proves difficult, try asking yourself questions like:
- What do I want the future to look like?
- What benefit do I want to give to our customers?
- What returns do I need?
- What standards do I want to achieve?
- What are my organisation’s core values?
You can present this aim as a Vision Statement (expresses the benefit that an organization will provide to its customers) or Mission Statement (explains how the vision will be achieved).
3. Explore Your Options
By this stage, you should have a good understanding of your situation and what you want your project to achieve. The next step is to work out how to do it!
At this stage, it’s useful to generate as many ideas as possible. You may be tempted to grasp at the first idea that comes to mind, but if you spend some time weighing up your options you may come up with less obvious but better solutions. Or you may build on your best ideas by using elements of others.
4. Select the Best Option
When you’ve explored your ideas, you need to decide which one to pursue. If you have the necessary time and resources, you might decide to do detailed planning, costing, and risk assessment work for each one. But chances are you won’t have this luxury.
Instead, use tools like Decision Matrix Analysis (decide between different options when you need to consider a range of different factors) and Decision Trees (enable you to think through the likely outcomes of following different courses of action) to help you to make the final selection.
5. Detailed Planning
With your final decision made, you need to establish the most efficient and effective way to achieve your aim. This determines who will do what, when, where, how, why, and at what cost.
Techniques like Gantt Charts and Critical Path Analysis can be useful when working out priorities, deadlines, and how to allocate resources.
Consider how you will monitor the progress and performance of your plan, too. When robust reporting, quality assurance, and cost controls are in place, you can quickly identify and correct potential deviations from the plan.
A good plan also identifies risks and suggests contingencies. This allows you to respond effectively to setbacks or crises. You should also consider transitional arrangements – how will you keep things going while you implement the plan?
6. Evaluate the Plan and Its Impact
The next stage is to review your plan and decide whether you should implement it. It’s crucial to be objective here – even if you’ve done a lot of work to reach this stage, it may still not be worth your while to pursue the project.
This can be frustrating, but it’s better to reach this conclusion now rather than after you have invested valuable time and resources in its success. The evaluation stage gives you the opportunity to either investigate better options, or to accept that no plan is needed.
Depending on the circumstances, there are several methods you can use to evaluate your plan.
- Quantitative Pros and Cons is a simple technique that involves listing the plus points in one column and the minus points in another. Each point can be allocated a positive or negative score.
- Use Cost/Benefit Analysis to decide whether the plan makes financial sense. Add up all the costs involved, and compare them with the expected benefits.
- Force Field Analysis gives you a “big picture” view of the factors for and against your plan. This enables you to see where you can make adjustments that will help your plan to succeed.
- Finally, Six Thinking Hats helps you to get a rounded view of your plan and its implications by asking you to evaluate your plan from six different perspectives: rational, emotional, optimistic, pessimistic, practical, and creative.
If your analysis shows that the plan will not give sufficient benefit, or if the negatives outweigh the positives, return to an earlier stage in the planning cycle to explore other options. Alternatively, you may conclude that the project is impractical and abandon the process altogether.
7. Implement Plan
Once you have finalised your proposal, and you’re confident that it will deliver, it’s time to put it into action.
If you’ve followed the previous steps closely then your plan should also explain how to implement it! It should also show how you will monitor its progress and execution.
8. Close the Plan and Review
All being well, your project is now complete and it was a huge success! Now it’s time to close it down and assess what you’ve learned. Look back over the planning process and assess it carefully to see what could be improved or refined in the future.
If you’ll likely carry out many similar projects, it may be worth developing a standard Post-Implementation Review (list of points to consider during the planning review. It helps to ensure that you don’t overlook any important aspects of the process).
The review should address key questions such as: did the project solve the original problem? Could it deliver even bigger benefits? And what lessons did you learn that you can apply to future projects?