Many a well-thought-out strategy under-delivers its potential because there is no continuing framework for implementing it…no workable plan. How do we go from the choices of the ends and means of strategy to the steps and tasks of execution?
If we’re like many, we fail to see planning as distinct work in its own right. Rather, we think planning is something to rush through so we can get on with the work. Not so. Planning is a creative act, using the imagination God gave us to see something in our mind’s eye that does not currently exist and determine how to bring it to life. It’s parallel to God’s process of creation, except He can speak things into existence and we have to work things into existence.
How do we begin? Here’s an illuminating comment from a perhaps unexpected source. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.” Mark Twain
As an aside, in most cases working as a group will yield better plans than working on our own. Why is this? First, each member of the group brings a different array of knowledge and experience to the process. Second, members of the group build off the ideas of others in ways that can’t happen working alone. Third, the time when others are speaking in the conversation creates mental space for new connections that often does not occur when we’re on our own.
Back to the business at hand. At this link, Workplan, available for you to print, is a simple worksheet for breaking your complex tasks into manageable ones and beginning to get them done. Let me explain the columns:
- Projects/tasks. This column is for breaking what has to be done into projects and tasks. The definitions are simple: a project is something that has more than one task. A task is something someone can commit to accomplishing within a certain period of time. For example, in the worksheet, I’ve shown “launch new website” as a project and typical steps as tasks.
- Responsible. In all my work with groups, I’ve never had one that did not answer this question correctly in unison: If everyone is responsible, who’s responsible? Right, if everyone is responsible, no one's responsible. So this column is for assigning a single person responsibility for the project or subordinate tasks. To be clear, the person responsible may or may not be doing all the work, but regardless they are responsible for ensuring the work gets done.
- Resources. In this column, we think through in advance all that will be needed to complete the work. (In a similar vein, see Luke 14:28.) For the most part, resources fall into three categories:
- People. Who will help? Who from within your organization will contribute? What outside contacts can you tap? What areas of expertise or experience will you need, whether within or outside of your current circles to complete the work involved?
- Money. Many things dictated by our strategy choices—especially significant, high-leverage ones—require funding. Sometimes those funds are in the budget; sometimes it is a separate task to raise funds for the project. It’s important to be specific about the amount of money needed. It’s not enough in this column to say “funding” or “money.” Taking the website project as an example, if no one on the team has an estimate of what it costs to develop a website, getting an estimate becomes a task.
- Things. Even in today’s increasingly digital world, there are still things that are needed…a desk, a chair, a computer, a server, a screwdriver, a wrench. These may be things we have in hand that can be allocated to the project; they may also be things we have to freshly acquire.
- Timing. If we want to finish something eventually, we have to start it at a point in time. Every task, regardless of how small, has a duration, the amount of time it will take to complete. My wife will tell you after decades of experience, if I estimate a task will take a half hour, it will take at least an hour, if not an hour and a half, or even the whole morning. We need to be clear-eyed about establishing reasonable time parameters, reflecting not only the task itself but also taking into account other duties, obligations or commitments of those involved.
- Sequence. Taking the first column next, the Sequence column acknowledges that we won’t necessarily think of projects or tasks in the order they will eventually be done. Attempting to think of the work in sequence may, in fact, slow down the creative process. The Sequence column gives us permission and a process for sorting out the order of the operations once they’ve all been identified.
- Status. The Status column is the power column of the plan. When the team meets, after exchanging pleasantries and prayer, those responsible report the status of their tasks or projects in one of three categories: completed, on track, or off track. That gives us the opportunity to applaud workers and work completed; encourage those involved with tasks that are on track, but not yet done; and have a discussion about items that are off track. The intent of off track discussions is not guilt, blame and shame, but rather to apply the best thinking of the group to getting the matter back on track or, in some cases, concluding the task shouldn’t be done at all and should be taken off the plan. In essence, then, your workplan becomes the primary agenda item for your current meeting and the vehicle for planning what’s to be done between meetings.
Bringing the series to a close, in February, we discussed direction decisions—things like mission and vision. In March we talked about bridging from those high-level concepts by developing a strategy—choices of ends and means to fulfill your organization’s purpose. Finally, this month we’ve offered a simple framework for reliably translating strategy into robust plans for getting things done.
Assignment: Sometime soon, compare your processes to those discussed in the past three months. What elements of them could you adopt to make your processes more robust and your outcomes more reliable?