Planning and Decision Making
|Introduction to Planning
- Planning is an intellectual activity directed toward anticipating,
predicting, and handling change. The output is the recommended
course of action to deal with probable future developments. Planning helps in risk management; i.e., a manager can anticipate
problems and how to deal with them rather than be surprised by them
(dealing with problems proactively rather than reactively).
Planning also creates a sense of mission which allows a manager to
motivate and measure the performance of people under him/her.
Planning bridges the gap between where an organization is and where it
wants to be in the future.
- Upper-level managers are concerned with planning overall corporate
strategy, rate of growth, and new markets/products.
Mid-level managers are concerned with planning a high degree of
coordination with minimal overlapping among organizational units and
the enhancement of resource utilization among these units.
First-level managers and supervisors plan the implementation of
policies and procedures, work activities, and ways to enhance the
effectiveness and efficiency of work operations. Planning occurs
at all levels and needs information flow up, down, and sideways in the
organization to be effective.
- Plans may be classified by short- or long-term, by function, or by breadth or scope.
- Long-term plans are done at upper management levels and
encompass a number of years, such as moving into another market
sector. These long-term plans are usually strategic plans
designed to identify, determine, and shape the direction of the
- Short-term plans are done at lower management levels and
encompass a short period of time, such as for a project or
budget. These plans are usually operational plans helping
with day-to-day operation.
- Function plans may be developed for key organizational
functions, such as engineering or finance. Each of these
plans could be evaluated for potential conflicts between
- Breadth or scope plans may address objectives, policies,
procedures, methods, or rules.
- Objectives provide general statements about the mission of
the organization or what is to be done. These objectives
filter down through the organizational hierarchy where plans
are created to achieve them.
- Policies are implemented to accomplish objectives and are
general guides to action, such as "Subcontracts will not
be used unless the company does not have the resources and
expertise to accomplish the work".
- Procedures give the steps for accomplishing the policies, such
as standard operating procedures which show the set of steps,
for example, in writing a proposal.
- Methods are detailed plans showing the sequence of
individual tasks to complete a specific assignment, such as
how to complete a prototype design.
- Rules are prescribed standards of behavior and place
restrictions on employee behavior, such as dress codes,
smoking regulations, and sexual harassment preventives.
- If plans are prolific, employees may be over constrained and have
little freedom to do their work. If there are no plans,
employees will be frustrated by not knowing what to do.
- Plans succeed when they are used, monitored, and changed as work
progresses. Plans fail if they are not kept up-to-date,
realistic, or clear.
|How to Plan
- As planning is hopefully a logical and systematic activity, a
sequence of steps can be helpful to accomplish planning.
- Determine the purpose of planning by stating your objectives in
concrete form. The objectives should be achievable,
measurable, and operational rather than abstract. If it is
difficult to state quantitative objectives, then use qualitative
- Specify the tasks needed to be performed to achieve the
- Specify the people who will be involved in planning including
those authorizing, coordinating, developing, approving, and
participating in planning.
- Identify other resources and facilities for implementing the
plan, such as materials, supplies, equipment, and software.
- Specify the methods to execute the plan and what it will take to
get the plan moving.
- Develop a cost estimate or budget for the plan, such as salary,
travel, communication, resource, and overhead costs (overhead
costs may be specified as a fixed percentage of the overall budget
and normally cover items, such as clerical support, utilities,
contract services, and law services).
- Devise a schedule for the plan that is realistic.
- Set up the means by which the plan may be monitored and changed
based upon up-to-date project information and status reports.
- From http://research.med.umkc.edu/academic/sections/academicplan/
This academic plan contains the education and organization plans of
the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri.
- From http://www.darpa.mil/body/strategic.html
This is the full version of the DARPA 2003 Strategic Plan.
- From http://www.construx.com/survivalguide/
Some of the resources that go along with the book, Steve McConnell's Software
Project Survival Guide, Microsoft Press, 1998, ISBN:
1-57231-621-7. The project plan templates and guides are under
the CxOne Templates and then take the Project Management link. The plan template closely follows the IEEE
Software Engineering Standard for Software Project Management Plans.
|Introduction to Decision Making
- Decision making involves the ability to collect, organize, and
synthesize information into a useful form for identifying and
evaluating alternate options. It takes knowledge and puts it
into action; i.e., it applies and uses knowledge. Another element of decision making is risk taking. For
example, a decision without some risk is usually easy to make. A
decision with risk requires the use of your judgment and good judgment
is learned through practice and experience; i.e., oddly enough,
probably in making bad decisions and learning from them. You can
certainly discuss decisions with your team, other managers, and
mentors to help lower risk, but you must make the decision and help it
to be a successful decision.
- As a manager, you can defer decision making, refuse to make a
decision, make a decision quickly, and reverse a decision. Your
motive should be to do everything to help your team to get the job
done effectively and efficiently.
- Many times, a decision will have to be made among vague and
conflicting alternatives; i.e., complete information may not be
available or may take too long to obtain.
- Decisions may be programmed or nonprogrammed.
- Programmed decisions recur and are predictable.
Well-defined procedures are used to make these decisions, such as
production scheduling, assigning shifts, following standard
operating procedures, and inventory maintenance. Computers
are very helpful with these types of decisions.
- Nonprogrammed decisions are addressed as they develop, are
usually ill-defined and complex, and have a large number of
variables that may be less predictable or measurable. For
example, nonprogrammed decisions may involve moving a laboratory
or theoretical result into a production system, determining which
of two new commercial packages would work better in operational
use, and helping a dysfunctional team work.
- Decisions have five characteristics.
- Futurity - how long will the decision commit the
organization? If the commitment is quite long, then the
decision should be moved up to higher levels.
- Reversibility - how fast can a decision be reversed and its
consequences resolved? If the decision would be hard to
reverse, it should be moved up to higher levels.
- Impact - are other areas or activities affected by the
decision? If the decision would have wide impact, it should
be deferred to a higher level.
- Quality - are social, human, ethical, and other values involved
in the decision? If many qualitative factors are involved,
move the decision to a higher level.
- Periodicity - how often is the decision made? Rare
decisions should be made at higher levels.
- Decisions should be made at a high enough level where full
consideration of all activities and objects affected by the decision
can be given, but as close to the scene of action as possible.
It may be helpful to look at the points where the decision can be made
and where it should be made. If a large gap exists between the
points or an excessive number of people are involved, then possibly
personalities and their preferences are playing a major role.
- From Karl R. Van Tassel, "Managing Research and
Development," Research Management 8 (3), 1965, p. 148.
- Research work to be done is best decided by the person doing
the research. Next best is the person's boss.
Beyond that are probably worse groups or individuals, such as
the research director, committees, and company
- Watch out for traps that can derail a good decision making process.
- Bias in the information gathered, such as using only one
person's point of view.
- Selecting only favorable results.
- Using averages when more than 50% of the instances deviate 25%
or more from the averages or 25% of the instances deviate 50% or
- Using only one interpretation of the information.
- Jumping to conclusions.
- Reading more into remarks than is there, such as "if it
does not work as expected, we will make changes" could be
construed as a change in personnel instead of a change in approach
which is the true meaning.
- Creating similarities or differences where none exist -
perceived rather than real.
- Not communicating.
- Sweeping failures under the rug instead of letting the past be
used to empower the present and future; i.e., remember what went
wrong and work to keep it from happening again.
- Relying on the memories of people.
- Treating external departments like foreign powers.
- Allowing a few individuals who have a need to be indispensable
to hoard information that should be generally available.
- Decision making may be accomplished with the following steps when
there is time and the decision requires analysis before it is made.
- Objective definition
- What is the objective in making the decision; i.e., what is
trying to be achieved? What results are desired from
making this decision? As mentioned before, objectives should be operational, practical, attainable, and
challenging. Statements of objectives should include constraints which
may refer to how the objective will be attained, how resources
are used, and how conflicts with organizational goals are
avoided. Objectives should be ranked according to their importance,
such as "critical", "desirable", or "would
- Problem diagnosis
- Problem diagnosis is the most critical and difficult step as
the right problem must be found and identified. For example, doctors must diagnose patients well and
prescribe appropriate medication or they could make their
patients worse. During problem diagnosis, it is common to confuse symptoms and
problems. This may lead to poor decisions which are
often correct solutions to the wrong problem. Steps in Problem Diagnosis
- Find out if there is a problem
- Compare the results you have with the results you
wanted to achieve. If they are the same or
better, a problem does not exist. If you have
inferior results, then a problem exists.
- Investigate what is wrong
- Find the reasons behind deviations from objectives.
- Approach the problem analytically and realistically
finding the distance between wanted and actual
results, major deficiency factors, barriers to
success, and satisfactory solution requirements.
- Identify the constraints to the solution, such as
cost, personnel, and information.
- Focus on causal problems rather than deviations from
defined standards, such as employee turnover rate
which may be due to the personnel department's inadequate
recruitment practice and not anything
attributed to the manager.
- Use symptoms to find the problem, such as asking why
the symptom exists - noticing the symptom of conflict
between two departments and then determining why the
- Determine the barriers to problem identification,
such as some managers thinking the cure is worse than
the disease, postponing decisions, rationalizing
decisions, or hating to make unpopular
- Obtain available information
- Gather facts and information continually to identify
- Focus on the real problem and its possible causes
- Identification of alternative courses of action
- Make a thorough and comprehensive effort to identify all
logical alternatives to the problem. Encourage group
participation and brainstorming. Be flexible enough to deviate from the traditional way of
doing things if it is promising to do so, to include taking no
action on the problem, to use your intuition and advice from
others who have handled similar problems, and to avoid
barriers in finding alternatives, such as wanting to control
the solution personally or wanting to focus on short-term
rather than long-term effects.
- Evaluation of each course of action
- Determine a set of attributes, such as cost, resource
utilization, risk, and schedule slippage, by which you will
judge the alternatives. The attributes may be taken from
the objectives defined earlier.
- Weight the importance of each attribute, such as 1 (high
importance) - 2 (important) - 3 (low importance).
- Use a rating scale, such as 0 (none) - 1 (very low) - 2
(low) - 3 (neutral) - 4 (high) - 5 (very high), to rank each
attribute for each alternative.
- Multiply the weights by the attribute rankings and add them
together, such as in the following evaluation matrix
- Choose the lowest summing alternative or choose from the n
lowest summing alternatives to solve the problem, such as
Alternative 3 above.
- This process may be modified to allow several people to
participate in a nonconfrontational way.
- Each person is allowed to suggest attributes and
rank all attributes suggested.
- The n highest ranking attributes are chosen.
- Each person may put a weight
on each attribute and then all of the weights for an attribute
may be averaged to get the final weight.
- Each person may rank the attributes for each alternative and all of the
- The weighted sum is taken and the lowest summing
alternative is chosen.
- Choice making and decision implementation
- In all likelihood, there will not be one or more perfect
alternatives from which to choose because of the dynamic
nature of the organization's environment, incomplete
information, having to reduce the complexity of the problem to
a level at which a human being can handle the possible
alternatives, lack of time, and risk
- How a decision is implemented will have a bearing upon its
success. A plan of action should be created to announce
the decision, to gather the resources to implement the
decision, and to assign responsibility to the individuals who
carry out the implementation. Keep in mind that people are more apt to participate in
decision implementation if they have been given the
opportunity to participate in the decision making.
- Follow-up and decision evaluation
- In order to determine how accurate the decision was, you
should examine the results over time and compare them to the
desired results of the objectives, make sure the steps to
implement the decision have been carried out, and determine
how well the decision was accepted by those involved.
Creativity in Problem Solving
- Preventive rules for helping you keep from getting stuck on an
incorrect line of attack.
- Review the elements of the problem until a pattern emerges that
encompasses all of the elements.
- Do not use judgment or jump to conclusions.
- Explore the environment by varying the temporal and spatial
arrangement of the materials. For example, create tables of
the symptoms and problem elements to be able to view them from
- Remedial precepts help you free yourself if you get stuck.
- Produce more than one solution.
- Constructively evaluate yours and others' ideas.
- Change your representational system, such as moving from
thoughts to graphs, tables, and written sentences.
- Take a break and come back later.
- Solicit help from others.
- Planning is an activity that helps organizations and projects
proceed with current and future work in an organized and systematic
- Planning is a continuous process where plans are refined and
adjusted over time as more complete information becomes available.
- Decision making is a critical activity that helps to mitigate risk
with difficult problems, such as significant deviations from planned
- Deviations from objectives must be investigated thoroughly to
find the root problem rather than deal with symptoms.
- Solutions to the problem may be found through the use of an
evaluation matrix allowing affected parties to participate in the
decision making process.
- Creativity in decision making can be enhanced by looking at the
problem elements from other perspectives, such as using charts and
- What is the purpose of planning?
- What are the types of plans and where are they used?
- How is planning accomplished?
- What are the types of problems to which the process of decision
making is applied?
- What are the characteristics of decisions?
- What problems occur in the decision making process?
- What is problem diagnosis?
- How can parties affected in the decision making process
participate in a nonconfrontational way?
- Is it necessary to follow up on decisions?
- How can you get "unstuck" when attempting to solve a
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Last edited: 03/31/04 02:37:55 PM