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 organization.
    • 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 functional areas.
    • 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 objectives.
    • Specify the tasks needed to be performed to achieve the objectives.
    • 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.
Plan Examples
  • From (February 2004).  This academic plan contains the education and organization plans of the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri. 
  • From (February 2004).  This is the full version of the DARPA 2003 Strategic Plan.
  • From (February 2004).  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 vice-presidents.
  • 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 more.
    • 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.
Making Decisions
  • 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 be nice".
    • 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 include
        • 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 conflict exists.
          • 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 decisions. 
        • Obtain available information
          • Gather facts and information continually to identify the problem.
        • 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
        •   Cost
          Resource Utilization
          Schedule Slippage
          Weighted Sum
          Alternative 1 5 4 1 3 29
          Alternative 2 2 3 4 2 21
          Alternative 3 1 1 5 4 18
      • 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 rankings averaged.
        • 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.
Helping 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 another perspective.
  • 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.
Summarizing Thoughts
  • Planning is an activity that helps organizations and projects proceed with current and future work in an organized and systematic way.
  • 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 objectives.
    • 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 graphs.
  • 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 problem?

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Last edited:  03/31/04 02:37:55 PM