PLANNING

 

1.0 Introduction

 

Once targets have been set it is then possible to plan how to reach them.

 

Setting the subsidiary targets is part of planning.  In project management these are called “milestones".

 

However milestones are no good unless one works out the activities to reach them, puts them in logical order, and produces a timetable.  Again scheduling activities to achieve milestones is part of management.

 

Planning can be regarded as being at three levels:-

 

      *  Long term planning

 

      *  Short term planning

 

      *  Method study

 

1.1  Long term planning is that involving a time span of years.  It involves strategic thinking and decision making.  For some projects detailed scheduling also takes place. 

 

Unfortunately some long term plans remain dreams because the time span is so far ahead that no-one makes any action plans for converting strategy into reality. 

 

1.2 Short term planning is mainly concerned with reaching a target that is a few months or weeks away.  In this case determining the necessary action items and timetable become very important. 

 

1.3 Method study is a detailed form of planning which is involved in devising the best sort of work method to carry out a particular job. An example is where a procedure is developed by an organization (e.g. for recruitment).

 

2.0 Stages of Planning

 

      This is best shown by an illustration of a project for example "arranging a holiday", or “arranging the 2010 multinational school international day”

 

      Stage 1  Target setting - Broad aims - what do you want

                        eg. relaxation, educate yourself, get fit, escape etc.

 

                      Specific targets - when, where, who with etc.

 

      Stage 2  Identifying constraints - i.e. time, money, physical, fears, emotional.

 

                     Identifying help - e.g. friends, guides, etc.

 

      Stage 3  Identifying activities - e.g. getting documentation, tickets, money, guides, determine itinerary, buying clothes etc.

 

                     Putting the activities into logical order.

     

      Stage 4 Estimating  time  and cost necessary to finish each activity and determine its   place in the sequence of tasks. 

 

 

      Stage 5     Test the project's feasibility.

 

      This comes about by standing back and looking at the list of activities, timetable and  resources to see:

 

      *  If anything has been missed out

      *  If the project is possible

      *  If contingency planning is needed to allow for something going wrong

 

      Stage 6  Contingency Planning

 

      This form of planning is undertaken when the risks involved in the project have been considered, for one must weigh up the odds of something going wrong.  How much contingency planning one should do depends on the level of estimated risk and the cost involved if the activities do not go according to plan.  

 

      Being prepared to live with adverse consequences is a form of contingency planning if it  is deliberate policy. 

 

3.0 Timetabling

 

      A schedule can be a simple list of activities with times next to them.  These activities  must have a logical order.  More sophisticated timetables are:

 

      *  Bar or Gantt charts

      *  Critical Path Planning or PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique)

 

3.1 Gantt Charts

 

      These are in the form of a graph, the X axis shows time the Y axis shows activities. 

 

                              

 

It is very useful for getting activities in order and showing beginning and end dates of a particular activity.  It can also show if there are any spare days anywhere that can be used if any activity takes longer than predicted, or which allows less resources to be put on an activity if there is plenty of time to do it.

 

 

 

3.2 Critical Path Planning or PERT

 

For many purposes the Gantt chart is a simple and effective planning tool.  However if one has a complex plan where many activities are interlinked and rely on each other, a Critical Path Plan becomes more useful. 

 

Big projects use experts and computers to draw them up.  However, one can still use them quite easily in general managerial and management situations, without worrying too much about the detailed technicalities, for the important thing from a manager's point of view is to be able to think linearly and to construct a basic critical path in your head.  Also, it is useful to have ability to interpret a Critical Path Plan. 

 

A Critical Path Plan is a flow or network diagram consisting of events (shown as circles) and activities (shown as arrows).  An event is a point in time, while an activity is the "work" or "delay" leading up to an event. 

 

Events are numbered on the diagram, the arrows show the activities, with the arrow heads pointing to the completion of the activity.  The length of the arrows is not important.  The event at the beginning of the activity is known as the "tail" event, while the one at the end is known as the "head". 

 

An event is not complete until all activities leading to the event are complete.

 

When drawing up a network one should work from the end event backwards, to ensure the activities are in order.  The simple diagram on the next page, shows the concept, by showing the network for planning a picnic trip; an explanation follows.

 


                                                      CRITICAL PATH NETWORK EXAMPLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.3 A Critical Path Network Example - Planning a Picnic Trip

 

      The target:

 

Picnic site A, time of arrival 11 p.m. Thursday next.  Who goes - the family.  What with - food and drinks for the picnic, rug to sit on.

 

The diagram shows how this form of planning chart works.  It allows you to see what is the logical order of activities.  To see what can go on at the same time and to see if anything has been missed out (e.g. do you need to get any cash out?).  The critical path is the longest duration of activities, in this case it is: preparing the food, checking, loading, driving to the service station/supermarket, shopping, driving to the site.  Because this is the longest route you know you have some spare time for collecting the equipment, filling the car with petrol and washing it.  This enables the person filling the car with petrol not to get frustrated if they have to wait five minutes longer for petrol (there is 15 minutes spare time; because filling with petrol and car wash only takes 15 minutes compared to half an hour for shopping.  However, if there is also a long queue at the car wash, spare time ("float") might well be lost. In this case the critical path would change. 

 

This type of network has advantages in planning work.  For instance it can be seen that some activities can take place in parallel if the resources to do them are available.  In our example it would make sense to arrange for someone to shop while others were responsible for the car, obviously, if there was only one person these activities would have to be done at separate times.  Therefore in a work situation one can cost out whether or not it is an advantage to have more people doing parallel activities or to have less people and take more time.

 

This sort of chart is also very useful in involving the team in the work planning, for they can see the inter-relationships.  For instance, the shoppers can realise that they are on the critical path and any delay will be serious as far as completing the project on time is concerned.  Equally, any time saving will be beneficial.  Further uses, on large projects, are for managers of individual tasks to decide whether or not to pay overtime, buy new machinery etc., for if there is "float" within that activity, it might not be worthwhile.

 

Viewing the network in a group might lead to ideas for improvement, in this example: in the driving time, preparing the food, or the shopping.

 

Both the Gantt Chart and the Critical Path Network can be seen to be useful.  However it is vital for both, that the estimates for the time the activity should take are as accurate as possible. 

 

If you manage a contract you can use these to control the contractor.  However, remember that you may have to negotiate with the contractor an agreement as to what the critical path plan is, or a contractor might try to extend the duration of the activities. 

 

4.0 Method Study

 

This involves looking at an activity and deciding if it can be done more efficiently.  This involves asking some basic questions:

 

      *  Why do it at all?

 

      *  Why at this time?  Would another time be better?

 

      *  Why here? Would another place be better?

 

      *  By whom? Would another person be better?

 

      *  In what order? Would a different order be better?

 

      *  Why this standard?

 

These are just some of the questions.  One should always be trying to search for efficiency both by trying to eliminate; waste of time, materials and excess people resources, without the loss of the right quality.  However, ensuring the right quality could involve reducing standards, if they are too high eg. water pressure of a plumbing system could be too high.  Like an air conditioning system what is required is an optimal level of performance.

 

 In other words producing exactly to specification not more or less.   Naturally this implies that all those concerned with deciding the specification are in agreement.  There may also be room for the “delight factor”, but be careful.

 

Also, one should be trying to think creatively to come up with better methods, ideas or designs e.g. the person who first thought of multiplication produced a better method. 

 

Another form of planning closely related to method study, is Operational Research which is used for obtaining the mathematical optimal use of resources and time in systems like distribution networks or production flows. 

 

Recent developments in Quality Assurance, has led to the concept of "getting it right first time" where the emphasis in any production or process situation is to build in quality, by developing correct systems of operation. In other words by ensuring that all the inputs into a production system are correct, rather than relying on inspection of the final product.

 

This has led to the term "Process Management," becoming popular. The emphasis is concentrating on the process needed to produce an end product or service, and organising round that rather than being tied by departmental structures.

 

In many ways it is similar to Project  Management.  In Project Management somebody is in charge of guiding the project to a successful conclusion. In Process Management somebody, ( the "Process Owner" ) is in charge of ensuring that the optimal process is followed.

 

Connected with this, is the idea of the "Quality Chain" where all parts of an organisation are either a supplier or customer of the other.

 

This has led to the recognition of the "Internal Customer" and that Quality is about satisfying all customers. It also means that has well as developing a good  process, one must also develop the "right attitude" within the work force, for they must become dedicated towards improvement.

 

In general "improvement" is achieved in two main ways:

 

        1. Major Shifts in thinking, "Paradigm Shifts" e.g. Quartz Watches

 

        2. Continuous improvement, by numerous small improvements, or "Kaizan"

 

Another closely connected term being used is "Performance Management". Some might regard this has just another term for Performance Appraisal. However this is only one part of it, for it involves all aspects of  the management process found in this booklet including reward systems, target setting and Process Management.