Plans, Decisions and Measures

In their day-to-day work, managers must ensure that the right things are done in the right way. This involves evaluating situations, making decisions, setting priorities and planning; and then monitoring the outcomes of these decisions and activities. In this topic we look at some of the key skills that are required to complete these activities successfully. It deals with the planning process (from planning small tasks to major projects); the decision process and the kinds of measurements and objective data that a manager should have available to make decisions and develop and implement plans.

Things get done in organisations in one of two ways. Routine tasks are done through standard processes and/or procedures. Requirements that are one-off or occasional are generally done through planning. Even simple activities require a plan.

Plan -> Implementation -> Measurement -> Decision -> Plan ...

Plans can be classified according to their scope and their purpose. Plans are often divided into strategic, tactical and operational plans. Project plans address goals which are largely self-contained and have a specific timescale, such as developing a new product, or moving to a new location. Contingency plans are intended to deal with a particular set of circumstances which may or may not arise, for example, to deal with a fire at the organisation's premises or the possible introduction of new restrictive legislation. Most plans are implemented as projects; plans without a specific timescale, or without a clearly defined, are usually ill-conceived. Even contingency plans become projects when the circumstances they are designed for arise.

The development and implementation of a plan depends on several factors, including the; importance of the goals to the organisation, uncertainty of the outcome and the processes involved, urgency for the completion of the program and the size and complexity of the activities involved in the plan. The first is that a plan needs to have a relevant, practical and well-defined goal. There should also be an assessment of its feasibility, preferably by someone with extensive experience. Most plans have to be flexible. Problems are multiplied with larger plans. Plans must be continually monitored and managers must be prepared for changes to the plan.

The process of planning consists of the following steps: define the goal, analyse the present situation, set objectives, determine requirements, assess and allocate resources, develop action plans, implement activities, monitor and review the progress.

Robbins et al. (2006: 247) lists the characteristics of well-designed goals: written in terms of outcomes rather than actions, measurable and quantifiable, clear as to time frame, challenging, yet attainable, written down, communicated to all necessary organisational members.

Planning can be a complex process, and a manager needs to use tools which bring order and logic to the multitude of issues, requirements, tasks and relationships. There are several tools or techniques which are commonly used to plan and schedule large projects. Two of the most popular are: PERT—Program Evaluation and Review Technique and CPM - Critical Path Method [these are never explained].

It is often a more effective policy to get a group or team to make a decision, rather than make a decision and then try to get their agreement. The group may not make the best decision, but people who have been involved in making the decision are more committed to the decision and will make special effort to make it work. So a poor decision with commitment is often more successful than a good decision without commitment. [This is the path to madness; so they are very effective and implementing the wrong action?]

The role of the manager is to ensure that desired results are achieved. This implies that the manager controls the various processes and activities which occur in the organisation. The best form of objective information is usually quantitative information—numbers which tell us how large, how accurate, how many. Qualitative information is also important; the manager has to make a subjective judgment on matters of motivation etc.

Most organisations have a set of performance measures that they collect and use to monitor how the organisation is operating. In theory, these measures are developed on a top-down basis—there is an analysis done of the factors which affect profit and these factors are measured In practice, it is difficult to assign specific causes in this way and measures are generally developed at various levels of the organisation independently.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are the measures that define the overall level of performance of an organisation. When an organisation establishes its strategic plan, it generally defines its goals in terms of targets for the key performance indicators. Progress in implementing the strategic plan is then defined in terms of how close the KPIs are to the targets set.