Planning is about looking into the future, and deciding on how to respond to the future. It is about making decisions to control the future in an coordinated way. Some definitions are:
1. Using a goal-directed decision-making process.
2. Projecting the future and the means for attaining it in some systematic way.
3. The formalization of factors involved in determining the goals and the establishment of the decision processes to achieve these goals.
4. The process of making, changing, or coordinating plans which are sequences of future actions to which a person, unit or organization is committed.
5. The process of developing a complex dynamic system designed in the form of a controlling event-structure whose function is to effect in its environment (which is another complex dynamic system), producing the kind of organized change which current values define as progress.
6. Planning is a formalized procedure to produce and articulate results, in the form of an integrated system of decisions.
Planning started off as merely a budget exercise in the 1950s and became wildly popular in the corporate world before being spreading into the nonprofit sector from the 1980s onwards.
There are two main levels of planning. Strategic planning aims at the overall positioning of the organization, with all its present and future areas of activity and operations. Project planning is more limited in scope and relates to a particular project or activity. However both involve the same generic sequence of steps which form the basic planning process: (1) Scheduling the planning process: who participates, how, and when; (2) Identifying problems affecting groups of beneficiaries, analysing the causes and consequences of these problems; (3) Considering the external environment (opportunities and constraints) and factors internal to the organization (strengths and weaknesses); (4) Filtering possible strategies to make sure they are compatible with the organization's mission and values; (5) Setting objectives, which can range from general (ideally often long-term goals) to specific (results which are directly achievable by the organization, often short term); (6) Identifying the activities which will allow to fulfil these objectives; (7) Designing indicators, which measure performance (to what extent actual results have reached expected results), or impact (to what extent medium or long term change is a result of the programme, or due to other factors); (8) Setting up a framework for monitoring and evaluating.
Planning requires the systematic enrichment of the information base for decision-making (pointing out consequences for the future of alternative courses of action taken in the present, and consequences for present action of alternative goals in the future).
The most widely used tool to plan a project, at least in the development community, is the logical framework analysis, or log frame.
A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.
Most planning is directed at developing plans and not action and therefore is useless in accomplishing the future.