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.
2. Planning can stimulate healthy self-evaluation. With its problem-solving logic, it helps to make sure that responses are not just standardized but effective tailor-made solutions to the given problems.
3. When the planning process is managed in a in a participative way, it provides a forum for creative brainstorming, a regular opportunity to take a step back from the rush of daily activities and reflect.
4. Planning brings coherence and focus to an organization, and keeps a realistic balance between ambitions with resources. It is a factor of stability.
5. Planning helps to achieve articulate programme reporting, which in turn contributes to transparency towards donors and helps fundraising.
1. Most planning is directed at developing plans and not action and therefore is useless in accomplishing the future.
2. Planning reduces freedom of the top management, and lower levels as well: it is no secret that by its formal design, planning reduces a good deal of management's power over strategy making, seeking to put some of that power into its own systems. With planners pulling it all together for the top management, everyone else gets reduced to a mere implementer. With planners in control, is there any space left for managerial intuition?< 3. Planning is inflexible: planning is usually carried out from the bottom upwards, by consolidating sub-plans made by each sub-unit. Once these accumulated and detailed plans reach the top, there is virtually no opportunity for injecting fresh insight about the future. Sweeping change becomes impossible, and small incremental steps are the only way to manoeuvre. This makes for dangerous sailing when the waters are full of icebergs and decisive action is needed.
4. Planning kills creativity: planning works through generic categories, strategies and responses which go against the very nature of creativity, which re-arranges established categories. Planning keeps the subjects of an organization in a tight focus on the established direction; this creates cohesion and stability but strangles innovation and creativity.
5. Planning is unreliable: as said above, planning is about forecasting the future. This means extrapolating known trends of the present. But is this reliable? Predictions might be accurate on the short term, but life is too complex to reach much beyond that. And what about the data we base these predictions on? Often the important facts are lost in a forest of trees: we are swamped by too much information.
6. Planning is biased: we are also victims of our own biases: we see what we want to see, therefore we plan what we want to plan. Do we have the strength to learn from our own weaknesses, or even acknowledge them?