The success of good planning is limited by you or your organization’s span of control. The most valuable strategic planning takes place within the organization or among organizations that agree to work together, not on the competitive frontiers. The power of planning is in organization, operations, production not in dealing with competition. Planning is based on linear thinking. Its success is typified by the building of the railroads, the assembly line, and landing on the moon. Starting with the industrial revolution, linear planning was the revolutionary idea creating today’s world. However, the success of planning has also exposed its limits.
While the science of strategy’s perspective is extremely useful in planning, planning is only possible where people are working together. The coordination of planning is necessary within organizations. Planning allows organizations to duplicate their internal processes and perfect them. Planning allows different organizations to work together efficiently.
A Series of Pre-Defined Steps
Planning requires developing a series of steps to produce a well-defined result. You plan for what you can control. Planning requires people working together. A complete set of knowledge is required for planning. You must know what raw materials you need, how to transform them, and exact what the end product will be. This assumes control of resources, tools, and raw materials. In the science of strategy, we call this “established knowledge” in “a controlled environment.” Factories, offices, and supply chains are controlled because everyone agrees on the goals and responsibilities.
Planning is a linear process. Starting with a raw state and, step-by-step, transforming that raw condition into a finished product. Each step performs a specific role in that transformation. While some steps might have to be repeated, the process moves in only one direction, from raw to finished.
The Necessity of Planning
Planning in controlled environments is not only useful but necessary. In controlled environments, plans are shared to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. People working at one stage in the process know what to expect from earlier stages. Each stages input and output can be measured. The planned steps results in a predictable outcome. Control means that production meets prediction as planned.
Planning for controlled environments is so predictable that it would be nice to think that everything can be controlled. Unfortunately, even in a perfect world, as plans extend outside of the organization into areas of discovery, planning and linear thinking works less and less well.
The Limits of Planning
The problem starts with the complexity and chaotic nature of information in the outside environment. We cannot precisely know what forces are shaping external conditions, the action others may take to affect the situations, or even the precise effect of our actions.
We try to plan for environments that are outside of our control. We have marketing plans, sales plans, purchasing plans, and so on. We base our plans on past results and our future hopes, and, when we are working with large groups of people, past results have a certain momentum going into the future. However, if we are wise, we still plan for the worst as well as the best.
Most of all, however, we cannot plan the opportunities that are constantly created by change. This is the boundary beyond which an organization’s and each individual’s adaptive reflexes become more important.