Management system standards – such as ISO 9001 and others titled ISO xx001 – advise that the purposeful organisation should establish and maintain realistic objectives; and it should then plan its systems and operations to meet these objectives. The standards do not prescribe how to define this as a process. I find it helpful to picture the organisation as a thinking Pacman, munching its way through ‘objectives-nourishing’ opportunities – while it avoids swallowing any detracting risks.
The Pacman organisation operates at 3 simultaneous levels: 1) chewing, while 2) preparing to best reach and chew the next visible object, while also 3) looking ahead, forecasting a path that has new chewing opportunities for its future needs. The 3 levels can be identified as procedural, tactical and strategic. All 3 levels require objectives and planning that optimises the available opportunities and manages the risks. They form part of a single core process.
The objectives and planning process
The strategy development and deployment process starts by asking the fundamental questions of: “What is it that we want”? “Who can realistically give it to us”? And, “how can we get them to give it to us; what of equivalent perceived value would they want from us in exchange“? The term “Who” here includes markets, customers, employees, managers, partners, facilities and systems. What we want–our strategic goal– must balance with what we can realistically get. Once we have determined the answers then the process is to define a set of objectives for making the exchange happen. These strategic objectives are subsequently cascaded down for implementation at a tactical level. Deploying the objectives involves identifying their ‘critical success factors’ (CSF), which are simply objective statements that would evidence that the objective is met. We then attach measures and targets – sometimes called ‘key performance indicators’ (KPI) – to the CSFs.
The KPIs (once implemented) are the final link in ‘operationalising’ the organisation’s strategy. The product of the process can be communicated to the operators within the organisation in a scorecard-type table. Remember, no individual function should ideally be delegated responsibility for more than 3 KPIs. Cascade down the KPIs if necessary.
Success of the process depends substantially on maintaining sound insight and foresight, which the management standards refer to as understanding the organisational context. Even with the best possible organisational context information, however, is typically incomplete and invariably based on a degree of assumptions about the causal links between initiatives and their effects. The forecasted effects from initiatives can therefore not be entirely validated in advance of implementing the plan and they will need continual monitoring and correcting. The strategic level needs to receive monitoring reports from both the tactical and procedural levels, to enable its continual validation, or re-thinking, of the original strategy assumptions.
The pendulum analogy in the above image tells that a single unit of effort at the strategic level can have significantly more impact on the organisations output performance than any similar single unit of work effort that is put in at the procedural level. Beware, this works in both directions. A single poor strategic decision will typically do exponentially more harm than a single fault at the procedural level. You will also need to be aware of the effects of stretch and cautious approaches to setting targets.
Back to the Pacman analogy
Earlier I suggested that the planning process operates at 3 levels, namely: strategic (S), tactical (T) and procedural (P). I am now suggesting that we should consider 3 further planning levels: vision (V), present system-level evolutions (SLE) and future system-level disruptors (SLD). The latter 3 will mostly identify future actions that do not yet need an absolutely firm plan–but they should be explored and recognised nonetheless, to ensure that the former 3 levels do not make any decisions that would be incompatible with emerging opportunities and risks. Our Pacman organisation needs to know that it is not heading in an unsustainable direction, into unchartered disruptive systems. A ‘disruptive system’ means an innovation that creates a new fashion, technology, product, alliance and/or market, which eventually sweeps away the existing system. We don’t want to be caught on the backfoot by one of these – or make a poorly informed choice in joining the wrong one.
At each the 6 levels, we must determine the risks, opportunities and an actions plan. To reliably enable this, we must maintain insight on the customers, suppliers, alliances, standards and regulations, the existent performance of our products and services, systems, people, infrastructure and any special issues. Until we are fluent in the process – and to evidence effective planning to management system audits – it makes sense to document all of these, such as in the template table below.
Looking at the Pacman model’s timeline, the decision data, evidence and certainty is obviously more readily available for first 3 active planning levels than for the future. Where there are mutually exclusive SLE and SLD options, then we will eventually reach a time point where we have to make an evidenced, calculated bet on one or the other. Being able to select a path early, due to strong planning, presents a competitive opportunity. However, it will also demand that we identify and mitigate/manage the risks that will unavoidably lay on the chosen path.