Planning is the process of determining in advance what should be accomplished and how to do it. In other words, it is an analytical process of establishing goals, objectives and targets, assessing the future, premising, generating and evaluating alternatives, selecting programs, projects or courses, estimating resources, preparing the plan document with derivative plans and implementing the plan. Four important characteristics of planning are
- The purpose of every plan and all derivative plans is to facilitate the accomplishment of enterprise purposes and objectives;
- Planning is the "first" function and logically precedes the execution of all other managerial functions;
- Managers at all levels are involved in planning
- The efficiency of a plan is measured by the amount it contributes to the purpose and objectives as offset by the costs of other unsought consequences required to formulate and operate.
In other words, planning is characterised by its primacy, efficient contribution to purpose and objectives and all pervasiveness. Some types of plan usually developed and operated include objectives(or goals), strategies (or grand plans), policies, procedures, rules, programs and budgets. The process of developing a plan consists of a few logical and basic steps. Being aware of opportunities and a sort of SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis is the first step followed by establishing specific and clear objectives. The third logical step in planning is premising, i.e., taking note of planning assumptions. Establishing complete premises and keeping them up-to-date is a difficult and complex task. The success of a plan depends on the degree of accuracy in premising. The fourth step is to search for and examine alternative courses of action. The step is immediately followed by a systematic evaluation of alternative courses with the purpose of selecting the best course of action in the next step. The seventh step is formulating smaller derivative plans. The final step is to numberise the plan along with derivative plans by converting them into budgetary figures.
Many scientific techniques and models are available to determine the goals and objectives, assess future trends, formulate policies, choose among different alternatives (decision making), preparation and production of plans, etc. There are rational approaches and principles to follow in the planning process. A few of them, in addition to those mentioned above, are listed below.
- Planning should start with where we are (premising) rather than with where we want to be;
- Individuals involved in the planning process should agree to use consistent planning premises;
- Flexibility must be built into the plans;
- The plans must be closely integrated;
- The plans should be documented and distributed to all members of the management team;
- Planning has value only if it is transformed into action; and
- Plans should be reviewed periodically throughout the year.
Inputs to a plan have to come from every unit of the organisation to ensure the involvement and participation of the staff working at the operation supervisory level, besides the top management which is more directly connected with the planning process and responsible for it. A plan document provides a directive course of executive action incorporating every aspect of the development of the organisation. Policies are framed to help the implementation process. Every plan has to fit into a time frame annual, five year, long range or perspective - and also has to be flexible to accommodate any unanticipated change at any point of time.
The significance and advantages of planning are:
- it offsets uncertainty and change;
- provides a framework for execution and direction; focuses attention on objectives;
- improves services, leads to operations and facilitates control;
- ensures rational and effective development;
- permits the anticipation and future resources needs; and
- brings the skills and experience of staff members to the planning process.