Planning has held a foundational role in management for years. Back in the early twentieth century, Henri Fayol outlined the key functions of managers as planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling.
Throughout the century, the capacity and willingness of managers to plan evolved significantly. The late 1950s saw the rise of Management by Objectives MBO as a prominent trend. At that time, the future seemed predictable and manageable, leading executives to focus on identifying objectives and managing accordingly.
The transition from MBO to strategic planning marked another phase. Corporations established specialized units for strategic planning, often disconnected from day-to-day operations, and emphasizing formal procedures and numerical analyses. Mintzberg defined strategic planning as the formalized system to codify, elaborate, and operationalize existing strategies within companies. The core belief remained: the future was predictable.
However, as the business landscape evolved with technological disruptions, global competition, and rapid changes, strategic planning fell out of favour. It seemed futile and outdated in the face of such relentless shifts.
Yet, planning remains a vital aspect of every company, regardless of its size. Observing any organisation, the very fact that teams work in designated spaces on specific projects at defined times necessitates planning. Plans are a constant requirement for resource allocation, ranging from short-term to long-term objectives.
While planning’s significance is universal, it faces scepticism due to its association with rigidity, slowness, and bureaucracy. This perception is rooted in Henri Fayol’s legacy. A 2016 survey revealed that executives found planning frustrating due to its perceived slowness and the frequent changes in plans. Why engage in a cumbersome planning process if plans won’t be followed?
This tension between planning and organizational agility presents a challenge. Businesses now restructure around self-managing teams for enhanced agility, using methods like Scrum and LeSS. These teams autonomously decide their priorities and resource allocation.
The clash between traditional long-term centralized planning and team-based autonomy necessitates a middle ground. Creating an effective synergy between planning and agility becomes crucial. Rethinking strategic planning becomes a pressing need, leading to the emergence of agile planning.
Agile planning embodies specific characteristics:
- Flexibility to adapt to an unpredictable future.
- Capability to handle frequent and dynamic changes – dedicated time for strategic conversations, moving beyond mere numerical exercises
- Flexible resource allocation for emerging opportunities
Integrating planning with organisational agility yields two vital requirements:
- A process for coordinating and aligning with agile teams – agile organisations need to manage local autonomy within a broader context.
- Balancing limitless data with human judgment.
Traditionally, planners focused on hard data, while soft data, including intuition and qualitative insights, were overlooked. In the age of Big Data, generating data is limitless, but it doesn’t necessarily enhance future planning.
Agile organizations employ design thinking and exploration techniques, leveraging both qualitative and quantitative data. This collaborative approach ensures better decision-making.
As businesses continue their transformation into agile organisations, agile planning is poised to replace traditional centralized planning. A harmonious blend of hard and soft data, coupled with human judgment, becomes the cornerstone of effective agile planning. By recognising these dynamics, businesses can navigate the challenges of the twenty-first century with agility and foresight.
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