We’ve all heard the adage, “fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” But what does that really mean? Is failing to plan as simple as not planning at all? Or do we lump in not planning well? And is it true you always fail if you fail to plan? Or is that the case sometimes? We’ve got questions!
I got to thinking about this as I noticed an overall frustration donors have with cause organizations. Especially organizations with services in a crowded space, unthoughtful business models or hard to sustain visions. All blamed on a (perceived) lack of planning.
But what if I said it isn’t a lack of planning that causes these problems, per se. But failing to “plan the plan” that’s the real problem? And what if we could minimize the number of mistakes, legal exposure and upstart time of an organization by turning our focusing?
This, my friends, is the power of planning the plan. A power that can be applied to a number of different beginnings. From beginning a new organization to beginning a new service or program. Applying across the venture spectrum, whether yours is a charity or a for-purpose corporation.
Every day I get a call from someone “looking” into starting a nonprofit; in other words, they’re planning. So the planning actually does happen. The problem is, for most “planning” means robotic research with Grey’s Anatomy in the background. The “Let me Google and drop everything I find into a Google Drive” approach. How overwhelming and not useful is that?
What happens next is the true travesty; of “there are only yellow skittles left in the bag” proportions. All those thoughts, notes, and research just sit. They sit and it fester. There’s no sorting what matters from what’s nice to know. No thought on gaps. No thinking about what happens next. No decision-making. And most importantly, no intention to absorb what’s found into actionable plans. There was a plan, but no plan for the plan.
The Impact of “Poo” Planning
Not planning the plan leaves you feeling around in the dark. All that time spent bumping into tables increases how long it takes to hit a stride. Putting you at a disadvantage from a financial perspective, from a timing perspective, from a marketing perspective, and from an impact perspective. Causing lower efficiency and less traction than would have otherwise happened with more preparation. And leaving the infrastructure of what you’re trying to do weaker, in its legal bones, management, tax structure, operations, etc.
But Wait, There’s Hope
Most of my panicked calls are the result of incomplete planning. An organization wants to run a raffle but doesn’t look enough into what that requires. Or start a program that turns out to be high risk. Each with a “plan” to find out more, but no plan on implementing what it found. Or making sure it found everything; i.e. no plan for the plan.
Does a plan always make things magically better? No. Does it keep you out of more trouble than you’d otherwise be in? Absolutely. We’re also more likely to admit to our knowledge gaps when we plan. More likely to ask for help. And the time we take to plan helps us listen, absorb, focus and prioritize.
How Should I Plan ?
I start by planning where my plan will go. How will I record what I want to do, and keep up with what I’m doing to make sure I’m still on target. If you’re a computer person, there are plenty of apps.
But for me nothing beats a binder. The ability to have everything in front of me is what helps me most. And with this layout, I’m able to make connections I wouldn’t have been able to make if everything was on Mr. Computer.
Next, I plan out what I want to know. For this, I loves to start with a brain dump. You could be partial to a brain dump or a mind map. Either way, the focus is on no structure and no filtering. Just a free flow think about the things I want, and need, to understand. Sometimes I walk through what I’m trying to do step by step and brainstorm things as I go along.
Then comes the real work. I sit with this jumbo puzzle of stuff and organize it. When should I do what, based on my timeline? How much can I spend on each aspect? Where are the gaps? What am I going to do when all this is done? I plan the plan.
Other things to keep in mind:
Fluidity. A plan has to be fluid and capable of accommodating changes in direction.
Time. Trying to cram a plan into a project that’s supposed to be deployed and implemented in a day may leave you better off, but it won’t necessarily leave you well off. Leave enough time to come up with a solid plan.
It’s not enough to throw together a quick plan and dive in. If you’re a true productivity ninja, you develop a plan for the plan. Take a beat to sit down and think everything out. Where should your plan go? Who should see it? What’s the goal? And what happens next.
The extra step can be annoying, but by taking an extra beat to be thoughtful you save yourself time, shorten how long it takes to implement and save yourself the heartburn of missing something. And for you folks that need a push, a few resources are below.