Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Operations: Planning isn't everything

Planning is not everything, preparation is and it’s an important distinction to make. There is no point planning anything if we then don’t do any or enough preparation to ensure those plans are viable and ultimately realised.

During my working life I have learnt all manner of preparation styles and techniques, partly through training (e.g. teaching and trainer courses) but mostly by observing and taking note of how those above me have worked. There are so many approaches to take it can be confusing.

The first step comes from the idea. This might be a target set or a brainstorming of some kind to find new ideas e.g. for marketing or to resolve a problem. In either case I've found it useful to note as many ideas as possible. Methods used to note ideas include scribbling thoughts down on paper, making lists which can be adapted for group brainstorming in meetings with whiteboards or flip charts.

In groups what tends to happen then is a discussion and a vote on one of two things to explore further. All you need to do then is put them in order and get on with it or so you might think. In some situations that may well be the best option, but for some of the most imaginative ideas I advocate trying a couple of other methods.

Several years ago, back in the days when colour television was still regarded as a luxury item (yes, I'm that old), a chap appeared on BBC2 called Tony Buzan. He ran a series called 'Use Your Head' and a book of the same name was published from that series. Since then Tony Buzan has gone from strengthen to strengthen from just one of the things he highlighted as useful - Mind Maps.

These days there are even computer programmes to enable you to do a Mind Map on your laptop, PC or iPad. Not wanting to do the guy out of business, but the idea is simple. A Mind Map is just another way of noting ideas with doodles, diagrams and pictures attached. If you've not tried doing a Mind Map look them up, and have a go. I'm conscious that younger readers may not have heard of them or of Tony Buzan.

Additionally, in 'Use Your Head' Tony Buzan touched on how to increase your capacity to remember things and how to improve your reading speed. All very handy tools for the busy business person.

I could stop there as for many years that was all I used until I came across another book by a different author. Edward de Bono's 'Six Thinking Hats'.
Suddenly the world of possibilities expanded as in this book you learn that the human brain functions on several levels at the same time and he then goes on to apply that to the world of business.

I won't spoil the book, which is easy to read, but briefly he points out that we don't always think creatively or logically enough in brainstorming sessions. He points out that in those sessions we can also be having an emotional response, a fearful response and a factual response to the ideas proposed and that noticing that can be used to our advantage. These are all valuable attributes and factors that need consideration before plans can start to be formed.

You might think that it would make meetings even longer, but his method of using different acts to access different reactions can result in them being halved in time. Interestingly the Six Thinking Hats thinking is now widely used in America, but less so here in the UK. Are we missing out because of that? Could we be more successful in the UK if we adopted this technique? Who knows, suffice to say it's another tool we could all be using when we need to.

Here's the link to the deBono Group if you want to know more.

Regardless of whether you are planning in a team or on your own, you need information in the form of data; you need to acknowledge why you like or dislike every idea that's noted; you need to be aware of pitfalls etc and that's before you get to deciding what ultimately becomes the logical path to follow indeed it can help define what the most logical path should be.  

From there it becomes a questioning of logical prioritising, but if you want to know more about that... well you can always hire me!

I don't often recommend books, but these two have served me well over many, many years. I hope you find them useful too.

PS: I am hoping to secure a permission for a picture of the cover of 'Six Thinking Hats' and will update this posting to include it once that's given. I don't believe in trading illegally, infringing copyright law or not giving credit where it's due. What others do I am not responsible for.

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