Planning, as we all know is deciding in advance what to do and how to do. It is a process of decision making. How do we go about making a plan? Since planning is an activity there are certain logical steps for every manager to follow. These are:
- Setting Objectives: The first and foremost step is setting objectives. Every organisation must have certain objectives. Objectives may be set for the entire organisation and each department or unit within the organisation. Objectives or goals specify what the organisation wants to achieve. It could mean an increase in sales by 20% which could be objective of the entire organisation. How all departments would contribute to the organisational goals is the plan that is to be drawn up. Objectives should be stated clearly for all departments, units and employees. They give direction to all departments. Departments/ units then need to set their own objectives within the broad framework of the organisation’s philosophy. Objectives have to percolate down to each unit and employees at all levels. At the same time, managers must contribute ideas and participate in the objective setting process. They must also understand how their actions contribute to achieving objectives. If the end result is clear it becomes easier to work towards the goal.
- Developing Premises: Planning is concerned with the future which is uncertain and every planner is using conjucture about what might happen in future. Therefore, the manager is required to make certain assumptions about the future. These assumptions are called premises. Assumptions are the base material upon which plans are to be drawn. The base material may be in the form of forecasts, existing plans or any past information about policies. The premises or assumptions must be the same for all and there should be total agreement on them. All managers involved in planning should be familiar with and using the same assumptions. For example, forecasting is important in developing premises as it is a technique of gathering information. Forecasts can be made about the demand for a particular product, policy change, interest rates, prices of capital goods, tax rates etc. Accurate forecasts, therefore become essential for successful plans.
- Identifying alternative courses of action: Once objectives are set, assumptions are made. Then the next step would be to act upon them. There may be many ways to act and achieve objectives. All the alternative courses of action should be identified. The course of action which may be taken could be either routine or innovative. An innovative course may be adopted by involving more people and sharing their ideas. If the project is important, then more alternatives should be generated and thoroughly discussed amongst the members of the organisation.
- Evaluating alternative courses: The next step is to weigh the pros and cons of each alternative. Each course will have many variables which have to be weighed against each other. The positive and negative aspects of each proposal need to be evaluated in the light of the objective to be achieved. In financial plans, for example, the risk-return trade-off is very common. The more risky the investment, the higher the returns it is likely to give. To evaluate such proposals detailed calculations of earnings, earnings per share, interest, taxes, dividends are made and decisions taken. Accurate forecasts in conditions of certainty/uncertainty then become vital assumptions for these proposals. Alternatives are evaluated in the light of their feasibility and consequences.
- Selecting an alternative: This is the real point of decision making. The best plan has to be adopted and implemented. The ideal plan, of course, would be the most feasible, profitable and with least negative consequences. Most plans may not always be subjected to a mathematical analysis. In such cases, subjectivity and the manager’s experience, judgment and at times, intuition play an important part in selecting the most viable alternative. Sometimes, a combination of plans may be selected instead of one best course. The manager will have to apply permutations and combinations and select the best possible course of action.
- Implement the plan: This is the step where other managerial functions also come into the picture. The step is concerned with putting the plan into action i.e., doing what is required. For example, if there is a plan to increase production then more labour, more machinery will be required. This step would also involve organising for labour and purchase of machinery.
- Follow-up action: To see whether plans are being implemented and activities are performed according to schedule is also part of the planning process. Monitoring the plans is equally important to ensure that objectives are achieved.