#13 — Making a Plan (Part I)

This essay and the next are addressed to a team of activists. The information here, however, works equally well if you are on your own.

I’m assuming that you’ve identified a problem and created a project. You’ve formed a vision of the results you want. Now what?

Visions are about what you want. What’s still missing is how to get it. A vision that remains only a concept can do more harm than good, by raising expectations that will never be fulfilled. This essay and the next are about making a vision real by creating a plan for its fulfillment and putting that plan into action.

A good plan, effectively carried out, will keep your team organized and focused, help it make the most of its time and energy, and definitely improve its odds of getting the results it wants. A good plan will also give your team standards it can use to evaluate results—to see where it succeeded and where it didn’t, what it could have done better, and what it didn’t need to do at all. This kind of analysis will make your team that much better prepared for its next project.

I call the planning method described below visionary planning because everything in it is tied to the overall vision of success you’ve created for your project. That link allows the power of the team’s vision to inspire all its members, and the clarity of the team’s vision to guide them, every step of the way.

Steps for Visionary Planning. The steps described in this section are essentially the same no matter what the size of your project. They work whether you’re planning a PTA fund-raiser or saving an old-growth forest.

1. Review Your Problem, Project, and Vision, and the List of Details You’ve Created So Far.

If it all still seems right, continue. If not, fix the parts that seem “off.”

2. Expand and Deepen the Research You’ve Already Begun.

By now you should have a pretty good understanding of the challenge you’re taken on. Your team’s task from now on is to keep your research at least one step ahead of the decisions you have to make. Since the decisions tend to get more and more detailed as a project proceeds, so must the research.

3. Identify the Obstacles, Risks, and Resources That Impact Your Project.

Write down in a column on a flip chart every obstacle and risk for your project that you can think of. Now have your team brainstorm all the resources it can see—the people, things, attitudes, laws, influences, and so on—that can help it overcome the obstacles and risks. The time, talent, and enthusiasm you and your team members can spend on the project are key resources. Write these resources down in another column.

4. Brainstorm Possible Solutions.

Look at the column of obstacles and risks, and see how many of them you can lessen or eliminate with the resources you’ve identified. Draw these links on the flip-chart page as possible solutions. Continue searching for links between obstacles/risks and resources, and brainstorming possible solutions—don’t limit yourself to the resources you’ve already identified. Fill up the page with solutions. Fill up several pages. The purpose is not just to catalyze your thinking—it’s also to build your confidence and enthusiasm that the task you’ve taken on can be done and that its vision can be realized.

5. Create an Action Plan.

An action plan is what you use to keep you on course and on schedule as you work on your project. Here’s how to create an action plan:

a) Write the name of your project and your vision for its success at the top of a very large sheet of paper

b) Draw a horizontal timeline across the top of the paper, just under the vision.Put today’s date on the far left of that line. On the far right, write the date on which you expect your project to be completely and successfully finished.

c) Break down your project into goals. A complex project might have six or more goals. Taken together, the goals, when achieved, represent the completion of the entire project and the realization of your vision. The goals add up to the vision.

A good way to come up with the goals for your project is to look at~

• the details you’ve already described for your project

• the obstacles, risks, and resources you’ve identified

• the possible solutions you’ve brainstormed

If you know that your project will require money to cover expenses, for example, then one goal will be to determine how much money you need, and to raise it. If swaying public opinion will be important to the success of your project, then another goal will be to build that support by creating and carrying out a successful media strategy. Make sure that the goals you come up with do all the work needed to complete the project, without duplicating efforts. List the goals down the left side of your action plan, leaving plenty of space between them.

d) Tighten the focus of your plan. Goals point the way to the desired ends, but for them to serve as planning guidance, you need something more specific. Start by breaking down each goal into the steps needed to achieve it. For example, if a goal is to raise money, then the steps toward that goal might include the following:

• Create a budget.

• Develop a mailing list of possible donors.

• Write and send out a direct-mail piece to possible donors.

• Organize and carry out visits to potential major donors.

• Research possibilities for foundation funding; write and send proposals.

(Note: Cross-check every item you want to put into your plan with your vision:if a suggested goal or step doesn’t help you get to the vision, it doesn’t belong in the plan—or the vision needs to be adjusted so that it does.)

e) Write the steps underneath each goal and draw a horizontal timeline next to each one. Put the right end of the timeline on the day when you know that step has to be finished if the goal it serves is to be achieved on time. Estimate how long that step will take to carry out. Using that information, count backward to the day when work on that step must start—that becomes the left end of the timeline. When you’ve finished writing in the steps for the entire project, coordinate the timelines to make sure any actions that must be completed before others can start are done on time. For example, you can’t visit potential major donors until you know who they are. Fund-raising has to be launched before you can spend the money.

f) Now write in benchmarks on each timeline to note specific events or accomplishments for that step. For example, if a step is “Organize and carry out visits to potential major donors,” then benchmarks might note when 5 visits have been made, then 10, and so on. Determine the most distant benchmarks first, and then work backward in time. Some small steps may have no benchmarks other than the completion of the step.

g) Finally, work out with your team who takes responsibility for completing each of the steps. With a little patience, you can match most steps with people interested in working on them. If there’s a specific job or two that nobody wants to do, draw straws or have people take turns. After each step, write the name of the person or persons responsible for its completion.

Now your action plan is complete. All you have to do now is implement it!

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