#14 — Making a Plan (Part II)

Budgets. If your project requires money, then the funding goal in your action plan must be based on a budget, as in estimated expenses matched against estimated sources of cash income. Here’s a stunner: unless you’re the federal government, the cash income must equal or exceed the expenses. A budget should also list items given to you (in-kind contributions).

All foundations and many major donors will ask to see a budget before they write you a check, so be thoughtful in developing one. Make sure that all cost and revenue items are included, and that you can justify the type and amount of each. Be impeccable in handling the project’s money (see “Record Keeping” in Coach’s Corner #10)

Prepare to be surprised. Don’t wait until the problems or crises find you!

Keep your positive attitude and vision, but spend enough time anticipating what might go wrong and then figure out what you might do to prevent it, or to cope with it if it can’t be prevented. Keep these contingency plans handy, so that they’re within reach when you need them.Be just as prepared to welcome the goodbreaks, and to expand your goals and vision in ways you could not possibly have envisaged when you started.

Assess progress as you go.As the work proceeds, it’s important that you regularly assess progress, evaluate your plan for discrepancies and overlaps, discuss solutions to problems, and make any necessary course corrections.Stay flexible.Good plans are carefully and thoroughly drawn, but no plan should ever be cast in concrete; the planning process needs to be open and flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances and new information.

If you’re working in a team, the best way to assess progress is in regular team meetings. Use questions such as these:

• Is the work on each step going forward on schedule?

• What problems or obstacles need to be dealt with now?

• Are we each completing the work we signed up to do?

• Do any of the work assignments need to be adjusted?

• Does everything we’re doing serve our vision? If not, what adjustments need to be made? Does the action plan need to be changed in any way? Does the vision need changing? Perhaps it’s become too small.

Spend some time on more personal questions, such as these:

• Is the project so far easier or harder than we thought it would be? Why?

• Are we being as bold, street-smart, and creative as we need to be? Are we using our intuition as well as our brains? Are we taking maximum advantage of new thinking and new technologies?

• Have there been unexpected events or lessons? What were they? How have we reacted to them?

Course corrections. If at any point your effort seems to be losing momentum, stopping, going backward, or heading off in too many directions, bring it back on course by reviewing your vision as a team. Recall the pictures you developed in creating that vision, and rekindle their power to guide, to inspire, and to keep your group together.

Assessment meetings are also a good time to bring in outside resources for any additional training or guidance your team might need. For example, you could invite a friend from a PR firm to coach the team on how to get media attention.

What to Do When Your Plan Succeeds. Your project is completed, and you’ve made a difference in solving the problem that led you to launch it. But you’re not done. Now’s the time to celebrate---and to follow up on what you’ve accomplished.

Celebrating the fruits of active citizenship should be more than just popping a bottle of champagne or taking the team out to a good restaurant when the job is done. To me, it’s about reaffirming those qualities of the human spirit that say yes to challenge, that lead us to create, to care, to persevere no matter what the odds.

Celebrating success can also keep you from slipping into a common pitfall for citizen activists: After a tough challenge has been met, it’s too easy to remember just what the mountain looked like from the bottom. Too easy just to talk about whatever struggle and pain there might have been, or the faults of some tough characters you had to deal with along the way.

I’ve also come to see that celebrating is the grease that helps keep the creative process going. After a success, don’t just keep your nose to the computer screen, doing business as usual. If you do that, the mental machinery that kept you creating starts to run out of tune, even starts to rust. So you’re less likely and less able to tackle the next opportunity to create.

My experience also is that creative people get on a roll---each success seems to make the next one easier, and big successes seem to follow an appreciation of smaller ones. Celebrating is a way to keep the dice hot, to keep the magic going. To switch metaphors, imagine that celebrating success is pump priming---say thanks for every trickle and a real stream can follow.

Still, I know plenty of hard-working activists who find it hard to celebrate success. “Oh, it was nothing,” they say, downgrading their achievements and not celebrating because they feel they shouldn’t blow their own horns.

I think that’s false modesty. Celebrating doesn’t mean bragging. It means acknowledging a creative process that anyone can tap in to, but that few do. Think how easy it would have been for you to ignore the problem you solved, to have stayed out of it and let others do the work. Most of the world operates that way. You didn’t. That makes you a role model for everybody else. Hooray for you!

Follow Up and Follow Through. After all the hard planning and work you’ve done, don’t just walk off the field when you reach your goals. Public policy is a dynamic process, and some backsliding in even the best of solutionsis inevitable.

You and your group need to monitor progress, keep the community informed, and make sure that agreed-upon policies are enforced. It’s fine to say that some government agency should be doing all that, but often those agencies need some friendly shoves.

Your solution will not have been perfect. Also, unforeseen circumstances and unintended consequences may arise. One way or the other, refinements will be needed over time, and you want to be at the table to keep your hard-won solutions pointed in the right direction.

Be Mindful of Your Legacy. The strategies and tactics you and your team have developed, the tone and attitudes you’ve modeled, and the relationships you’ve formed can all be used to help tackle similar challenges (and course corrections) in the future. The content of other challenges and conflicts may be different, but the human emotions and interpersonal dynamics needed to deal with them will be very much the same, as will be many of the street-smart moves needed to succeed.It’s important that you and your group keep political interest and momentum behind the good solutions you’ve helped create.

Congratulations! You’ve created a Visionary Plan and put it into motion. It should be an effective mix of vision and homework, of motivating spirit and tough-minded planning, each playing its appropriate role. It's that mix that changes the world.

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