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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Planning for Planning.


It has become an absolute truth that if a person, organization, business or government starts a new initiative without spending some effective planning time, based largely on measureable evidence, the initiative will likely fail.  The more time that is put into developing the plan, the greater the likelihood of success.  “Shooting from the hip” is rarely (if ever) a good idea.
The concept has its origins in the 20th century literature tied to the thinking and writings of Walter Shewhart, either in the original (1939) form of Specification – Production – Inspection or the ultimate adapted form by Deming:  Plan – Do – Study – Act.  Reality is that the concept has its true origins much earlier, perhaps to the early introductions of scientific method, but for purposes of modern systems, if you haven’t learn from the lessons of the past 70 years, then adding more historical perspective will contribute nothing.    

The larger question is not so much whether planning is a good idea, but rather are there tools that can help the Quality Team and the organization get to the point of a cohesive designed plan.    And the answer is yes.  Depending on the size of the task, the tools will vary, although the principles remain the same.

For simple measures like planning for an internal audit the process can be pretty straight forward. What is our goal, what instruments do we need to develop.  Who will be involved, who needs to be notified, and can we set a timeline to complete the task; an all internal operation.  

If the goal is to create a new product or service then having discussions with the “customer” is a good place to start.  You likely will want to include the design people to make sure that the organization has the structured and skilled where-with-all to achieve what needs to be achieve.  If the project is about introducing innovation, then sort out that it is an innovation that forks are interested  in having.  

If everyone is clear on what exactly the end-point is supposed to look like, then the process to be travelled has a chance of being accomplished on-time and on-design.
With organizational renewal or restructure, the introspective approach of a SWOT analysis can be helpful.  By collectively putting a critical and objective eye to an organization’s Strengths and Weaknesses, and Opportunities and Threats, an approach to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives can be organized, prioritized, constructed and put into operation.  The process may or may not involve the thoughts, opinions and inputs from folks from outside the operation, but does need a cold look at objective evidence and the ability to acknowledge weakness.  Looking inward will reduce the risk of starting along a path that does not take appropriate advantage of what exists or stumbles over what is missing.

Recently I was introduced to a new planning-for-a-plan tool called a Policy Lens.  While new to me, there is a considerable literature on the concept going back over 40 years.  It may well be the instrument of choice for policy advocates by which I mean folks and organizations that live for the opportunity to establish policy in large structures such as government, international mega-corporations, academia, and industry sectors.  If you do an internet scan on “policy lens” or “conceptual scan” you will understand where this tool gets its most common usage, especially over the last 5 years.
The term “lens” is and example of organizational jargon, and is probably better replaced by terms such as point-of-view or perspective or vision. 

For establishing as trivial example policy to address the creating of a webjournal (blog) on laboratory quality management one could look at the topic from the perspective of (a) writers (b) blog-space providers (c) quality teams, (d) academics, and (e ) laboratorians.  Each group could be asked to consider impacts on (1) TEEM units (2) credibility (3) risks and liabilities and (4) quality improvement, plus issues of (i) continual professional development, and regional autonomy and (ii) international applicability or (iii) short-term or (iv) long-term application.  To the extent possible, options should be supported by objective measure and consensus.  Each step would needs tools such as questionnaire designs to be developed.  And all this would need to go through the steps of priority and consensus.

This is obviously not a short term exercise and one would be strongly cautioned against developing a “lens” infrastructure for a trivial topic such as blog writing.  But it would certainly be a useful approach for establishing health policy or delivery systems.   Done properly with appropriate validations and confirmations and broad based objective recordable and measurable inputs, thia is a major exercise. 

Can you go through this whole exercise and still end up with flawed policy?  Of course you can.  That is why Planning leads to Doing and then Studying and then Acting. 
But if the policy is big enough or important enough, the risks associated with under-Planning or non-Planning are guaranteed to be profound.   

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