Does Your Strategic Planning Work System Generate Great Idea Flow Rates?

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

How Effective is Your Strategic Planning Work System?

Do you have pollution in your idea pool? Most organizations have a backlog of improvements they want to develop and implement. Most managers cringe when someone suggests that we hold a meeting to collect ideas from ‘everyone in the plant.’ Too many managers and supervisors lack effective project management skills. Even fewer can design and use effective approaches to develop strategies and plans. How effective is your strategic planning work system?

Unfortunately, I continue to witness the above facts in all too many organizations. Fortunately, I have learned over the years what the root causes of poor idea flow rates in organizations are. I know what types of system changes to make to reduce idea backlogs, and what mechanisms to use to allow all team members to contribute their ideas for improvement.

EXPLORE MORE: How Great are Your Work Systems?

Two or More Years of Work in an Instance

I, like most facilitators, can go into any company, meet for an hour with a collection of their employees, and identify at least two or three years worth of work for someone. It is for this reason that I strongly dislike suggestion boxes as organizations typically use them. The typical suggestion box collects ideas with weak descriptions from a small group of people. Worse yet, we don’t use a sound project evaluation and development to keep the idea box empty. Pollution begins to accumulate in our idea pool.

Strategic Planning Work System Weaknesses

Leaders raise expectations when people think things will change. These expectations are then dashed when the organization fails to put suggested improvements in place. In most cases, people fill the box with problems that they are most familiar with. Without knowledge, they may not suggest things that may benefit the overall goals of the site the most. They don’t understand why changes aren’t made. Management takes a big credibility hit.

It is truly a vicious cycle. People won’t share ideas because management won’t listen, and management won’t listen because the people suggest things that really won’t make that much difference. As morale drops, supervisors spend more time on complaints instead of project work that would help reduce the gripes. Then someone calls the consultant to fix morale, and he or she asks the people for their ideas about how to improve it. An additional dump into the already polluted pool is made. Is there pollution in your idea pool?

LEARN MORE: Process Improvement Strategies

If you would like more information about the strategic planning work system improvement tools I have to offer, please send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com.

How Do You Pick Your Projects?

Like it or not, every person, team, location, and organization has a limit when it comes to project evaluation and implementation. There is only so much time and money to go around. In spite of these limits, organizations still waste time on ‘squeaky wheel’ or ‘pet’ projects. They fail to focus their precious time and money resources on those areas that would provide the greatest return on investment.

There are two ways to get more time for projects (other than hire more people). First, take waste out of jobs and use the time you save for project work. Second, improve how your people use their project management skills. Unfortunately, one needs system changes in the form of projects to reduce the waste. Reduce project development cycles via skill development and practice, Unfortunately, both take time.

The road to recovery first requires a recognition of what project time limits exist. Next, you have to ensure that you focus those limited resources on the projects that provide the greatest ‘bang for the buck.’ While this seems like common sense, far too many organizations don’t use a formal tool to make decisions. They also tend to overestimate how many projects their people can complete in a set amount of time.

How Do You Plan to Succeed?

Most companies plan on an annual basis. A group of people go offsite. They spend a day or two to list possible improvements and select their favorites from the list. Someone takes the pile of flip chart paper and creates a notebook that looks nice. Leaders hand out the notebooks that are soon to join their peers on the office bookshelf. Tombstones of good intentions, ready to collect dust.

I admit that this particular perspective is a bit cynical. Some companies do a better job with plan development than this. You have to judge for yourself how effectively your own organization plans. Where do their efforts lie on the spectrum between dust collector creation and innovative system change implementation? One key lies in the fact that the better sites use formal processes to create their plans, review plan progress on at least a quarterly basis, and make efforts to improve this process each year.

READ MORE: The Power of Great Mission Statements

Steps for a Better Strategic Planning Work System

I was lucky. I was able to spend five years with a company that did planning very well. They involved the whole plant, and they focused their limited resources on those areas that needed them the most. They kept everyone informed about plan progress on a monthly basis, and they improved the process from year to year. Was everyone always happy? No, but in general, they were a lot more satisfied than other workforces I have seen.

You might notice that I speak more of annual planning versus strategic planning here. Well, that is intentional. Strategic plans are both nice and necessary, but one needs effective annual plans if you ever want to make those multi-year strategic plans come to life. Otherwise, you will end up with lists of what you want to do, and you will wonder what do do net to reduce the backlog.

To create effective strategy and plans, you must use your time and money resources wisely. The gap between your key results measures and their goals should tell you where you need to improve performance. Employee input and root cause analysis should help provide you with the answers to the ‘how do we make the numbers better?’ question. Use a formal tool to systematically make decisions that consider each project’s potential resource impact. Such a tool will help you pick those improvements that will make the most difference.

LEARN MORE: Pursuing Process Excellence book

Would You to Improve Your Strategic Planning Work System?

How to Improve Your Strategic Planning Work System

For over 40 years, I have helped design and install strategic planning work systems in many different companies – both small and large – in the manufacturing and service arenas. This experience has helped me discover value added, simple ways to set up an effective planning system and to help you make simple systems improvements that will significantly increase your idea flow rate. Lack of time for projects and poor project management skills result in a poor idea flow rate – the primary power restrictor for this power system. These tools help you both eliminate that barrier and move forward more rapidly towards higher levels of performance.

Do you have interest in the strategic planning work system tools that I offer? If so, please send me an e-mail at kevin@greatsystems.com. Better yet, work with me further to improve your strategic planning work system through my virtual, interactive planning system improvement and project management workshop.

Keep improving! Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

www.greatsystems.com            kevin@greatsystems.com

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