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The Trouble With Planning #1

It never stops to amaze me. No, not the mountain of emails in the inbox of a PEP client. That is just a symptom of a deeper problem. It is that persistent absence of effective software tools that can be used for proactive planning. More than once I found myself drawing a large table on a piece of paper and help my stressed client get back some overview and grip on that highly important project. Yes, in paperless 2017 too….

Let me describe first what I mean by proactive planning. Individual participants, when they come to our PEP training, can exhibit several levels of planning:

No planning at all.

What we typically see here is a person who is dominated by a tightly scheduled workflow or (micro)managed by a control-oriented boss or projectmanager. Other examples are client-facing, strongly service-oriented jobs. When you work in such a situation you hardly need planning tools.

Reactive planning.

This appears in different forms. One form is seen in organisations where successive and stringent deadlines are determining what workers are doing. An example of this can be seen in the judicial field, where the fixed planning of court sessions is determining to a large extent what assistants to a DA, judge or lawyer are doing on a given moment. This should be considered a functional form of reactive planning. People in these jobs often work with spreadsheet-based planning sheets.

Another form is less effective: the email slave. Here we see what people do greatly determined by whatever mail appears in their inbox. To a certain extend they plan some of their work in terms of when to handle what, but seldom more than a few days ahead. Outlook contains basic tools for them, out of the box it offers elementary functionality for this way of working, but it really needs adjustment. This is what PEP trainers typically do, they tune the app to support an effective workflow.

Proactive planning.

Proactive planning is perhaps the rarest form. Here the employee needs to accomplish something more complex that often involves contributions of other people and meeting critical milestones. It requires him or her to plan well in advance, often several months ahead. Examples can be publishing something, developing educational material, setting up a marketing campaign and such.

This is where Microsoft leaves a big gap between MS Project, which is an expensive overkill for this and Outlook, which falls short here. Its task planning tools have not seen a serious update in 15 years and Outlook thus lacks important functionality needed to support complex tasks and forward thinking. PEP consultants can optimize Outlook here too, but the app is clearly not designed for helping people to be proactive. Let’s hope that Microsoft’s move to the Cloud triggers some creativity.

In my next blog I will suggest some alternatives, apps that do help you to plan proactively.

Melle Kleisma, Senior PEP Consultant www.tijdenresultaat.nl