Who doesn’t love a good NPR podcast during a road trip? Okay, I realize I likely turned off a good portion of you in continuing to read this but stick with me for a second. I’m particularly fond of a podcast called Hidden Brain, hosted by Shankar Vedantam. Back in August, he hosted an especially impactful podcast on the “Power of the Checklist”.
In the show, he goes to share how the most effective way to prevent problems in air travel, in surgeries, or any high stakes arena, is to have a plan–one that’s put together in advance and followed through. Even Atul Gawande, famed surgeon, and now CEO of healthcare non-profit spurred by Amazon, Berkshire and J.P. Morgan, suggests lives are saved when a team of surgeons has a plan. So, if we know plans can increase the probability of a better outcome, why don’t most teams take advantage of them?
BUILD A PLAN. WHERE’S THE PLAN? WHAT’S YOUR PLAN?
At Stride, I hear this all the time because we’ve cultivated a culture of thinking in advance. Plans are NOT complicated. In fact, they can be quite simple, but they force us to stop for a second and ask fundamental questions:
- What is the goal of this plan? In other words, what does this plan intend to achieve?
- What steps are required in pursuit of my goal?
- Who else needs to be part of, or will be impacted, by this plan?
- When do the steps in this plan need to be complete?
- With transparency, how will we measure that I’m achieving steps toward my goal?
You see, the hard thinking is completed up-front and then… WE EXECUTE! When you’re trying to figure out the next step in the heat of execution, you’re going to screw up. It’s hard for your brain to be both in planning and execution mode simultaneously.
What’s In A Plan?
A plan can be super simple. It can be as simple as a checklist of things to accomplish. For example, when we changed our company brand to Stride, we put together a comprehensive plan and checklist using Asana:
You’ll notice it tackles the requirements of a good plan (What, Who, How, When). Most businesses aren’t performing life-threatening surgeries, so don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. Practice holding yourself to a standard that all worthwhile initiatives involve plans.
Plans Improve Life
Have you ever heard someone say they don’t have time to plan because they need to get moving on the project? Please don’t let them get away with that. Planning saves time. Planning cuts out the noise. When you plan, you get reap huge benefits:
- Fewer emails. People email less if they know what they need to do
- Fewer meetings. No reason to have a bunch of meeting if everyone knows what they’re doing
- Better prioritization. If it’s not planned then it must not be important
- More focus. Plans are the best tools for employees to manage their time and capacity
- Confidence. When a plan is in place, execs, managers, and producers sleep better
Tools For Making A Plan
There are plenty of checklist applications out there but my favorite application for managing project plans is Asana. Here’s why I love it:
- Price. It’s free with a lot of functionality
- Teams. You can build project teams for people needing to be informed
- Projects. You can have multiple projects and easily view them to see the status
- Assignability. You can assign tasks to individuals
- Sub-tasks. With each task, you may have sub-tasks, and you can build those out
- Communication. You can communicate with people impacted by a task within that task. You can share attachments and have discussions pertaining to a task, so email is unnecessary
- Due Dates. You can set due dates and create really excellent accountability
For a long time, I utilized Google Sheets and occasionally still do. If you’re looking for an easily accessible solution for planning and don’t have time to learn new software, you can save a copy of my Google spreadsheet pictured below.
Steps To Get Going
If you want to transition in adopting plans as part of your organizations DNA, do these 5 things:
- Set a standard at the leadership level that plans are required, and stick to it
- Standardize a format for how plans will be constructed (e.g. Asana)
- Train your managers and employees on how to use plans
- Weekly meetings with the planning team(s) to review the status
- Begin by initiating a few plans and expand from there
At some point, you may be tempted to abandon plans because you feel more productive when you are doing stuff vs. thinking about doing stuff. Don’t give in to this temptation. Like anything else, building a plan is a muscle that needs to be trained. Sure, this might not be high stakes surgery, but businesses have a lot of moving parts and the more you can focus on what’s important, the higher likelihood those moving parts will deliver your desired results.
At Stride, we are plan driven. We deal with a lot of moving parts when it comes to managing back office for our clients, so we operate with a planning discipline. It gives our clients confidence. It keeps us focused, and it results in better outcomes. If you are interested in learning about how we use plans and can discuss best practices with you, please reach out to us at www.strideservices.wpengine.com/#contact.