TITLE: Thinking About Planning, of the Organizational Variety
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: September 13, 2005 6:08 PM
In my dual roles of head of my department and chair of
my university's graduate faculty, I find myself thinking
about planning a lot. The dean of the Graduate College
is initiating a year-long strategic planning cycle for
graduate education university-wide. The dean of the
College of Natural Sciences is initiating a year-long
strategic planning cycle for our college. As a new head,
I am drawn to developing a long-term plan to guide my
department as we make decisions in times that challenge
us with threats and opportunities alike.
Administrators think a lot about planning, I think -- at
least the ones who want to accomplish something do. The
cynical take is that strategic planning is what you do
when you want to fill up the time in which you should be
doing real work. But I think that unfairly characterizes
what many good leaders are trying to do.
Now that I am a department head, I see that I have a
lot of choices to make every day. Do I approve
this course substitution? Do I spend several hundred
dollars on a piece of equipment requested by one of the
faculty? Do I schedule this experimental course or that?
As important, or more so, are the decisions I make about
how to spend my time. Do I make plans to recruit students
at a local high school? Do I meet with someone in student
services about mock interviews for graduating seniors? Do
I write an article, study the budget, network with other
administrators on campus, work on my own research?
My job is to
the faculty and students in my department. I serve
them by spending my time and intellectual energy to
their benefit. Without a shared vision of where we
want to go, how do I know how to do that as well as
possible? When it comes to making the sort of decisions
that the faculty want me to handle precisely because
they are routine or should be -- without a shared
vision, how do I do this as well as possible?
The same, of course, applies to faculty. As faculty,
we want to make choices with their time and energy
that both develop our scholarly interests and help the
department improve. Without a plan, we are left to
divine good choices from among what is usually a large
number of compatible choices.
So we as a department need a plan. But not the sort of
strategic plan that one often sees in organizations.
The bad plans I've seen usually come in two forms. In
the first, the plan is essentially defined from above
and pushed down through the organization. Without
"ownership" and commitment, such a plan is just paper
to file away, to haul out for show when someone wants
to see The Plan. In the second, the people build a
plan bottom-up, but it is full of vague generalities,
platitudes with which no one is likely to disagree --
because it says nothing. Often, such plans are long on
vision and values but short on objectives and actions
that will achieve them.
I do not have much experience with strategic planning,
and certainly none of the sort I want to have before
doing it with my department. But I am thinking about
strategic planning a lot, about how I can help my
department do it in a way that is worth our effort and
that helps us move in the right direction.
I've begun to observe a skilled facilitator lead the
strategic planning cycle for graduate education here,
and I've already learned a bit. She is leading a
large group of stakeholders in something that operates
like a distributed
we will work in groups to identify strengths in the
current system, weaknesses in the current system,
opportunities to improve the system, and threats to
the system. Then we will combine our suggestions toward
identifying commonly-held views upon which to build.
I hope to learn more from this process as we proceed.
As for my department, I am hoping to proceed in a
more agile way, as in the
Our mission will play the role of
in XP. I want to do
just enough thinking
about the future that we can identify goals whose
success can be
and the metric for which we
identify before taking the actions.
As much as we can we will work and make decisions as a
of our progress and
adjustment of our course
I know that others have explicitly tried this sort of
approach in a non-programming context, but there is
nothing quite like doing something yourself to really
learn it. The sooner we get to "code", the sooner we
can collect feedback and improve.