Planning involves setting a course of action. The activities in it
To the above, I'd add "vision" -- an overall, big-picture view of the
enterprise's (project's) essential character and culture and how it fits within the
world. The vision may be reflected in a mission statement or in a motto,
such as Google's "Do no evil." Vision may fit within "objectives", but it
takes on added significance in today's world.
"The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!!"
-- Robert Burns, 1785
Burns' little mouse (his burrow destroyed by spring plowing) suffered by not forecasting. No plan is complete without a prediction of the environment during which it
will be implemented. Will conditions and events be favorable to our plans or
Forecasting is about the future but we may learn from the past. The fate of
buggy-whip manufacturers can teach us to think about whether our product or
service will meet a future need.
Nor is the future completely unknowable. Some present trends will
continue. Computing devices will get smaller and more connected. The US
population will get older. Farmers will continue to plow in the spring. Other
trends (zombie movies?) may fade out.
Forecasts are projections, they may be derived in either of two ways:
- Mechanical -- assuming that future trends will look much like the past.
Many forecasts are made that way -- by extending trend lines. Mechanical forecasts are often
based on the principle of gradual change.
- Analytic -- determining underlying causes to figure out why certain things have happened and using the conclusions
to predict future events. Analytic forecasts are often based on the
principle of cause and effect.
No matter the technique, a forecast should (1) learn from the
past, (2) keep the big picture in view, (3) determine the reasonable limits of its
accuracy, and (4) obtain multiple inputs. Forecasts should be periodically
reviewed for continued applicability and
Forecasting is not a science; it is not precise and it is fallible.
Most important: Forecasts, must be communicated to have value.
Failing to forecast: A case study in collapse
For the younger among you, we may need to explain that Eastman Kodak was once
as great a company as Apple, Google or Facebook. Scrapbooks across the world
are filled with pictures on Kodak's film.
Kodak went into bankruptcy in January 2012,
undone by the change from chemical film to digital imaging. Creditors wrangled over Kodak's bones -- which assets,
ironically, consist largely of digital-imaging patents. This
excellent article by John Kotter discusses how & why Kodak failed to
The failure lay not in the ability of knowledgeable Kodak people to
foresee the changes on the horizon, the impact and actions needed to
deal with them. Rather, it was in the failure of peers and senior leaders to listen.
To a great extent, this involves technical issues, e.g., will SNPs
replace STRs? How soon? It also involves public attitudes and opinions,
e.g., will DNA genealogy become more or less accepted and popular? Our current forecast:
- Y-STRs will remain the DNA test of choice for determining direct paternal ancestry for
several years after 2016.
- Y-SNPs may eventually replace Y-STR, but economic feasibility
problems limit its prospects.
- Popularity of autosomal DNA tests will increase for the foreseeable future and, to
some extent, will compete with Y-STR.
- Genetic evidence will be increasingly more accepted in genealogy. It
will be seen as an important, almost essential, adjunct.
- Interest in genealogy, though, may fade. Most genealogists are older and, as they fade from the
scene, their children and grandchildren (Gen X & millennials) may be less attracted to family
"There is no problem, however simple,
that can not be complicated beyond all hope of solution."
Objectives simplify problems to permit solutions; they focus effort. Objectives are
goals made concrete and tangible. Another
way of defining them is that they break down an overall goal into smaller
parts -- if each part is achieved, so is the goal.
aspects of objectives are that they lead to accomplishing the overall
goal and that they be measurable (subject to determining whether or not they are achieved).
To know whether an objective is achieved, it's essential to have a standard for
it; the standard may be either quantitative or qualitative.
Objectives must also be realistic. An impossible, incredible objective (e.g., "world
nothing to success and may actually hinder it. On the other hand, an objective
may require "stretching" beyond a comfort level in order to achieve it.
We can differentiate levels of objectives, some are more central
- A key objective states the enterprise's fundamental commitment. Each
part of the enterprise should have one and only one key objective.
- A critical objective relates to major categories of work and states the most
important results to be attained on a continuing basis. There may be more
than one critical objective.
- A specific objective states measurable and time-limited results to
attain a critical objective. There may be many specific objectives.
Objectives are important problem-solving tools. A good objective, when
attained, will solve the problem. This will be covered in more detail in
- Increase Y-DNA penetration to 100 project members per 100,000 male
Taylors in US by 2016.
- Achieve Y-DNA resolution of at least 80% of tests being 37 or more
markers by 2015.
- Increase Y-DNA penetration in the United Kingdom & Ireland by 25% by 2017.
Note that the examples are measurable and contain "deadlines" or
I would say that what we've gotten for a half billion dollars
is an unpronounceable acronym [DIMHRS].
-- Robert Gates, former US Secretary of Defense
Programming sets the sequence of actions needed to achieve an objective.
Within that sequence of actions may be a "critical path" -- a series of steps
determining the earliest overall completion.
While the term "programming" is often used in relation to
writing instructions for computer applications, here we mean it in a
Programming is a matter of analysis. Certain things may need to be finished before others can start. Some
actions can proceed in parallel. Some steps may be interdependent; each feeding off the
For example "take shower" is usually preceded by "remove clothing" and
followed by "dry off", but may be in parallel with "shave".
In a complex information technology project, some routines of the
application may be interdependent. Routine "A" may partly depend on aspects of
routine "B" and vice-versa.
We found in Taylor Family Genes that a "critical mass" of about 500 Y-DNA
results for 37 or more markers was necessary to attain a match rate of 50%.
Matching depended on both resolution and penetration.
"Beware the time-driven project with an artificial deadline."
-- M. Dobson
"There's seldom enough time to do it right at first;
there always seems to be enough time to do it over."
Charles A Norris
Scheduling is related to programming; it sets the time sequence of actions.
It consists of analyzing the steps and setting target dates for the
beginning and completion of each step.
In scheduling, a "critical path" of steps may reveal the shortest time in
which the objective can be attained. If this exceeds the allotted time, Dobson's
advice takes on special relevance.
Scheduling in TFG
A sad fact is that the TFG project admin will often be at the mercy of bad
scheduling by others.
Budgeting allocates resources to the action steps so that they may be
accomplished within the schedule.
Budgeting is not restricted to money alone; it may include people, hours,
equipment and/or other resources.
"There's no reason for it.
It's just policy.
Policies are -- or should be -- standing decisions to recurring questions and concerns.
They improve decision-making, eliminate some crisis decisions, make
delegation easier, insure consistency of decisions and
To be effective, policies need to be communicated. They should be kept to the minimum necessary. (Having
too many policies inhibits
flexibility.) They should define the best answers to problems. And, they
should be reviewed periodically.
A policy and a procedure are different beasts. The former says what
to do; the latter how to do it.
Aside: In my early career, going from one
organization to another, I was often assigned to review the
"Policy Manual", usually contained in a loose-leaf binder several inches thick.
The assignment would prove a good orientation to the organization; it told
me about past problems and introduced me to the people I'd be working
Typically, I found many of the policies related to something that had happened once and never would again.
(Though the happening had caused high-level embarrassment.) I
found that other policies were not considered (by consensus) the "best answer" and
were frequently ignored. I learned, too, that policies are political.
Who is allowed to be a member? What constitutes a "match"? Who is
responsible for genealogical research?
“I want a pit crew...
I hate the procedure I currently have to go through when I have car problems.”
-- Dave Barry
“I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult.
It's not. Mine had me trained in two days.”
-- Bill Dana
Procedures are a means of standardizing work to be done uniformly. They
set out a step-by-step way of doing the work.
Procedures and policies are not the same thing, though sometimes used interchangeably. A policy states what is to be done; a procedure states how
to do it. A policy might say "Nuts will be securely fastened to bolts." A
procedure might say:
- Place nut on bolt and align threads
- Spin nut down to finger tight
- Use torque wrench to tighten to 150 foot-pounds.
Procedures may need to be revised frequently. Policies should remain relatively stable.
Back to the core