Let Planners Plan
The lack of predictability in processes is a major "margin killer". What is causing the unpredictability in your organisation? And how can planners improve on the degree of predictability?
This way, you would know – in time to act – which kind of flexibility the organisation actually needs to have and when, but also which measures will lead to results on the bottom line. That's essentially what planners are supposed to know. But, planners hardly get around to planning. They easily spend half their day passing on information to others.
Research done by the University of Groningen (NL) has shown that planners spend two to four hours of their workday passing on information to coworkers, customers, service providers and suppliers. Their telephones don't stop ringing all day long, and their inboxes are filled to the brim. They have no peace and quiet and there is no time for planning.
The issues that planners need to deal with are getting more and more complex. The information is usually incomplete. The objectives of the decisions are open for interpretation. The decisions themselves are anything but strictly rational and hardly supported by means of brilliant systems like Oracle or SAP.
With all their spreadsheets, post-its, mails and phone calls, planners have an awful lot of balls to juggle. As a result, the element of unpredictability doesn't go away.
Plan the planner
To start with, give planners some peace and quiet in their workspace. How do the planners organise their time? Why not ignore all incoming mail and telephone calls for the first two hours of each day and really focus on the planning?
Planners are confronted with many interventions by mail – sometimes hundreds a day. Answering each one of those, one for one, on a first-come, first-served basis amounts to banging your head against the wall. Can't someone design a smart trick for presorting of all those interventions?
The information planners get from traditional information systems is not enough. That needs to be combined with data from other systems and then filtered and enhanced to support the decision-making process.
And seeing as every planner has a different way of deciding, that information needs to be presented individually. The vogue term for this is "situational awareness". In everyday language that's being aware of your surroundings. That is to say, every employee needs information to be better able to judge his or her situation and thus to make better decisions.
Planners also need to start making better and better decisions. That's something you simply need to learn. But not from boring textbooks. And also not from the annual job performance interview that's always about that one time when things when wrong, but without its ever being mentioned flat out. Modern systems offer opportunities to give and receive direct feedback and, along with that, opportunities for learning from that feedback.
How good was your last decision, how good is the decision that you are about to make, and how could you have made an even better decision? The systems can tell you that. Just like in a computer game: you either die or you go to the next level. Will "train as you fight" become the new standard?
The question is whether or not planners have a balanced range of tasks in their day-to-day work. They have to think about the planning for the coming months. But they also have to act immediately on problems, here and now. And that demands a completely different set of skills. Distinguish between tactical planners, with a long-term horizon, and operational planners, who are concerned with putting out fires today.
Planners with talent are becoming more and more important in processes. Their decisions are what determine success or failure. But don't forget to make sure the talented planners get the support they need: a realistic range of tasks, the right ICT and peace and quiet in the workplace.