Planning as a dictator or as a democrat
Which method of planning best suits your organization?
Good planning is indispensable for a project-oriented organization with several employees. Sound planning allows you to optimize productivity within set hours, which enables your employees to work efficiently and processes to run smoothly within your organization. Nevertheless, many companies fail to find the correct method of planning for themselves.
The need for control over projects and resources probably sounds familiar and you’re not alone. Many companies continually work on optimizing their project planning and business processes, It is crucial that you examine what type of planning best suits your organization. In this blog post, we’ll look at central versus decentralized planning based on a practical example.
The example of a growing organization
A software company
In this example, we examine a fast-growing software company that employs both application as well as technical consultants. A select group of application consultants work on long-term projects and during the course of these projects they’re on-site at the customer’s location, usually calling on two customers a week. They’re free to make their own appointments and to adjust their schedules where needed. The customers are content with the flexibility of these application consultants.
In addition to long-term projects, the technical consultants mainly carry out short, recurring jobs which last half a day and up to a whole day. Due to the increase in customers and projects, their number of appointments have risen sharply.
In the past, the technical consultants planned their own appointments in the same way as the application consultants. This was rarely done efficiently. For example, the travel times between customers was not taken into account, which resulted in valuable hours being lost. The technical consultants sometimes also put their personal preferences first, instead of the interests of the customer. Customers also had to make preparations in advance to accommodate the technical consultants so that they could complete the work within a specified time. This required coordination, but they found that the technical consultants were rarely available to discuss the preparation. Customers were also left with no other point of contact within the software company.
As a result of growth in the company, and after a series of customer complaints, management decided to change their method of working and planning.
In future, all appointments with customers had to go through a central planning department. The consultants no longer made direct appointments with customers.
Fast forward to the present. The efficiency of the technical consultants has skyrocketed. Fewer mistakes are made, projects are completed within the agreed time-frame and customers have ongoing access to the planning department. Jobs are prepared by the central planners in consultation with customers.
However, there is dissatisfaction with long-term projects. When needing to change an appointment with an application consultant, customers first have to consult with the planning department. The process is highly structured with written confirmations, making it unnecessarily bureaucratic for customers. It’s no longer possible to respond quickly and decisively to a customer’s changing situation, causing dissatisfaction with both customers as well as the application consultants.
Is it advisable to treat all types of projects the same?
3 methods of planning
Efficient planning and setting up the right processes is an art. There are two approaches when it comes to planning: central versus decentralized. Here, 3 methods come into play.
1. The “dictator” – the central planner
The central planner is the main link in the chain. He or she is the overseer of all the work processes within the organization and is the point of contact for the planning of all employees involved in the various projects. The planner maintains a complete overview and ensures that the right people are assigned to the projects. This takes into account, among other things, development requirements, travel time and the expertise of employees. The planner maintains the rules of the planning process. If employees deviate from these rules, they will soon be put right by the planner or be reprimanded by their manager.
2. The “democracy” – everyone does their own planning
Allowing employees to do their own planning does have its advantages. Customers have direct contact with consultants working on their projects. This facilitates speedy changes. Consultants are also able to keep abreast of customer projects at all times because they are communicating with their clients directly. This ensures a very personal approach. With experienced employees, this enables them to create a personal customer base for which they are responsible. This also promotes entrepreneurship within the organization.
3. The mix – the situational approach
A mixture of central and decentralized planning is a third option. A certain type of projects can be planned by the central planner, while other types of projects can be planned by employees themselves. This can be determined by examining the various types of projects and employees. This is called the situational approach. With this method, you can evaluate the specific situation and determine the required approach. The idea is to standardize this approach according to the type of projects and employees, because it is not efficient to try and determine the right approach for every individual project.
Which method of planning best suits your organization?
In order to determine the correct method of planning, there are 6 questions that you need to ask yourself as an organization. Based on the answers, a specific approach can be decided upon.
Is the project short or long in duration?
With long-term projects, an employee often works on the project a few days a week. Appointments are discussed directly with the customer. With these types of projects, self-planning is recommended in almost every situation. This prevents processes from taking longer than needed as well as customers having to wait unnecessarily for an answer from a central planner who only acts as an inconvenient ‘go between’.
In the case of short projects, the employee often has to work on several small jobs during the week. Short jobs can best be planned centrally. With central planning, your organization will have more control over the projects. This will enable you to avoid wasted hours.
Do you have many projects on the go or only a few?
In short, the rule of thumb is that planning centrally is best suited when dealing with many customer projects, and decentralized planning is best for a small number of projects, In the case of many projects, there is a good chance that the employee will be overwhelmed by all the jobs. A single planner can be advantageous in this situation. The planner takes care of booking appointments while the employee concentrates on the work itself. You also avoid the situation where one employee might be buried under too much work, while another employee is being completely underutilized. The planner can ensure a proportionate distribution of assignments.
In the case of fewer projects, there is less chance of missing appointments. With a clear overview of all the projects in hand, an employee can therefore manage his schedule without any problems.
Is the employee senior or a junior?
Senior employees can be expected to estimate how much time is needed to complete a project. They have the necessary experience after all. Decentralized planning is an excellent option in this case.
Junior employees are more likely to get the planning wrong. They often lack the necessary experience. In order to avoid appointments not being met or too many hours being wasted, it is advisable to have a more experienced employee or planner calculate the times needed for jobs. The central planner can take on a management role in this situation. As the employee gains more experience, the planner can begin to slacken the reins.
What is more important: urgency or efficiency?
The planner has an overall view of everything. Because of this, he or she has a more complete and rational view of the overall picture. When pressurized by a customer, an employee can, for example, choose to do a job in the north of the country as soon as possible. That’s not a problem in itself, but it can be if he finds himself at the opposite end of the country at the time.
A planner is in possession of a complete overview of all current projects and can therefore decide to book an employee for the job when the planner knows he is going to be in the same area two days later for another appointment. In this way, you avoid unnecessary waste in terms of hours due to long traveling times. In addition, a planner can often weigh up the interests of different customers.
Has a fixed or flexible price structure been agreed to?
If the project is to be executed at a fixed price, central planning offers other advantages. For instance, a planner can better monitor the costs and make adjustments where necessary. It is also important that employees constantly report on the progress of the work so that any deviation in costs can be identified in time.
When invoicing is based on time material and based mainly on demand (thus outside of a fixed budget), it is also easier to plan decentrally. Of course, work based on time material does not always necessarily lend itself to decentralized planning. With many projects, the customer will adhere to the estimated hours that have been calculated in advance.
How much preparation is required?
Central planning is advisable when a lot of checking and preparation is required. If an employee has to do prep work for future projects besides all of his other work, then very likely his productivity will suffer. A central planner can check whether the software licenses are in place, an airline ticket has been booked, or that the necessary preparations have been made on-site. This prevents mistakes, misunderstandings and lost hours.
Where little preparation is required, it is easier to leave the planning to the employee concerned.
When looking for a process to shape the planning within your organization, it can’t be done in an instant. It is a process that requires careful deliberation. Determining the method of planning is a conscious process. Dealing with and planning all types of projects and employees in a uniform manner is short-sighted. It is a process that requires a long hard look at what employees need and what responsibility they can shoulder. Adapting the method of planning can have a radical effect on business operations as well as employees.
Mark de Jong
Mark is Sales & Marketing Manager at Timewax. He has a background as a project and resource manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consultants with expertise in the field of Professional Service Automation (PSA).