“Top 10” Predictors of Good Plan Execution

Published on October 12, 2010 in "Top Ten" Lists | No Comments

How do you know your plan will work? Many plans, when executed, encounter unforeseen circumstances not considered during the planning phase. In some cases (e.g., fire plans, medical emergencies, etc.) these unforeseen circumstances can be devastating. No matter what you do to prepare, it is likely that circumstances will arise that will stop your plans dead in their tracks. As we all know, things rarely happen the way we planned. But be encouraged. Team members frequently innovate, improvise, change, and adopt. Often, it is the planning process, more than the plan itself, that prepares us to deal successfully with life’s uncertainties.

“Preparation is the key to success.”

-Alexander Graham Bell (Inventor)

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”
-General Colin Powell

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
-General Dwight Eisenhower

“It is far better to foresee, even without certainty, than not to foresee at all.”
-Henri Poincare (Mathematician and Physicist)

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
-Mike Tyson (Heavyweight Champion Boxer)

What steps can be taken to maximize the likelihood that your plan, when executed, will achieve the desired outcome? What can you do that will give you and your team confidence in your ability to deal successfully with the challenges and uncertainty of a situation? TeamReadiness offers some suggestions…

(rankings are in random order)

1. Get “Buy-in”

  • The team must agree that there is a compelling reason for having the plan; that the plan is valuable and is necessary to address a very real need, problem, or threat.
  • Gaining agreement among team members will help secure their commitment to the plan.
  • To the extent that people agree with the plan and “buy-in” to it, they will be more likely to follow its’ direction.
  • The plan must have credibility and be perceived as having value. Following the recommendations posted here (see also “Top Ten” Elements of a Good Plan”) will help your plans’ credibility and value necessary for agreement and commitment by team members.
  • Assigning responsibilities to specific team members while also holding them accountable gives them motivation to execute the plan as intended or at least to prepare and commit to address the situation for which the plan is intended.
  • Team members who participate in plan creation and maintenance are more likely to make the plan “theirs,” giving them “ownership” that drives commitment.
  • Create a training program with a formal testing & certification process to build “buy-in.” It requires an investment of time and effort that builds commitment. Having a personalized “Certificate of Completion” after passing a test creates pride and esprit de corps that promotes agreement and commitment. Consider having a formal awards ceremony.
  • Signed agreements acknowledging understanding of the plan and a commitment to follow the plan (e.g., signature on paper, electronic online agreement) puts a team member “on record” and strengthens the sense of obligation and personal responsibility to the plan.

2. Learn From Others

  • Use benchmarking, Best Practices, case studies, and Lessons Learned.
  • Make use of the proven methods, experience, and knowledge of others to help ensure your plans have value and credibility.
  • Study what others have done to achieve success and adopt their findings to fit your needs.
  • Examine where others have failed or encountered problems and take steps to mitigate your risk of having the same or similar occurrence.

3. Contingencies

  • Consider what could go wrong with each task in the plan and take steps to find alternative solutions.
  • During training, don’t just train on following the plan, create some problems that are not part of the plan to give team members experience dealing with uncertainty.

4. Drill, Train, and Anticipate

  • Drilling tends to be more physical – it is all about “doing;” its “hands on” experience. Conducting drills, like a dress rehearsal, tests, challenges, and solidifies learning.
  • Anticipate how your body and mind may function during plan execution. In an actual incident (emergency, crisis, times of trouble) fear, nervousness, anxiety, stress may all impact your ability to respond and act. Being prepared for when those feelings come, anticipating them in advance, can help lessen their impact. The more prepared you are, the more control you have, the less impact fear and anxiety will have on your ability to function. Take time to consider and address how various factors may impact each team members ability to perform their tasks.
  • We have all sat in a class, where, when the instructor showed us how to do something, it seemed very easy and simple, but after class, when we tried to do it ourselves, it was impossible.
  • Remember the old Chinese proverb — “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
  • Create training courses that team members can take to gain knowledge of the plan.
  • Online training courses that team members can easily access at any time, as often as desired, accommodates different learning styles and gives team members continuous opportunity to learn.

5. Easy – Make it Easy, Keep it Simple

  • Plans, access to plans, and training must all be made “easy.”
  • Easy to Understand – eye pleasing, appropriate detail, consistent formats, clear text, pictures and videos.
  • Easy to Use and Access – minimize the number of steps, time, effort, and cost required to access and use the plan and training.
  • “The Kid Test” and the “The Gilligan Test” — “Could a nine year boy or girl and Gilligan (of “Gilligan’s Island” TV Show) access the plan and follow it to accomplish what it says?” Test your plan with outsiders that have no knowledge of your job, operations, or industry and see if they understand your plan.

6. Leadership

  • As the leadership of the organization goes, so goes the organization; team members do what the leadership demands and holds accountable.
  • To the extent that the leadership of the organization communicates their expectations for a specific plan — for definition of the plan, training, demonstration, and conformance to the plan; that they hold team members to account for doing things like what we have listed here, plans will have the greatest chance at succeeding.
  • Without the support and involvement of the organization’s senior leadership, the plan is not likely to succeed.

7. Metrics

  • Identify the metrics you hope to achieve for each task in the plan.
  • Each task should have clear, observable criteria for success and for failure.
  • Demonstrate that metrics, performance measures and criteria for success and for failure, for each task in the plan, are achievable.
  • When a task is attempted and it does not work, it fails, a clear indication should be known by the team member responsible. You do not want a situation where the team member performs a task and gets no feed back as to its success or failure.
  • For each task in the plan, demonstrate that the team member(s) responsible and/or the equipment and machines required are able to achieve their metrics and criteria for success.

8. Planning Process

  • Sometimes the plan itself is not as important as the process of creating the plan.
  • Make use of the knowledge and experience of others — benchmarking studies, best practices, lessons learned, case studies, templates, etc.
  • Involve the right people: Senior management, experts, stake holders, people responsible for each task, people inside and external to the organization.

9. Reviews

  • Regularly review the plan with an appropriate team of people. Include people who are responsible for executing the plan and subject matter experts. Check and test each task, assumptions, and contingencies. Consider how things have changed since the plan was created or last updated.
  • Put the plan under change control so changes are made logically, as needed, reviewed, communicated, and all team members are certain to be using the correct version of the plan.
  • Implement continuous improvement activities; regularly review the plan to make sure it is still relevant and up to date. Before making any changes to the plan, make sure you understand why that part of the plan was there in the first place (sometimes elements of the plan are changed without realizing that those elements were in place for some very good reasons).
  • For some plans consider the “4-Draft Review Process” —
    • Draft 1 — Team members responsible for creating the plan input the known information required by the plan template. The intent is to see what information they have so they can determine what information is missing, what information they need to obtain. The Plan is only shared amongst team members responsible for its creation.
    • Draft 2 — Contains the missing information from Draft 1 and represents the best job that the team members alone can do with the plan creation. Draft 2 is then shared in confidence with highly trusted experts outside the team for their input.
    • Draft 3 — Updated results based on comments made during the Draft 2 review phase. Intent is to share Draft 3 with experts that may be more critical and less forgiving, but whose input is highly valued.
    • Draft 4 — Final Draft; Updated results from Draft 3 reviews.

10. Situation Management – Helps Before, During, & After

  • Use the “Emergency Management” framework to address the situation accommodated by the plan and to stay alert (Mitigate, Prepare, Respond, & Recover).
  • Mitigate — Take action to eliminate any chance of an incident or to eliminate risks.
  • Prepare — Take action to train and drill so you are can execute the plan when called.
  • Respond — Execute the plan when the “trigger point” is reached; when the “alarm” is sounded.
  • Recover — Take appropriate action after the plan has been completed and the situation has been addressed.


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