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From Management’s Point of View ~ Planning & Timing (1 of 2) ~

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

July14, 2023

No matter what industry or sector, it is necessary to set up plans for the projects that are being worked on, and to proceed in a way that is as close as possible to those plans. However, some people are simply better at planning than others. Meanwhile, even if the same work is planned out in the same way, some people are better than others at executing in accordance with the plan.

So, how do you move forward with your work in the way that is envisioned? We have found that there are some techniques to this, and I would like to share some of them with my readers.

1. Clearly understand the goals

The first thing that is required is to have a clear understanding of where the goals lie, and what is to be accomplished. The amount of time and expense required will surely change depending on whether the job is at an extremely high level or more of a standard type. Also, goals should not be set up only from someone's point of view to eliminate bias. It is important to obtain shared recognition with whoever is expecting the end results, whether that is the client, the boss, or some other stakeholder. Everything starts from a common clarification of what is to be achieved in the end, and in what manner.

2. Set deadlines, and schedule backward to establish the required steps

Once the end results are properly understood, the next thing is to determine the deadline. For instance, if the end results are the financial statements for annual accounts, the deadline might be the end of February. However, by creating a number of smaller milestones, it will be possible to know the state of overall progress, and make sure that everything is staying on schedule. In this example, the assets portion might be due on January 15; the liabilities portion on January 20; and the tax effects accounting at the end of January; with the final financial statements due on February 15. In the process of setting this up, the extent of the steps required would also be ascertained. The less confident someone is in their time management skills, the more deliberately such milestones should be established and monitored.

3. Understand relative importance, and schedule accordingly

There are very few work situations where someone can do just one project. Most people simultaneously handle multiple projects and tasks. This means people have to look at factors like importance and urgency in determining what things need to be accomplished to what extent in a given week. Things characterized by high importance and high urgency must definitely get done in the week scheduled. The problem is how to handle things that either have high urgency but low importance, or conversely low urgency but high importance. Without realizing it, we tend to spend lots of time on things with high urgency but low importance; what we should be doing is constantly checking “what really needs to be done now” and making judgments and decisions accordingly. Something that is often forgotten is to plan out time for things that have low urgency but high importance. The further someone advances in the ranks of the management, the more necessary it becomes to make definitive progress on things that don’t actually have to be completed right now, such as formulating the company’s long-term vision. That would be something that is extremely critical to the organization as a whole, meaning that even though the urgency is low, the project’s progress would need to be constantly managed.

4. Periodically seek a shared understanding

It is important to have periodic meetings (or take other opportunities) with supervisors or clients to let them know how the work currently stands and how it is proceeding. In particular, the earlier the stage of the project, and the less experienced the staff members assigned to the project are, the greater the chances are for things to veer off in the wrong direction. Such meetings certainly don’t need to take up a lot of time, but at a minimum, they should establish shared understanding as to:

  • Whether the direction and approach are correct

  • Whether sufficient budgeting and staffing are in place

  • Whether things are proceeding according to the plan

  • What sorts of problems could come up in the future

By doing this, situations can be prevented in which things go off in the wrong direction, becoming a much bigger problem by the time it is realized.

5. Hold a summary meeting with the client

Whenever possible, a summary meeting should be convened when submitting the final results, so as to properly explain their meaning. Especially regarding matters having a high level of difficulty or which are hard to understand, it will also tend to be beyond the client’s comprehension. Careful explanation should be provided from the perspective of the client who may not grasp the content of the results being submitted, seeking to advance their understanding, thus preventing gaps in recognition, and raising the level of satisfaction. This will also save the amount of time that the side submitting the results may need to spend later on additional explanation, thereby benefiting both parties.

6. Hold a summary meeting within the team

Finally, a meeting of the project team should take place to arrive at a general overview of the project. In the case of our company, this type of meeting is focused on a comparison of the actual time and expense with our budget projections, consideration of the quality of the results and the client’s reaction, as well as performance reviews of the various staff members involved. We believe that this process encourages the staff to better understand the project, and allows for faster personal growth later on.

The foregoing is the basic structure of our company’s internally shared concept of “Planning and Timing,” but there is one other thing that is critically important, and that is “to know your own character.” Even in elementary school, some students, for instance, are able to plan out homework assignments over school breaks, while others always find themselves in a panic at the last minute. There are those students who plan out homework assignments over school breaks, and then there are those who find themselves in a panic at the last minute. Sadly, I myself was a member of the latter group. For example, the deadline for this “From the President’s Perspective” column, if I were to leave it until the last possible moment, would be the day before publication. On the other hand, there have been times when I had difficulty and wasn’t able to write it smoothly. Basically, this series is a summary of our company’s philosophical axes that we discuss at our regular Beer Bash events, so now the deadline that I give myself is to come up with a summary of the Beer Bash discussion by 4 pm on the Sunday afterward, before which I have to create a draft and meet with an assistant. Since deciding this (and sticking to it), the stock of material has gradually expanded, so that I can now work on columns three months in advance. By making a promise to report progress to someone else, a colleague if not a supervisor, you can create a system that does not tolerate your own looseness.

By faithfully following these six basic techniques, knowing your own character, and working to compensate for your weaknesses, you should be able to move towards planning and execution with time and mental space to spare, and stop leaving things until the last minute. There will surely be things that don’t go exactly as you expected, but I think that there is nothing so important as faithfully sticking to fundamental principles. I will continue in my efforts to enable everyone in our company to master the basics of “Planning and Timing.”


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