11 – ‘It’s planning time again … I can see that far away look in your eyes’ (with apologies to Ray Charles) – Part 1

Yes folks, it’s that time of the year again in local government when we get staff in each department together to talk about what needs to be done in the coming year. Copies of the Council Plan (the statutory 4 year plan) will be dusted off to see what high level strategies or goals have been set by the Council and, depending on how many departments you have, twenty or more Department Plans with action lists will be created. Lots of actions will be identified, described, put into SMART objectives, followed by the budget bids needed to get the funding to implement them. Maybe these Department Plans will be aggregated into a lesser number of plans covering each directorate or branch of the organisation. A familiar story?

But, is this the best way to develop an organisational plan that is realistic, achievable and focused on delivering the value sought by the community?

It is not unusual for a Council Plan to have more than 100 actions, mainly driving asset creation projects and policy reviews. ‘The delivery of basic ‘business as usual’ services (e.g. maintaining parks and roads, delivering home support services, collecting waste, building and planning approvals, local law enforcement) are often unmentioned. Each Department Plan could then have a further 5 or 10 actions, most of which will be to solve problems or implement improvements. This is potentially 200 to 300 actions to be implemented over the course of the year while ‘business as usual’ continues in delivering services.

If you look hard, you will probably find that amongst the 200 to 300 actions that there are 20 or more organisation-wide improvement actions. This could include IT projects, major system overhauls (e.g. occupational health and safety, risk management, customer service), or some major community planning (e.g. revising the community plan, master planning for new services or major facilities). Implementing these actions will require time and effort from staff across the organisation and may impact on the implementation of other planned actions and in delivering business as usual’ services.   Is it feasible for an organisation to commit to this many actions and deliver them?

I think the proof is in the eating. How many councils deliver all of their planned capital works or Council Plan actions each year? Not many. Even less will deliver on all of the actions in their directorate or department business plans. We tend to bite off more than we can chew. So, why does this happen?

Lancing Farrell