Successfull Events, Start with Successful Planning

Leslie Allan wrote an article about the five C's of successful event planning. Its worth re-visting this article as you begin to think about your next event. It all starts wiht the five C's

Create

In creating the plan, it is essential to involve all stakeholders. Stakeholders are people who have an interest in the execution and outcome of the plan and may be impacted either positively or negatively. Getting the buy-in of the major stakeholders is critical to the plan's success, as a disenfranchised stakeholder may sabotage the plan when you are well into execution. As a case in point, a number of years ago I was called in as part of a plan to provide production technical support. The existing engineer, not having been consulted about the changes, felt disenfranchised, and so would embark on a "go slow" whenever a request was made of him. So, it pays to involve stakeholders up front.

The creation phase is itself iterative, as you draft each version and submit it to the stakeholders for comment. Proposed changes will then need to be incorporated until all stakeholders are reasonably satisfied. Be sure to document the plan, making it clear who is expected to do what and by when. Our engineer friend in the previous story would have exhibited much less resistance if expectations were clarified early on.

Also, list any assumptions made, as this will avoid costly misunderstandings further down the track. When compiling the annual training plan, for example, you may not know the cost of each planned training intervention. For each item on my own training plans, I document as part of the plan assumptions made about the number of participants, cost per training day, likely vendors, and so on.

Commit

As you are working with the stakeholders in the Create phase, identify who has approval authority for the plan and authority to commit resources. For plans with a lot at stake, I suggest obtaining formal sign-off from the required authorities as well as from the other major stakeholders. If you have involved the stakeholders in the Create phase, this will not be too difficult. However, I have been taught the painful lesson more than once that a signature does not equate necessarily to genuine commitment. Just recently, a senior manager I approached lamented to me that the three-year training plan serves no useful purpose, and then surprised me by signing it on the spot.

Where possible, get face-to-face with stakeholders to explain the plan and the purpose behind it. Allowing for free two-way communication facilitates genuine understanding and a real aligning of attitudes. It is for this reason that I suggest never relying on emails to gain commitment, especially when it is a major initiative or you do not have a prior relationship of genuine trust with the stakeholders.


Communicate

Send the plan out to stakeholders and everyone who is expected to act in accordance with the plan. Once again, do not rely on email, or any other form of asynchronous one-way communication, to inform people of their roles and responsibilities in executing the plan. Briefing sessions either in person, tele- or web-conference work best, where there is an opportunity to ask questions and get immediate feedback.

Where you expect staff in other areas of the organization to carry out parts of the plan conscientiously in order to ensure the plan's success, one powerful technique is for staff to receive the briefing from their managers. I have seen many programs falter because it appeared driven by "them" in another department. This is why I recommend a pre-course discussion between staff and their manager before staff attend any training programme. Here, again, managers will need to use two-way communication and be genuinely committed to the plan themselves.

Where genuine commitment is lacking, there is a real risk in relying on senior and middle managers to filter information through the various layers of management to the frontline worker. The message may not get through at all or bear little resemblance to the original. In some cases, I have seen my original information pack sent by email with no attempt to engage staff. This is a familiar story also recounted by a number of my colleagues. Hence the importance of the previous Commit phase.


Carry Out

If the first three phases of the planning cycle were conducted adequately, the execution phase will be off to a good start. Where one or more of the previous phases were conducted poorly, trouble will show up sooner or later. Deadlines may be missed, budgets overspent or poor service or product quality delivered.

As the plan progresses, record activities carried out, resources used and the products or services delivered. Doing so will ensure an easier time in the final phase. Also, as the plan progresses, record any issues affecting the execution of the plan as they arise. This will also assist you to carry out the next phase.

Check

As you record activities, expenditure and products/services delivered, compare progress with the plan at regular intervals. Doing so will expose problems and potential problems as they arise. Identifying them and resolving them early will save you much time, energy and disappointment.

Progress checks can be made with your team and/or representative stakeholders at major points along the way or at regular intervals, such as weekly or monthly. This is also the time to identify and resolve issues that have not yet come to the surface. Keep in mind that problems ignored never go away. For the example cited above, my response was to organize a meeting with the recalcitrant supervisor's manager, my manager and myself to resolve the issue.

Stumbling blocks can be handled in either of two ways. The first option is to create a Corrective Action Plan to get the project back on track. You may need to call in extra resources, reassign tasks, and so on. In our example, the Corrective Action Plan involved scheduling team meetings so that they would encroach less on production time. Alternatively, if the current plan is not salvageable in that you are unable to deliver promised products or services, you will need to revise and agree on a new plan.

The Five Cs model is also an effective tool to assist you to conduct your review. For each of the five phases, ask your team and stakeholders how efficiently and effectively each was performed. Look at the hard measures, such as resources used and time to complete, as well as the soft measures, such as a degree of co-operation and clarity of roles and responsibilities. Have someone record the results. If your plan was a success, don't forget to reward yourself and your team for a job well done. And next time you start to plan or review how you went, don't forget The Five Cs of Successful Planning.

Copyright © Leslie Allan