Simply put, planning can be defined as the process of creating and executing plans. Often these plans are directed and focused and contain established goals and destinations. To integrate is to combine one thing with another so that they form a connected whole. While strategic planning focuses on the future and how to adapt and operational planning focuses on resourcing actions in the short term, integrated planning looks at how an organization can plan across multiple functions, levels, locations, and other natural or artificial divisions. Integrated planning is not solely an effort internal to an organization as it also has the objective of examining external economic, social, political, and environmental costs and benefits. Combining internal and external integration provides the ability to evaluate the best courses of all options and to plan suitable courses of action. It also has multiple social dimensions and depends on the engaged participation of all stakeholders and affected entities.
There are a number of similar and related activities worth noting: Participatory planning – Emerging from the urban planning paradigm, participatory planning emphasizes involving entire community, or communities, in the design, development, strategic, and administrative processes of planning. Comprehensive planning – While now a broad concept, comprehensive planning showed early practice in community development, and sought to merge and inform community goals and action with public policy in the areas of transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, and housing. Collaborative planning – Collaborative planning arose in the educational sector to align student performance with teaching and professional practice, both being tied to organizational or school improvement goals. It is based on the practice of teaching and learning and depends on extensive dialogue.
Integrated business planning (IBP) – IBP is a methodology or approach for connecting the planning functions of multiple business units or departments in an organization with a focus on aligning operations, strategy, and financial performance. Integrated strategic change (ISC) – This is an example of the many ways planning intersects with organizational development. ISC is an integrated approach to organizational intervention, sustained execution, planned change, and strategy. ISC adds a temporal component considering the past, present, desired future, and transitions among all three.
While any of these one veins is of interest to the development of integrated planning, none of them fully explain the complexity of the topic nor do they give a prescriptive approach to developing a culture of integrated planning. From my experience, there are a number of key characteristics in evidence in an organization practicing integrated planning. Let me summarize these in three key components.
First, the organization practices awareness to action. This is permeated by strategic thinking based on good analytics and methodical planning practices. Foremost, integrated planning should include sound strategic thinking. If we view strategy as focused behavior over time adapting to changing conditions , it requires that we are continually monitoring and scanning internal and external conditions and that we have the ability to do things differently as these conditions change. Additionally, we need to understand what is happening through analysis and synthesis. Good analytics require the availability of data with integrity, so that the results of the analyses are sound. Given the exponential rate at which data are being generated, most analyses require technical capabilities well beyond paper and pencil to make sense of the inputs, trends, and complex patterns. Most organizations need strategic repositories of data (I’ll write more later about the three kinds of data inventories I recommend). A third component to practicing awareness to action is strong planning capacities. Organizations need to be able to generate plans, constantly seek and achieve alignment, and manage the process of generating actions based on the plans. All of this should be generated with broad engagement of multiple stakeholders and collaborative partnerships and through shared vision, reinforced values, and a common language.
Second, there is a high degree of collective organizational effort. To do so, constituents must be engaged by getting people involved. Considerations are the breadth of engagement – across boundaries, functions, or other groupings – and the depth of engagement by ensuring deep vertical alignment. Supporting engagement and collective effort is constant communication where key information is kept flowing. Here it is important to attend to the frequency and accuracy of communication, the transparency of decision making processes, and continual building of shared awareness within the organization. Finally, collective effort hinges on the ability to make things happen through execution. Good execution allows the organization to collectively pursue priorities in activities that contribute to a shared strategy. Measurement, accountability, and evidence based decision making also help the organization alter and correct course when conditions change or outcomes are not meeting expectations. Good execution shows a high degree of coordination with plans and actions informing each other.
Lastly, a third bucket of integrated planning characteristics has efforts focused on transforming and strengthening rather than maintaining the status quo. Organizations need to be able to innovate to gain or maintain ground in a shifting world. The ability to innovate includes but is not limited to generating ideas, moving to action, and creating value – three key requirements for innovation. One of the most important characteristics of integrated planning is the ability to manage resources well enough to drive appropriate action. This is exhibited by the capacity to free up and reallocate existing resources, generate new funds, and prioritize resources during ever-shifting needs and conditions. Strengthening and transforming organizations with intent is never accomplished without good leadership. The final characteristics I’ll identify for integrated planning relate to leadership’s ability to inspire vision, manage people and relationships, and generate results. With a keen eye focused on adaptive management in planning, using appropriate performance measures, and long-term alignment of organization with its environment, leaders can guide organizations through integrated planning to reach difficult destinations.