Holland's 13 steps in the planning process

Every planner has a different framework for understanding a project. These are high level principles they keep in mind that apply across the board. The system must be both flexible enough to accommodate nuance and based in proven theory to be effective guides. There are as many approaches as there are planners, but I was recently shown one that has a good balance of detail and flexibility.

Mark Holland, one of my professors at VIU, gave a lecture detailing his approach to a planning project. It contains 13 steps in full, but can be adjusted for any task. Before he revealed it, he asked us to jot down what we thought might be necessary steps in a planning process. I wrote five - and the last one was ‘celebrate’. Needless to say, I glossed over a few details.

Although I had a general understanding of the basic steps, having them described in detail is much more beneficial while developing a plan.

I thought it was worth sharing, and so I present - in order - Mark Holland’s 13 Steps in the Planning Process.

The Holland 13

1. Planning to plan

This is the initial high level scoping and project structuring phase. The team must identify key issues, stakeholders, history, politics, budget, and any other relevant information. The goal is to understand, as best as possible, what it is you are actually going to do.

2. Research and assessment

Research into key aspects of plan is the main focus of this stage. Again, consideration of stakeholders, history, location, budget and politics are important.

Assessing results of research helps to clarify issues, problems, and goals. Refining the initial plan is often necessary at the end of this step.

3. Create project framework

Address the issues through an intellectual framework to determine how they relate. This is a key role of the planner. Creating a model of the project helps to further clarify and define the direction and scope.

4. Create and refine the process

Here, it is important to revisit initial ideas around the process. Further refine goals by grappling with the framework of issues and desired outcomes, timelines, and budget considerations.

5. Gather stakeholders and start conversations

Almost all planning is for others parties - not you. They need to co-author the plan and get involved. Gather them, discuss, and create a ‘coalition of the committed’ to champion the project.

6. Set the terms of engagement

One of the most crucial and often overlooked steps. Set the agreed terms of engagement with the policy community and stakeholders, being extraordinarily clear. Without appropriate expectations on timing and outcomes both sides may end up disillusioned.

7. Create vision, goals, and objectives

Start with a great outcome in mind - the ‘vision’, and set goals based on that vision. Establish individual objectives and get them right to ensure clarity and criteria for judging the outcome. The work done in the earliest steps begins to pay off dividends here.

8. Create some metrics and staged targets over time

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Though they can be challenging, metrics and targets add important discipline. If possible, combine the performance tracking system with preexisting metrics for ease of long term monitoring

9. Develop the plan

Work through options, consider goals. Identify criteria to help select options. Set responsibilities amongst stakeholders.

This is one of the most active and delicate steps - and actions and language must reflect this. Remember to be gentle yet direct, and leave no room for miscommunication.

10. Get the plan adopted

Review political agendas and interests, and frame the plan to meet key motivations and politics. Challenges will emerge that threaten to kill the plan, so a certain amount of politicking and stick handling may be necessary. Knowledge and correct completion of the formal approval process will be the main action.

11. Create the implementation strategy

Work with stakeholders on ‘responsibility for action’ and break down the plan, completing it in small steps over time. The budget comes into play in a big way. Be sure to acknowledge cost implications and get money allocated as much as possible. The focus should always be on early wins. Generating momentum is critical at the beginning of the implementation phase, and the strategy should reflect this.

12. Implement the plan

Get plan approved into all necessary budgets and team resource plans. Review metrics and targets and include in work plans and priorities.

This is the hand off. Operational teams will take it from here and implement the plan.

13. Monitor and revise the plan

An often overlooked step. Your job is not done yet! Always pay attention to the implementation the plan.

It is useful to work with the team and stakeholders to refine the implementation plan. Report the successes and be honest about problems to keep the plan effective, relevant, and on track.

It’s a lot of steps and a lot of work, but lays out a solid road map for successful programs. Many of the steps overlap, but they all contain distinct contributing characteristics. As always, adjust as necessary. More so than a rigid procedure, it is a useful framework to apply to think through a planning project - so don’t be afraid to take what’s useful and discard what isn’t.

Credit for this particular approach goes to Mark Holland.