Education competencies: Planning

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success. View all competencies .


Accurately determines the length and difficulty of tasks and projects; sets clear, realistic, and measurable goals; sets priorities and time parameters to accomplish tasks and projects; anticipates roadblocks and develops contingencies to redirect tasks so momentum is not lost.

Proficiency level

Level 1: Basic Level 2: Intermediate Level 3: Advanced Level 4: Expert
Evaluates length and difficulty of tasks and projects Accurately determines the length and difficulty of tasks and projects Plans and organizes projects and tasks for himself or herself, as well as for the organization Develops strategies for the organization and coordinates efforts to implement them
Sets clear and realistic objectives and goals Sets clear, realistic, and time-bound objectives and goals Sets clear, realistic, time-bound, and measurable objectives and goals Designs methods for implementing plans and for measuring success
Understands process steps of work Breaks down work into the process steps Investigates possible roadblocks and develops contingencies to redirect tasks so momentum is not lost Fluently conveys the plan to all, creating structure for communication and interaction
Establishes priorities for self and others, developing schedules and assignments Sets priorities and time parameters to accomplish tasks and projects
Anticipates impact of environment and situations on projects and plans how to compensate for the unexpected

Overdoing planning

  • May be overly dependent on rules, regulations, procedures, and structure
  • May leave out the human element of the work
  • May be inflexible and have trouble with rapid change

Essential questions

To improve your proficiency, ask yourself the following questions on a regular basis:

  • Have I correctly evaluated the length and difficulty of tasks or projects and communicated that in the master plan?
  • Are the methods I have designed to implement the plan working as I expect?
  • What are the measurable goals and objectives I must communicate for the tasks or projects?
  • What timetables should I put in place to provide structure and improve communication?
  • What adjustments do I need to make to bring a project in line with the master plan?
  • What is my contingency plan to compensate for roadblocks or snags?

To avoid overdoing planning, ask yourself:

  • Am I too rigid in enforcing rules and applying procedures?
  • Am I inconsiderate of others and/or unreasonably demanding?
  • Am I overly resistant to rapid change?

Interview questions

  • Think back to the most complex task or project you've had to develop a plan for and implement. What made the project so complex? Describe your planning process. Who was involved in implementing it, and how did you coordinate efforts? What were the results?
  • Think back to the last time you set specific work-related goals. Please share several of those goals with me, including the important details.
  • Please describe a situation that demonstrates your ability to effectively plan work by breaking it into process steps and then communicating that plan to those involved.
  • In spite of our best planning, unexpected events can throw our plans off track. Describe a time when you established priorities and target dates for yourself and others and also developed contingency plans for potential roadblocks or challenges. What potential roadblocks or challenges did you identify? What contingencies did you put in place? How did the plan ultimately play out?

Learning on the job

Learning on your own: These self-development remedies will help you build your skill(s).
  • Lay out tasks and work: Plan thoroughly before acting. Determine your goal, timeline, resources and support, and sequence of events. Ask others for their comments.
  • Set the plan: Use flow charts or helpful software. Communicate your plan to others.
  • Set goals and measures: Set goals for the whole project and sub-tasks; set measures to keep on track.
  • Manage multiple plans or aspects of larger plans: Have a master plan to keep you and others on track.
  • Manage efficiently: Budget carefully, prepare for contingencies, and track expenditures regularly.
  • Match people and tasks: Match strengths, experience, and levels of knowledge appropriately.
  • Envision the plan in process: Run various scenarios in your head, anticipating roadblocks and creating contingency plans. Pay attention to and stay in touch with the weakest links.
  • Set up a process to monitor progress against the plan: Invite others to give feedback on the progress.
  • Find someone in your environment who is better at planning: Pattern your activities after his or hers, and ask this person for feedback.
  • Get others to help: Share your ideas with others, and get their input on your plan. Delegate planning responsibilities to others more adept at it, providing them with the goals and objectives.
Learning from develop-in-place assignments: These part-time develop-in-place assignments will help you build your skill(s).
  • Integrate a new system, process, or procedure.
  • Plan an off-site meeting, conference, or event.
  • Manage the major purchase of new equipment, materials, a program, or curriculum.
  • Work on a team that is writing a proposal to obtain significant government or foundation grants or funding of a program or activity.
  • Design a training course in an area you are not an expert in.
Learning more from your plan: These additional remedies will help make this development plan more effective for you.
  • Learning to learn better:
    • Plan backwards from the ideal. Envision what the ideal looks like and the series of events to take you from here to there.
    • Envision yourself succeeding. Examine what success should look like, and play out that role.
    • Rehearse successful tactics, strategies, and actions. Mentally rehearse your actions and the reactions of others. Play out best- and worst-case scenarios in your mind, and prepare to stay in control of your feelings.
    • Study people who have successfully done what you need to do. Interview them. Summarize their key strategies, tactics, and insights.
    • Preview a plan with a test audience. Explore all sides of an issue with others. Allow the plan to emerge from the process as you do.
  • Learning from experience, feedback, and other people:
    • Learn by observing others. Objectively study what they do.
    • Get feedback from those in authority. Communicate that you are open to constructive criticism and are willing to work on issues they view as important.
    • Get feedback from your direct reports. Set a positive tone, and don’t retaliate if you don't agree.
  • Learning from courses:
    • Take a course to brush up on your job skills.
    • Encourage others to take refresher or preparatory courses. Communicate, and be supportive.

Recommended readings

  • Axson, David A. J.Best Practices in Planning and Management Reporting.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.
  • Bacon, Terry R., and David G. Pugh.Winning Behavior: What the Smartest, Most Successful Companies Do Differently.New York AMACOM, 2003.
  • Bandrowski, James F.Corporate Imagination Plus—Five Steps to Translating Innovative Strategies Into Action.New York: The Free Press, 2000.
  • Collins, James C.Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t.New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Dutka, Alan F.Competitive Intelligence for the Competitive Edge.Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books, 1999.
  • Hamel, Gary.Leading the Revolution.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.
  • Jackson, Paul Z., and Mark McKergow.The Solutions Focus.Yarmouth, ME: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2002.
  • Mitroff, Ian I., and Gus Anagnos.Managing Crises Before They Happen.New York: AMACOM, 2001.
  • Prahalad, C.K., and Venkat Ramaswamy.The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value With Customers.Boston Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
  • Smith, Preston G., and Donald G. Reinertsen.Developing Products in Half the Time: New Rules, New Tools.New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997.
  • Vega, Gina.A Passion for Planning: Financials, Operations, Marketing, Management, and Ethics.Lantham, MD: University Press of America, 2001.
  • Williams, Paul B.Getting a Project Done on Time.New York: AMACOM, 1996.

Next steps

Copyright © 1992, 1996, 2001-2003 by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This work is derived from the LEADERSHIP ARCHITECT® Competency Library developed and copyrighted by Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo for Lominger Limited, Inc.

This competency is one in a set of complete functional and behavioral qualities that, when fully realized, can help lead to professional success.

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