Tag: Planning

Planning Horizon

Life is too busy. I continue to hear this from many people and it is especially true for the ones leading organizations. The leader often relays that they are so stuck in the day-to-day management of the business they cannot spend any time on the vision and direction. There are many techniques that help this, and I think one is getting clear on your planning horizon. What time frame should you be spending most of your time thinking about?

You have people for that

Let’s use the founder of the church as an example. Ten years ago he planted the church, and it has grown now to about 1000 people attending services on the weekend. In the beginning, he had to do nearly everything on his own, including dreaming about the long-term future and preparing for next Sunday. That works ok when an organization is very small because there aren’t that many details or moving parts to worry about. It is still a lot to think about and do. Now, he has staff and volunteers helping to run everything, but he is still in contact with each and every detail.

Do you trust people enough to guide and let go? If there are performance issues, then you can coach and train most people to get better over time. However, if there are trust issues where you can’t let go, that is usually a leadership challenge. Think about the worst thing that could (realistically) happen if you let them go on their own? If that risk is acceptable (and it usually is), then practice letting go.

Visualize your planning horizon

If you have a way to see your planning horizon, the time frame that should consume most of your thinking, then you can communicate effectively to others about your role and theirs.

What most people do as the organization grows and their leadership role expands is shown below. Note how they might be the founding pastor with visionary responsibilities, but they are still operating in the near term.

Common Planning Horizon

What I recommend is to shift the planning horizon rather than expand it. We all have to do a little bit of thinking about today and this week so we remember to get up in the morning, attend the staff meeting, or buy groceries. The question is where most of your time is focused at work.

Preferred Planning Horizon

Your Next Move

The next time you are too busy to think about the vision and direction of your church, consider drawing out your planning horizon, and do the same for those around you. If there is too much overlap, or you see gaps, then you have work to do so each of you can be working on the right stuff.

Navigating Your Vision

In addition to my role on the leadership team at Church Community Builder, I have a somewhat unique set of skills. For most of my life, from childhood till today, I have been involved in ballooning. I am a hot air balloon pilot and spend much of my free time flying and participating in ballooning events. On the surface, the experience of flying balloons may seem unrelated to my day job … but in reality, it has helped me be a better leader. When we launch the balloon, we frequently have the intention of landing in a specific place. Unfortunately, balloons don’t have steering wheels, so we have to use the winds available to navigate to a landing. Much like leading people or implementing system change, there are some variables that a balloon pilot can control and many circumstances they cannot. I have learned how to plan for the things that I can control and respond to the forces that I cannot, while still aiming at specific target. Here are three lessons leaders can learn from piloting a balloon.

Make a plan, but keep it fluid

Prior to any flight, there is a plan. You don’t want to get in the air and then just ‘figure it out’. We could plot a path on a map and use a ruler to draw that line, but our actual journey won’t work out that way. There are obstacles along the way we have to go around, and there are well-worn paths we can use to move a little faster or a little more easily, even if they are not perfectly on track to our destination.

Flight Path 2014_10_06

Look at the path above. I started in the top left corner of the map on that flight, and landed within five feet of where I wanted, after 40 minutes and 5 miles. Something interesting to note about this path: If you look closely at my launch, it initially took me backwards from the goal. This is common in ministry as well. There are times we have to close down a ministry and shrink before we can grow in the right direction to achieve our vision. Planning is important — it is a must. But even in the best plans, there will be things that come up that were not anticipated. We don’t know what we don’t know. Planning is not something that is done once and complete. There are always in-flight adjustments that must be made.

You can’t always head straight for the target

When we see our vision, or our landing place, we usually cannot just go straight there. You can’t tackle every problem straight on. You may notice that the first half of the flight was very straight, but not in the right direction. If we had continued in that direction, we would have missed our target by a long shot. That path was not direct, but it was setting us up for the last half of the journey. I recently worked with a church that was growing a teaching team to reduce the dependence on the senior pastor. The quality of the preaching went down for a time, but it set them up in just the right way to really thrive.

When you divert, it is easy to get distracted

I remember this flight. After I had crossed the river and was in the wide open spaces again, I almost gave up on the vision. There were many great landing places that would have been ‘just fine’. I had to keep my mind fixed on the destination. Specifically, I had special guests on board and I wanted to show them a great picture opportunity.

As you approach your target, you may be tempted to let down. It has been a hard and long journey getting here and you may find yourself asking if this is close enough. This ‘good enough’ syndrome is tempting for all of us, but should be resisted. If I had landed somewhere else, my guests would have had a great day. They would likely not have known what they missed out on. But by pushing on to the target landing spot, they had much more than great day. They had a spectacular experience that was awe-inspiring. Even when your path twists and turns, you have to keep your eye on the prize and go the whole distance.


Your Next Move

You have a vision; now plot a path. That path will have diversions and convenient stopping points, but you can ensure your path gets you to the goal. Identify those distraction points as best you can so that you can remind yourself and your team there is a bigger destination in mind, even though this one seems nice enough.

Are You Ready?

Some time ago, my wife and I were getting ready for a date night. I was ready and thought we might leave a bit early. I asked, “Are you ready?” The answer was not what I expected…”Yes, I just need to get dressed.” Wait, that means yes? I am sure that was an isolated case in our modern human existence, so I didn’t worry too much about it.

How Do You Define “Ready”?

I think of ready implying I have nothing preventing me from moving to the next thing, whether it be date night, a long road trip, a business opportunity, whatever. Others define ready more loosely, like they are in the right frame of mind to start the activities that would make them ready eventually.

I recently was talking to an associate at work about a project status, and their response was something like, “It’s good to go, we just need to code it.” Being a software project, it seemed to me the “coding” part was no small feat. My own internal dialogue was, “well, then it’s not really good to go then is it.” We clearly had different definitions for the same word.

How to Get Ready Faster

If you are one of those folks who always seems to be not-quite-ready, here are a few tips to getting ready faster.

  • Stay Organized. The more organized we are in life and business, the less time it takes to get our stuff together. On a personal level, I know where my keys and wallet are stored in the house, so I don’t have to take any time finding them before I can be ready. In business, I spend a fair bit of time reading and researching trends to be ready for the future. Then, when an opportunity comes up I can honestly say, “I have thought about that, I am ready to move.” Organization creates speed.
  • Live with Less. Recently, I took some folks to the airport for a one week trip to Hawaii. One couple got in the truck with two bags, a carry-on suitcase and a small handbag. The other couple got in the truck with five bags. Two large check-in-only-at-the-weight-limit suitcases, two carry-on bags, and a handbag. Two very different approaches to the same trip. I contend one couple was able to move faster at every change point in the trip. Check in at the airport, go through security, get on the airplane, get in the rental car, pack to go home, etc. Less to manage is an accelerator.
  • Have a Checklist. A couple of years ago, we had a major forest fire here in Colorado Springs. That scary event prompted us to create “Go Bags” for each member of the family containing some food, water, and survival supplies. Attached to each bag is a checklist instructing that member of the family what they are to do and get before we drive away in an emergency. Since we took time to get organized, and decided how little we could get by with, the checklist allows us to perform in a stressful moment without processing delays. Checklists create precision under pressure.
  • Your Next Move

    Next time you are talking to someone about being ready, first make sure you are on the same page about what ready means. In the mean time, get organized, minimize your needs, and create a checklist for what is really important.

Simple or Simplistic?

In these days of swirling technology and overall busy-ness, many of us want our lives to be simpler. The Simple mantra is becoming the rallying cry of churches, businesses, families, and individuals. But what does that really mean…”Simple”?

Well, I decided to consult the oracle of Google and I learned Simple is defined as

Easily understood or done, presenting no difficulty.

Don’t we all wish life were that way?

Is it Simple, or just Simplistic?

On the contrary to having a simple, clean, elegant solution to a problem, we often resort to simplistic solutions. By definition, Simplistic is to treat a complex issues and problems as if they were much simpler than they really are. Another thing that caught my eye was a synonym of simplistic… “superficial”. I have recently read a couple books on being simple, like Insanely Simple and Getting Real. Both books celebrate, and even idolize, the goal of being simple.

What’s the Difference?

If you are motivated to create simple solutions or simple processes, you might be tempted to go the simplistic route instead.

  • Simple is complete and elegant, Simplistic takes short cuts and leaves major things out
  • Simple is often the result of that “Aha!” moment, Simplistic is the result of fatigue
  • Simple is beautiful and catches on quickly, Simplistic is met with tons of questions like, “what about…”

Your Next Move

Next time you have a desire for Simple, but find yourself cutting corners, feeling fatigued, or ignoring other’s challenges, stop. Stop and listen to their input, take some time to refresh, and design a complete and useful solution. Once a solution is complete, then the Simple will be revealed.

Planning Takes Too Long

Planning takes too long, let’s just get started.


I use OmniPlan for the Mac for my project planning

When we start coaching a new church to implement a change, we make a plan. Usually this is a pretty detailed plan with lots of tasks, dependencies, dates…the whole bit. We often get feedback that this planning process takes too long and they just want to get started. In my mind, planning equals speed. I know that sounds contradictory, but the key is whether you are in a hurry to start, or to finish.

What’s the Hurry?

If you are in a hurry to start a project, then planning is indeed a waste and should be ignored. However, let’s first ask what is driving us to be in a hurry. Here are some common reasons that we hear:

  • I have to show ____ I am making progress.
  • If we have a plan, we will be forced to follow it and I want to be more flexible.
  • I am new here and I need to show them I know what I am doing.
  • You just can’t plan this type of work.
  • I am an action-oriented person. All this talking just wears me out.

None of those hold water in my mind, they are excuses. When exploring a brand new thing nobody has ever done, the plans are a lot more vague and loose. In fact, sometimes projects are entering into such an unknown territory there is no way to make a meaningful plan – so don’t waste a lot of your time. However, if you are motivated by the end of the project, the results part, then planning that project out really increases speed to finish.

How Does Planning Make us Faster?

Below are four key benefits to a solid plan.

  • A good planning process clarifies the direction, the scope, and the value of a project before you begin. How many times have you started a project that seemed like a good idea, then realized half way through you can’t even remember what you were trying to accomplish? Planning allows you to firm up those reasons and success criteria early. Sometimes creating a plan helps you to realize the project isn’t even worth doing….before you started working in earnest. Great savings. The last thing any of us need in our busy lives is a project we shouldn’t be doing.
  • My personal favorite, a good plan helps us to stay focused. I get so easily distracted, I need tools to help me only think about what is relevant right now. Back to the house: spending days working on the color of the curtains is not time well spent while trying to rough-in the plumbing and electrical. Stay focused on the work at hand, and know that other thing is in the plan and will come up at just the right time.
  • A good plan helps us to avoid rework. “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing over again.” While I have always enjoyed that adage, It bothers me that we behave that way so frequently. Think of the time and costs associated with having to go back and redo something…that time could have been saved with a good plan. The more we do work in the “right” order, then the dependencies flow nicely and we don’t have to go back and fix things. Think of building your new house: pouring the foundation before you have decided where the bedrooms go would be a real mistake. You would have to tear it out and pour more concrete later when you really had a design.
  • A good plan shows us progress. A plan with some milestones in it allows us to track our progress. That progress status is used for three things that tends to increase motivation, resources, and speed.
    1. Communicate with the organization. “We are 30% done on this and we estimate being complete in October”. This builds clarity and reminds others you are still working and progressing.
    2. Celebrate. “Yahoo…we reached the end of the design phase!” This helps to lift spirits and keep the motivation to focus on the work.
    3. Compete. “We still need Bob on our team. Look at all he has done and what other tasks are assigned to him.” In this world of limited time and resources, we often have to fight to keep the resources we secured at the beginning of the project.

Your Next Move

Be willing to focus on the outcome you want before starting. Think of that project you are hesitating to start. Make a quick plan… at least enough to get started.

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