The plan-do-review methodology is well tested and an extremely useful guideline for the efficient and effective achievement of goals, objectives and projects. The essence of the guidance is to ensure adequate planning takes place before action commences. It also recommends that reviews take place at appropriate intervals along the way to ensure activities are on track. Following completion of the activity, a final review is recommended to look for lessons learned.
I’d like to propose an addition to this model that takes its usefulness to a whole new level. Looking at the plan-do-review methodology as a circular process, we see that planning precedes doing, doing precedes reviewing and reviewing leads back to planning.
The starting point on the circle can be anywhere. Once a goal is identified it doesn’t have to be plan, then do, then review. Some like to start doing as soon as a goal is identified, then review initial progress and then plan next steps (do-review-plan). Others like to review their current situation in relation to the identified goal, plan next steps, then act (review-plan-do). All are valid approaches.
The change I’m proposing is to extend the circle by adding some steps between the review and planning phases. These new phases are reflect, reframe and refocus.
My reasons for suggesting these additional phases is to promote a deeper level of review that should lead to a more effective planning phase. It may even lead to a change to the original goal or to a new goal entirely.
One might suggest that the review phase, as it stands, should lead to the same outcome and that these additional phases are not required. Perhaps; though in my experience this is very often not the case. The reason for this is that the review phase is seen as a review of progress towards the current goal. It is not often seen, additionally, as a review of whether the goal is still the right goal.
I have witnessed individuals and organisations set goals, very effectively achieving them utilising sophisticated versions of the plan-do-review methodology, only to find the goals do not yield the envisaged benefits. In some cases the achievement of these goals introduces significant risk, despite initial assessments that significant benefits should accrue. I include myself and businesses I have worked for, in this camp.
This is why I am suggesting these additional phases be added: to promote a deeper level of review that should help avoid these kinds of mistakes.
As part of the review process, a more reflective state should be promoted. The possibility that “all bets are off” should be allowed to enter the consciousness of the reviewers and the decision makers. “Failure is not an option” should only apply after the goal has been verified as continuing to represent a valuable achievement. Choosing not to proceed with a particular project should not be seen as failure. If the end game is seen to genuinely not be worth the effort, or to be counter to the best interests of the individual or organisation, the possibility of changing course should be entertained.
Mindsets should be open to new and alternative perspectives, which leads to the second phase of the extended process, reframing. Reframing is a phase in which one should seek alternative perspectives, play devil’s advocate to all suggestions and deliberately challenge current perceived wisdom. New information and data, not available at the start of the project, should be sort. Questions such as “What alternative courses of action are open to us?”, “What else might we better use our resources for?” and “Do our original hypotheses and assumptions still stand?” should be asked.
The basic premise of the reflect and reframe phases is to answer the questions “Is the goal still the right one for us, right now?” and if it is “Is this plan of action still the best way to get us to our intended goal?”
Whatever the outcomes of the reflect and reframe phases, the refocus phase is an opportunity to quite literally refocus attention on the new, tweaked or unaltered goal, before detailed planning takes place. It might be a time to catch your breath and revisit commitments made to others. Communicating the reasons for a change of tack might be needed. This should be with renewed commitment that it is the right thing to do and that costly risks have been mitigated. It might be a phase for revisiting connected projects that also need to be tweaked or stopped.
Following this more in-depth review, utilising the reflect-reframe-refocus methodology, the next planning phase can then be entered into, knowing that the resultant doing is the right activity for you, or the organisation, right now.