Give Planning Priority
Looking ahead, creating a scheme or method in order to attain a particular goal or objective is called planning.
In the management arena, planning precedes the other four managerial functions—organizing, directing, controlling, and coordinating—since it is an integral part of each function.
In the dictionary meaning, organizing is the act of uniting separate elements of a whole into a smooth working unit (putting the project together). Directing is the act of pointing out a course or goal. Controlling is the act of exercising restraint or regulation. Coordinating is the act of harmonizing into a common act or effort (keeping the project running smoothly after it’s organized).
Once you have identified a particular need or problem within your department or firefighting unit, your first step is to determine what resources (manpower, equipment, facilities, funding, etc.) are available to enact a solution. Then ORGANIZE the resources into a viable, working unit. Plan the what, where, how, and why of the operation so that you will attain maximum efficiency using a minimum of resources. In the organizing phase, we do not want to overkill nor do we want to send a boy to do a man’s job. If this phase is well planned, it will save you time, effort and money.
Once having your resources lined up and ready to go, you have to DIRECT them toward a series of objectives that will eventually lead to the main goal. When establishing objectives and goals, keep in mind that the desired outcome must be realistic (within the limits of available resources), attainable (not beyond the capabilities of personnel), and measurable (e.g., this project will result in a 20% increase in response times). Again, carefully plan directions.
CONTROL, especially in a semimilitary organization like the fire service, is also an important management function. Control can run the gamut from an occasional phone call between subordinate and superior to daily, weekly, or monthly written reports. Control, however subtly applied, is necessary, as it’s a good yardstick for measuring the progress and success of a plan.
Plan your control according to the personnel carrying out the objectives and the degree of intricacy of the operation. In some instances, a great deal of control can hinder and stifle an operation, while in other cases a maximum amount of control will be necessary. Well planned controls make an operation much simpler for the superior and, more important, save a most precious commodity—time.
Planning the COORDINATION of an operation before it begins will eliminate a lot of duplication of effort and overlapping of responsibilities. Separate units or individuals working within a program have to know what the others are doing in order to work together toward the common objective.
For planning to be effective, it must not be done in a vacuum and cannot be rigid. Planning in a vacuum is planning without taking into consideration the immediate, intermediate, and long-range needs of the community, the citizens, the men in the department, and the department itself. Planning without considering these needs can lead to shortfalls in manpower, equipment, and facilities. Fire protection will become overtaxed and the department will have to resort to stop-gap measures or crisis management, like the prize-fighter who stands in the ring and waits for his opponent to hit him before he decides what his counter strategy will be. How often do temporary stop-gap measures become permanent, half effective measures?
There are times when plans are well thought out and if all things remain the same they will be effective—but then some unforeseen event occurs. This is where flexibility in planning is necessary. A case in point is the expanding community that has been zoned for future growth. The chief has planned for future expansion of the department. Such things as facilities, manpower, equipment, and water supplies have all been budgeted and planned for. However, the planning commission has decided to rezone a residential area to high value commercial. Rezoning in growing communities is not an uncommon occurrence. If the rezoning possibility was considered from the beginning, an alternate plan could have been devised under non-crisis conditions and then implemented if required with a minimum of upheaval to the budget, the department and the community.
For planning to be effective, it must not be done in a vacuum and cannot be rigid. Planning in a vacuum is planning without taking into consideration the needs of the community, the citizens, the men in the department, and the department itself.
Planning as a management function affects every level of management, from first line supervisor to top level commanders. A properly prepared plan assures us of the most successful outcome of any activity, whether it be the daily duties of a firefighting unit or the long-range plans of an entire department.
It has been said that planning is the most important function of management. I agree, because planning allows more time for other duties and responsibilities, such as prefire planning, training, and all the other functions of a modern-day fire officer.