Planners and Operators

Generally speaking, planning is a good thing. Especially when it prepares you to deal with stuff that happens. Like a hurricane.

Listening to a report about Hurricane Katrina on npr the other day, I was impressed by how much advance planning had taken place.

So, with all the modeling and conferences, what happened? Trouble is not the planning. Rather, it's the planners and the operators.

The planners make the plans. The operators follow the plans. Makes sense, right? In theory yes. In actual practice, it can fall apart. For example, the planners plan based on assumptions. The operators cope with actual realities.

Many years ago, when I first entered the OD field, we used to run a little exercise in the management development programs we did for our clients, called "Planners and Operators."

In this exercise, there was a task to acomplish. The group of trainees was divided into two teams, a team of planners, and a team of operators. The planners were told to create a plan for accomplishing the task. Next, the planners were told to convey the plan to the operators, whose job would be to use the plan to get the task done. After that, the operators were told to go to work, while the planners watched.

Without fail, the planners would watch aghast as their carefully thought-out plan was changed by the operators, and often thrown out altogether, as the operators scrambled to get the task done.

So what does this offer to us in today's Katrina-rocked world? One thing it suggests to me is that the people "on the ground" (the Operators) need to be unfettered by the people "on high" (the Planners).

Sure we need plans and planning processes. But all of that precedes the event. When the event happens, the operators must be able to run the show and call the shots.

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