Strategic Planning- The Literature- Mintzberg

Here is a book review of a book that was important in the development of my own thinking on the utility of strategic planning, by Henry Mintzberg, entitled The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. Recommended to all in this discussion. Some of Jim Burchfield’s observations reminded me of this book.

Book overview
In this definitive and revealing history, Henry Mintzberg, the iconoclastic former president of the Strategic Management Society, unmasks the press that has mesmerized so many organizations since 1965: strategic planning. One of our most brilliant and original management thinkers, Mintzberg concludes that the term is an oxymoron — that strategy cannot be planned because planning is about analysis and strategy is about synthesis. That is why, he asserts, the process has failed so often and so dramatically. Mintzberg traces the origins and history of strategic planning through its prominence and subsequent fall. He argues that we must reconceive the process by which strategies are created — by emphasizing informal learning and personal vision — and the roles that can be played by planners. Mintzberg proposes new and unusual definitions of planning and strategy, and examines in novel and insightful ways the various models of strategic planning and the evidence of why they failed. Reviewing the so-called “pitfalls” of planning, he shows how the process itself can destroy commitment, narrow a company’s vision, discourage change, and breed an atmosphere of politics. In a harsh critique of many sacred cows, he describes three basic fallacies of the process — that discontinuities can be predicted, that strategists can be detached from the operations of the organization, and that the process of strategy-making itself can be formalized. Mintzberg devotes a substantial section to the new role for planning, plans, and planners, not inside the strategy-making process, but in support of it, providing some of its inputs and sometimes programming its outputs as well as encouraging strategic thinking in general. This book is required reading for anyone in an organization who is influenced by the planning or the strategy-making processes.

Also there are some interesting  user reviews at the link.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link to Mintzberg’s book, Sharon. One of the fallacies that is identified, that strategies can be detached from the operations of the organization, is highly relevant to the Forest Service’s fire and fuels management conundrum. In brief, any “integrated” strategy toward fire and fuels that has been demanded by the GAO, Western Governors’ Councils, or HFRA remains a pipe dream, as the actual operation of fire suppression and fuels planning is fundamentally detached from land management planning. I’m tempted to talk about my grad student’s work on how fuel’s reduction plans are actually prepared and implemented on the ground, but I don’t want to steal his thunder, as he’s about to defend his dissertation. Suffice it to say the that the evidence is overwhelming. If we want integration, then its integration with our current structures of work.

  2. Jim,

    Maybe the fault lies in trying to do too much with land management planning — too big an umbrella, too much to try to coordinate in an untimely forum/fashion.

    My advice for the Forest Service is to practice adaptive management with broad public engagement, within and across functional areas in policy and program development. AND to use scenario planning (maybe even in the forest planning arena, but certainly in other arenas as well) simply to “rehash the past” and to “rehearse the future.”

    But the agency should not continue to try to cast up a “desired future” in forest plans or any other scenario plans. Neither should the agency try to develop policy and program guidance in the plans — leave that to policy and program discussions outside the planning frame.

    This would be a huge change for the agency and for interested public interest groups. It might (or might not) require legislative change, but it ought to at least be given some consideration.

  3. I wonder how many of the Forest Service planning directors have read Mintzberg’s masterpiece? In 2004 I worked up a little thing titled “USFS Deeply Flawed Planning Culture” from Mintzberg and friends’ ideas embedded in their books. Here is a link:

    http://forestpolicy.typepad.com/blog/forest_service_critique/usfs_flawed_planning.html

    and here is a tidbit:

    [USFS Problem Areas:]

    Belief that formal plans are a good way to resolve issues. Belief that planning is more an organizational solution than it is a problem. Lost is the ability to be continuously adaptive, with multiple actors at multiple levels playing off one another as the world unfolds before them. Remember that at least half the working environment is in the realm of the unexpected, rather than the expected. Plans tend toward bureaucratic ossification. Lost too is the worth of scenario planning: the ability to keep several futuristic scenarios in mind as a mean to rehearse the future, rather than trying to predict the future.

  4. It was all the rage, circa 1970s, for forest policy strategic planners to build econometric models to predict future timber supply, demand and price.

    Gathering dust on my bookshelf is “Forest Policy for the Future,” ed. by Marion Clawson, a giant in the field. The book includes data from the Forest Service’s “Outlook for Timber in the United States — 1973,” which makes wood products consumption forecasts for the year 2000. So how did these forecasts do?

    Actual year 2000 U.S. consumption of lumber was one-half the forecast amount. Year 2000 plywood consumption was only one-third the predicted amount (planners failed to predict fibreboard technology), and pulpwood consumption also came in at one-third (guess what technology planners didn’t predict?).

    Do forest plans still make 50-year forecasts? Do forest planners still use FORPLAN-type models with 150-year horizons?

  5. Dave, I agree with your advice

    “My advice for the Forest Service is to practice adaptive management with broad public engagement, within and across functional areas in policy and program development. AND to use scenario planning (maybe even in the forest planning arena, but certainly in other arenas as well) simply to “rehash the past” and to “rehearse the future.”

    But the agency should not continue to try to cast up a “desired future” in forest plans or any other scenario plans. Neither should the agency try to develop policy and program guidance in the plans — leave that to policy and program discussions outside the planning frame. ”

    So how’s this for a forest plan – the FS and collaborators look at scenarios, including climate change, and work on maps for suitability (which the public is very interested – “what can the public do where?”). Make sure there are linkages planned and fragmentation addressed. Maybe discuss and have a couple of pages on the forest’s niche (where it fits into the broader landscape, all lands approach). That’s it! Then do Andy’s minimal NFMA compliance and call it good. The EIS is just about different maps of suitability.

    A separate collaborative group or even FACA committee works on monitoring, prioritizing it and working with the FS to interpret, evaluate and propose adaptive practices.

    Could we do that and meet NFMA’s legal requirements?

  6. Sharon asks, “Could we do a minimalist [scenario planning/adaptive management approach to RPA/NFMA] and meet NFMA’s legal requirements?”

    I don’t know. But we ought to try. At minimum it would set a stage to revise or repeal RPA/NFMA and FLPMA. But we might be able to do it within extant law. That is part of what Andy has been trying to help us with here on this blog.

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