Is National Action Plan (NAP) a plan?

ANDREW Grove, one of the founders of Intel, is considered the pioneer of the semiconductor industry and of modern management practices. In one of his books, High Output Management, he talks about “management by objectives” (MBO), a method of creating meaningful plans that disciplines thinking, focuses efforts and gives direction to those involved in their implementation.

This method had earlier been popularised by the founder of modern management, Peter Drucker, but Grove brought it to an even wider audience. Reportedly, Google, DuPont and Intel all use this method. MBO can be used to create and analyse the effectiveness of a plan, whether by a company, sports team, individual or country.

Our government came up with the National Action Plan (NAP) some time ago. It tries to address the important issues this country faces. The purpose of this article is not to analyse the plan from a political or public-policy standpoint but, rather, to evaluate it in the light of MBO.

Any meaningful plan needs to list not only its objectives, but also the milestones (or key results) that must be pursued along the way in order to achieve those objectives. According to Grove, MBO helps answer two questions: first, where does one want to go, ie the objective and; second, how to measure whether one is getting closer to one’s destination, ie milestones or key results. NAP, however, refers only to objectives and has no mention of key results that will help measure progress. For example, the objectives listed in NAP include revamping and reforming the criminal justice system but it does not state which milestones or key results need to be achieved in order to be able to do this.

The aforementioned objective also gives no indication of the duration in which this task is to be completed. Plans need to be time-bound. Grove gives a good example: “I want to go to the airport to catch a plane in an hour. This is my objective. I know that I must drive through towns A, B and C on my way there. My key results become reaching A, B and C in 10, 20 and 30 minutes respectively. If I have been driving for 20 minutes and haven’t yet made town A, I know I am lost.” Key results need to be time-limited so that they can be effectively tracked.

Neither does NAP give direction to those in the government’s machinery responsible for the execution of its objectives. It is important that objectives are further broken down across the government’s chain of command, down to the individual level, so that the relevant people in the national and provincial echelons know what their responsibilities are.

If objectives are clearly defined at all levels we then clearly see, as Grove notes, a “nesting hierarchy of objectives, so [that] if a subordinate’s objectives are met the supervisor’s will be as well”. Without this nesting hierarchy, everyone is unsure of their roles in the grand scheme of things and this may result in inaction and a lack of meaningful progress towards their goals. Even a partial implementation of the nesting hierarchy, in which most of the available resources are ineffectively and incompletely utilised, will fail to yield fruitful results.

NAP also contains no measures of success. Key results need to be measurable so that there is no ambiguity upon completion. If the objective of a waste management authority is to reduce waste in Karachi, for example, then one of its key results could be to increase the waste collection coverage by 10pc in south Karachi by May 2017. Similarly, merely stating the intention of revamping the criminal justice system is not enough — we ought to know what we are aiming for and how much of an improvement we expect.

Any plan or objective must have a mechanism for review, how frequ­ently one is conducted and by whom. There also must be in place a process whereby objec­tives and key results are periodically refined. While some degree of failure is reasonable, it is important to make correc­tions to a plan upon subsequent evaluations.

A plan is susceptible to vagueness and failure without specific objectives, key results, time limits, clear direction, measures of success and concrete criteria for monitoring. Good plans require a lot of thinking, something that, unfortunately, cannot be outsourced. Good plans also foster good communication, which in turn can expedite implementation and give a sense of purpose.

Of course, thorough planning is a daunting task, and it’s understandable that making progress on large national plans takes time, consensus and much coordination. With determination and seriousness of purpose, however, this can be achieved. The need has never been greater to make progress towards big and audacious national goals such as better education, expanded healthcare and increased national security.

This opinion was published in the Dawn on November 9th, 2016.