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The Network Action Plan
The Network Action Plan

Rick Krohn
For the network leadership the moment of truth has arrived. The strategic and business plans have been polished to a high luster, management and staff have been briefed, so now what? Launching a new business enterprise, rolling out a new product, or reengineering business operations all require a high degree of planning and management. The key of course is to create a plan of execution that captures the broad intent of the strategic/business plan by translating it into concrete tasks and outcomes. But no matter how highly polished the plan may be, its successful execution relies on the strength of the resources assigned to it. With this principle in mind, network leaders must first conduct an inventory of resources and competencies prior to execution of the plan. The people ultimately responsible for ensuring the successful execution - and more importantly the successful outcome - of the Action plan must be engaged during the design phase to guarantee buy-in and group cohesion. Once engaged, the implementation team must be chartered to accomplish a defined catalogue of tasks within a defined timeframe. Conceptually, the allocation of staff resources conforms to a simple hierarchy:

Implementation management - the staff resources responsible for overall management of the process

Objectives management - staff resources, (for example, mid level managers) charged with achieving defined objectives of the Action Plan.

Task Management - individuals charged with accomplishing tasks associated with each objective.

The degree to which the elements of this hierarchy relate to and support each other is a key success characteristic of the Plan.

From Planning to Execution

As network leaders confront the prospect of executing the strategies and tactics developed during the planning phase of network operations, they must assemble a blueprint of discrete tasks and quantifiable outcomes that collectively accomplish the broad purpose of the project. This blueprint is comprised of an interrelated series of activities that are stratified by priority and contribution to the main objectives of this exercise. Ordinarily, the Action plan that results from this process will develop over the course of repeated meetings, during which issues ranging from resource allocation to task coordination will be raised and resolved. Inevitably, the more ambitious the scope of this project, the greater the likelihood that political and functional abrasions may surface. It is the responsibility of the project leaders to resolve these issues and keep the project on track and on time. Typical task areas include legal, finance, administration, operations, information systems, human resources, and facilities management. Obviously, the scope of this process will conform to the ambition of the plan to be implemented; that is, the implementation chart for a new business enterprise will be vastly more comprehensive than a similar chart describing the implementation of a new product line.

Defining Tasks

The overarching purpose of the Action Plan is to establish choreography of organizational development. This activity may be characterized by the introduction of new functionalities and resources, or by the redirection of existing resources to create operating efficiencies, or by the transition of resources from one operating environment to another. In each case the tasks identified in the Action Plan must satisfy several key criteria:

Does this activity contribute to our stated objectives?
Are the processes associated with each task efficient?
Does this activity compliment other aspects of the action plan?

To be meaningful, the network Action Plan must be parsed into a catalogue of attainable objectives and discrete tasks that once completed accomplish the broad goals articulated in the network strategic and business plans. The profile of such goals and tasks differs markedly between developmental versus reengineering type projects (i.e. new versus existing organizations).

Implementation Checklist

Since (ideally) the process of assembling the checklist is an inclusive one, all participants should be given an opportunity to contribute their views on tactics, tasks, and timelines. This contribution translates into accountability, which is monitored at least weekly during formal meetings of the implementation committee. The first step in formulating the checklist is to identify all tasks related to each objective. The structure of this dialogue is very simple - talk in groups about related tasks, talk in smaller groups about coordinating classification of tasks, and place value upon feedback to the evolving plan. Be sure that all key constituents are represented.

At the top of this pyramid of working groups are the implementation plan managers. This group likely will be comprised of a subset of the implementation team - perhaps managers or planners - depending on the organizational profile of the enterprise. It is this group that bears formal responsibility for the efficient execution of the plan.

Systems, Policies, and Procedures

In addition to serving as a blueprint, the well-constructed action plan also serves a s a control mechanism to maintain momentum, discipline, and continuity between the disparate tasks and outcomes that culminate in the achievement of the project objectives. This is often a difficult task, as some tasks will proceed more smoothly than others and a certain amount of confusion and misdirection is to be expected. To minimize this wasted effort, it is vital that written, explicit, and supportive policies and procedures govern the effort being invested in this enterprise. These standards define issues of accountability, cooperation, achievement, process management, and corrective measures.

Setting the Plan in Motion

The tools have been assembled. Now each member of the implementation team must be directed, motivated, monitored, supported, and encouraged to efficiently complete tasks. The following summarizes key steps in the process:

From each member of the implementation team request an inventory of tasks and objectives

Evaluate, prioritize, and coordinate objectives to maximize efficiency, minimize redundancy, and eliminate conflicts

Load objectives and tasks in to the checklist, brief all members on goals and process

Conduct regular status and problem solving sessions

Monitor and when necessary, insert corrective measures

Guiding Principles of Plan management

The implementation of any action plan, regardless of the specific tasks involved, can benefit from several key principles. These principles set the tone for individual achievement, by creating an atmosphere of inclusion, by promoting buy- in of the plan, and by clearly defining expectations. Examples include:

Communicate purpose and expectations to everybody involved - eliminate confusion and create collective ownership by making the process inclusive from the outset.

Get those responsible for achieving outcomes involved in planning at the task level - be sure that all necessary tasks are assigned to the appropriate people and properly managed throughout the process

Provide training and education as needed - particularly in the case of a new product or service line, employees must be given an opportunity to familiarize themselves with new accountabilities, functions, and processes.

Be prepared to modify the plan as events dictate - monitor progress (or lack of) and make adjustments as necessary. Anticipate obstacles and address problem areas aggressively.

Recognize successes and communicate results - generate sustained enthusiasm and collective commitment to completion of all tasks and outcomes by charting progress and sharing accomplishments

A final thought. Ideally, the network Action Plan is the logical result of the network planning process - that is, individual tasks within the Plan can be traced to specific outcomes, collective outcomes can be traced to broad objectives, and objectives can be traced to goals defined within the strategic and business plans.

Richard Krohn is a member and contributor of HealthBond. View his expert page on HealthBond.

Richard Krohn is President of HealthSense. Krohn is a widely-published managed care expert as well as a dynamic speaker providing in-depth, practical and timely information on topics such as managed care contracting, strategic positioning for provider organizations, building new provider alliances, reengineering practice operations, developing market driven products, and creating equitable physician compensation plans.

October 26, 2000

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