What is the planning cycle?

The planning cycle enables organizations to perform activities successfully and achieve goals across projects of various sizes. The planning cycle is most effective for small to medium-sized projects.

DefinitionThe Planning Cycle is a strategic management process that organizations use to set goals, create action plans, implement strategies, monitor progress, and make adjustments to achieve their objectives effectively. It involves a series of structured steps for systematic planning and execution.
Key ElementsSetting Objectives: Identifying specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. – Environmental Analysis: Evaluating internal and external factors that may affect goal attainment. – Strategic Planning: Developing strategies and action plans to achieve objectives. – Implementation: Executing the action plans and monitoring progress. – Evaluation and Adjustment: Continuously assessing performance and making necessary adjustments to plans.
How It WorksSetting Objectives: Define clear and measurable goals that align with the organization’s mission and vision. – Environmental Analysis: Analyze internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis). – Strategic Planning: Develop detailed strategies, allocate resources, and create action plans. – Implementation: Execute plans, assign responsibilities, and track progress. – Evaluation and Adjustment: Regularly assess performance, compare outcomes to goals, and make adjustments as needed.
Process Breakdown1. Initiation: Identifying the need for planning and gathering relevant information. 2. Goal Setting: Defining specific, achievable objectives. 3. Environmental Analysis: Assessing internal and external factors. 4. Strategic Planning: Formulating strategies and tactics. 5. Implementation: Executing action plans. 6. Monitoring and Control: Tracking progress and performance. 7. Evaluation: Assessing results against objectives. 8. Adjustment: Making changes based on evaluation findings.
Benefits– Improved goal alignment and focus on key priorities. – Enhanced organizational performance and efficiency. – Better resource allocation and risk management. – Agility to adapt to changing circumstances. – Increased accountability and transparency. – Informed decision-making and a structured approach to problem-solving.
Drawbacks– Time-consuming process, especially for complex planning cycles. – Potential resistance to change from stakeholders. – Overemphasis on planning may lead to inflexibility. – External factors beyond control may disrupt plans. – Requires ongoing commitment and resources.
Applications– Business and Strategic Planning: Used by businesses to set corporate strategies and operational plans. – Project Management: Employed in project planning and execution. – Public Policy Development: Used by governments to formulate policies and programs. – Education: Applied in curriculum development and educational planning.
Use Cases– A technology company using the Planning Cycle to set annual product development goals, allocate resources, and track project progress. – A city government employing the cycle to plan infrastructure improvements, assess community needs, and allocate budgets. – An educational institution using it to develop a curriculum, set learning objectives, and evaluate teaching effectiveness.
Examples– A retail company employing the Planning Cycle to expand into new markets, including setting sales targets, analyzing market trends, and adjusting pricing strategies. – A healthcare organization using it to plan patient care improvements, define performance metrics, and continuously monitor healthcare outcomes. – A non-profit organization applying it to develop fundraising strategies, allocate resources, and assess the impact of social programs.

Understanding the planning cycle

The planning cycle enables organizations to plan and then implement robust, practical, cost-effective, and well-considered projects. 

The planning and implementation process is iterative in the sense that insights are fed back into the cycle to be incorporated into future projects.

Alternatively, project managers may move back to an earlier stage of the cycle.

Whatever the case, project planning is a cycle within a cycle (like other management functions) since objectives are modified or new ones are created as new information comes to hand. 

The planning cycle is most effective for small to medium-sized projects.

For larger, complex projects where project management becomes a technical discipline in its own right, certified frameworks such as PMBOK or PRINCE2 can be used.

The components of a planning cycle

Let’s now describe the various components of the planning cycle. Remember that the process is not linear.

At any point, the organization may choose to revisit an earlier step with new information or restart the process.

1 – Define objectives

Defining objectives is the most crucial part of the planning cycle.

While mission and vision statements provide some degree of clarity on where the company is headed, the planning cycle requires teams to develop specific goals using the SMART framework.

A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.

2 – Develop premises

Premises are assumptions the team makes about how the project may be impacted in the future by different conditions.

These may be external (competitors, laws, innovation) or internal (management, employee training outcomes, or available budget), for example.

The SWOT analysis can be used to examine the organization’s current position and how it may be able to respond in various situations.


Whatever method is chosen, however, premises must be defined early so that managers can monitor conditions during project implementation. If assumptions prove incorrect, the plan may need to be revised.

3 – Evaluate alternatives

In business as in life, there is more than one way to achieve the same outcome.

A company wanting to reduce office-related expenditure by 8% could move to smaller premises, enable more employees to work remotely, or find a cheaper source of toner ink.

Project managers need to evaluate each alternative in terms of its implementation difficulty and chances of success.

They should do this by seeking out diverse perspectives or expertise.

There are several methods for evaluating a plan. These include the cost/benefit analysis, force field analysis, and the six thinking hats brainstorming method.

4 – Identify resources

What are the resources required to implement the plan? Which of these resources does the organization possess, and which must be sourced from elsewhere?

Resources may encompass technology, money, equipment, raw materials, or skills.

For each alternative from the previous step, the availability and cost of resources must be identified.

5 – Establish tasks

Tasks comprise the roadmap that enables the organization to move toward a desired future state.

They must be defined at all organizational levels and, to illustrate task completion sequences and interdependencies, many teams choose to use a Gantt chart.

6 – Determine tracking and evaluation methods

Tracking means project managers constantly monitor progress toward the intended outcomes.

They should have a detailed understanding of critical tasks as well as those most likely to encounter problems or cause project bottlenecks.

In the final evaluation, the team looks back on what it has learned. Could any aspect of planning be improved or refined?

Developing a standard post-implementation review process may also be useful if similar projects are likely to be undertaken in the future.

Above all, the review should determine whether the project solved a key problem and if so, if its benefits could potentially be enhanced.

Key takeaways:

  • The planning cycle enables organizations to successfully perform activities and achieve goals across projects of various sizes.
  • The planning cycle is most effective for small to medium-sized projects. For larger, more complex projects, formal frameworks such as PMBOK or PRINCE2 may be more effective.
  • The planning cycle has six iterative steps where results from the evaluation stage can be fed back into similar future projects. These steps include defining objectives, developing premises, evaluating alternatives, identifying resources, establishing tasks, and determining tracking and evaluation methods.

Key Highlights

  • Planning Cycle Overview: The planning cycle is a process that allows organizations to plan and implement projects effectively, ensuring they are practical, cost-effective, and well-considered. It involves iterative stages that incorporate insights and can be revisited if needed.
  • Scope of Planning Cycle: The planning cycle is particularly effective for small to medium-sized projects. For larger and more complex projects, certified frameworks like PMBOK or PRINCE2 are often employed.
  • Components of Planning Cycle: The planning cycle consists of six iterative components:
    1. Define Objectives: Clear and specific goals are set using the SMART framework, ensuring they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.
    2. Develop Premises: Assumptions about future project impacts are defined, both external (competition, laws) and internal (management, budget).
    3. Evaluate Alternatives: Different approaches to achieving goals are explored, considering feasibility, difficulty, and success probabilities. Methods like cost/benefit analysis and brainstorming are used.
    4. Identify Resources: Necessary resources for plan implementation are identified, including technology, money, equipment, materials, and skills.
    5. Establish Tasks: The roadmap of tasks to achieve the desired outcome is created, often visualized using tools like Gantt charts.
    6. Determine Tracking and Evaluation Methods: Progress is constantly monitored, focusing on critical tasks and potential bottlenecks. A post-implementation review process may be established for improvement.
  • Iterative Nature: The planning cycle is iterative, with feedback from evaluation influencing future projects. The process is adaptable, allowing for changes based on new information.
  • Final Evaluation and Review: A final evaluation is conducted, reflecting on what was learned during the process. Opportunities for improvement are identified, and the project’s problem-solving effectiveness is assessed.

Read Next: OKRSMART Goals.

Related Team Management Frameworks


Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

Smart Goals

A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.


Micromanagement is about tightly controlling or observing employees’ work. Although this management style might be understood in some cases, especially for small-scale projects, generally speaking, micromanagement has a negative connotation mainly because it shows a lack of trust and freedom in the workplace, which leads to adverse outcomes.

Delegative Leadership

Developed by business consultants Kenneth Blanchard and Paul Hersey in the 1960s, delegative leadership is a leadership style where authority figures empower subordinates to exercise autonomy. For this reason, it is also called laissez-faire leadership. In some cases, this leadership type can lead to increased work quality and decision-making. In a few other cases, this type of leadership needs to be balanced out to prevent a lack of direction and cohesiveness in the team.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

Adaptive Leadership

Adaptive leadership is a model used by leaders to help individuals adapt to complex or rapidly changing environments. Adaptive leadership is defined by three core components (precious or expendable, experimentation and smart risks, disciplined assessment). Growth occurs when an organization discards ineffective ways of operating. Then, active leaders implement new initiatives and monitor their impact.

RASCI Matrix

A RASCI matrix is used to assign and then display the various roles and responsibilities in a project, service, or process. It is sometimes called a RASCI Responsibility Matrix. The RASCI matrix is essentially a project management tool that provides important clarification for organizations involved in complex projects.

Flat Organizational Structure

In a flat organizational structure, there is little to no middle management between employees and executives. Therefore it reduces the space between employees and executives to enable an effective communication flow within the organization, thus being faster and leaner.

Tactical Management

Tactical management involves choosing an appropriate course of action to achieve a strategic plan or objective. Therefore, tactical management comprises the set of daily operations that support long strategy delivery. It may involve risk management, regular meetings, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

High-Performance Management

High-performance management involves the implementation of HR practices that are internally consistent and aligned with organizational strategy. Importantly, high-performance management is a continual process where several different but integrated activities create a performance management cycle. It is not a process that should be performed once a year and then hidden in a filing cabinet.

Scientific Management

Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 to encourage industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way to perform a workplace job.

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