Planning is an all-pervasive and fundamental function of management. All other functions of organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling must reflect the planning function of management. Though more important for higher levels, planning is the function of every manager. It involves deciding in advance what is to be done and where, how, and by whom it is to be done. While planning, the manager projects a course of action for the future aimed at achieving desired results for the enterprise as a whole and each department within it. Thus, merely ascertaining the future is not planning till it is followed by making provisions for it. Planning is a rational approach to the future.
Planning deals with the future and involves forecasting. A manager does not plan about the past though in his planning for the future he is also guided by past performance. Since planning relates activities of the enterprise to its future environment, it requires projecting future activities of the organization. But mere forecasting is not planning. Planning requires assessing the future and providing for it. Planning is forecasting and deciding in advance a course of action to be followed or activities to be pursued in the future.
According to George R. Terry – Planning is the selecting and relating of facts and the making and using of assumptions regarding the future in the visualization and formulation of proposed activities believed necessary to achieve desired results.
So, planning is a process whereby the relevant facts are collected and analyzed, the assumptions and premises are made for the future. In the light of these assumptions and premises, a plan of action believed necessary to achieve the desired results is visualized and formulated. Planning, therefore, essentially means looking ahead and preparing for the future. It is a mental task. One should have reflective thinking, imagination, and farsightedness if one is to succeed well in performing this difficult task.
Features of Planning
The essential nature of planning can be highlighted by the following major aspects of planning:
(i) Planning – an Intellectual Process: Planning is the process of choosing the proper course of action from among alternatives and calls for decision-making, which is an intellectual process. Changes in the environment bring opportunities and involve risks as well. It is the task of planners to take advantage of opportunities and minimize the risks. This calls for mental pre-disposition to think before taking action. Moreover, planning is not guesswork. It is conscious determination and projecting a course of action for the future and is based on objectives, facts, and considered forecasts.
(ii) Planning – a Primary Function: Planning is the most basic function of management. As a matter of fact, all other functions of management largely depend upon planning. Control, for example, is a necessary corollary of planning and cannot exist without planning. The organization is also set up with a plan and objectives in mind and people are invariably guided and motivated towards accomplishing enterprise objectives. Planning is, therefore, the primary function of management.
(iii) Planning – a Continuous Function of Management: Management is a dynamic process and planning as its function cannot be an exception to it. Since different functions of management overlap and intermesh with each other, the planning process is continuously repeated. Moreover, as plans beget a number of sub-plans and since plans have to be revised in the light of changing environment, planning becomes a continuing necessity for management.
(iv) Planning – a Pervasive Function: Planning is a pervasive function. It pervades at all levels and in all departments of an organization. Sometimes, planning is erroneously considered to be the prerogative and responsibility of top management alone. In fact, planning which involves choosing the future course of action from among alternatives is basically the same whether it is at the supervisory level or at higher echelons of management. It must be noted, however, that the planning horizon broadens and the implications of plans become wider as one goes up the levels in the management hierarchy.