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Plan to succeed?

A plan is a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something. It's not a good intention.

Read time 4min 40sec

We have a plan. Is that a step ahead of saying: “We have a dream”? You know which plan I'm talking about. Is it a good sign that the opposition parties like the plan? Is it a bad sign that the ruling party is not in love with the plan?

We South Africans are good at making plans. We've seen lots of them, especially in the last 20 years. This plan, the National Development Plan, was put together by a “planning commission”.

Let's be clear about this - a plan is a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something. It's not a good intention. It's not a guideline. It's not a framework. It's not a manifesto. It's not a lie. It must be feasible.

A plan sets out detailed information about the steps along the way to reaching a defined goal. It must include the who, how and when stuff. It sets milestones against which progress is monitored. It allocates responsibilities against which accountability is judged.

Good and bad

A good plan engages all the players. They share the vision and understand the roles each will play in making the plan work. When things don't go according to plan, they revise the plan and catch up, get back on track. When the plan comes together, they pat each other on the back, do “high fives”, share the benefits and do more of the winning stuff. A good plan is in constant use as a benchmark of performance, a standard of measurement.

A bad plan is a doorstop. A dead tree. A bad plan sees the light of day only briefly, then gathers dust on the shelf until replaced by another. A bad plan has no measurable milestones, just a long-distance objective. A bad plan has no accountability, just vague references to “we” and “they”. A bad plan absolves the authors of responsibility for its failure.

So, we have a plan. How would you execute the plan?

The 489 pages might be more of a doorstop than light reading, but hey, it's about running a country, not a caf'e. So, break it down. Allocate every word, every line, every sentence to be someone's responsibility. Have them sign off that they understand the reasoning and the reality and that they commit to action that will achieve the milestones and the goal. Fire them if they can't or won't. Every month, make them justify what they did to make progress. Fire them if they wasted time, money or resources. Applaud and reward them for following the plan.

So let's fire any minister, official or regulator who breaches any part of this promise.

Adrian Schofield, manager, Applied Research University, Joburg Centre for Software Engineering

Let's trot ahead to page 189. Good opening: “ICT is a critical enabler of economic activity in an increasingly networked world.” Bad blurb: “By 2030, ICT will underpin the development of a dynamic and connected information society and a vibrant knowledge economy that is more inclusive and prosperous.” Understated truth: “The performance of most state interventions in the ICT sector has been disappointing.” Be more honest - it's been disastrous, not disappointing.

Here's a promise: “In future, the state's primary role in the ICT sector will be to facilitate competition and private investment, to ensure effective regulation where market failure is apparent, and to intervene directly to meet specific social goals. Direct involvement will be limited to interventions to ensure universal access and to help marginalised communities develop the capacity to use ICTs effectively.” So let's fire any minister, official or regulator who breaches any part of this promise. Summary dismissal. No appeal.

Get cracking!

What is worrying (frightening, more like) is that the plan (page 194) says it will take five more years to “develop a more comprehensive and integrated e-strategy”. Without a strategy, you cannot have a plan. We will sit on our hands, doing nothing while we develop the strategy. Come on! Get the right brains around a table and the strategy can be done in five days, not five years!

Likewise, there is an excess of words like “should” and “could” instead of “will” - vagueness instead of precision. References to “policy issues that require attention” do not carry the same weight or intention as “policies that will be scrapped”.

The closing paragraph on page 196 says: “By 2030, the government will make extensive use of ICT to engage with and provide services to citizens. All South Africans will be able to use core ICT services and enjoy access to a wide range of entertainment, information and educational services. The e-strategy collaborations between the state, industry and academia will stimulate research and innovation, and promote local content production and multimedia hub establishment. These systems will be used to interact with the global ICT ecosystem, of which South Africa will be an integral part.”

Frankly, if we do not get there in the next three years, we will be the backwater nation of Africa, not the powerhouse economy we think we are. The last 18 years have demonstrated how little we have achieved in the ICT space. We cannot take another 18 to put it right. Develop skills, enable entrepreneurs, facilitate fast broadband - and stop waffling.

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