Planning to plan

Tim Meyer

I often use a list to keep track of what I’ve promised to do each day. To boost my confidence in the morning, the first item on every to-do list is “Make a list,” so that each day starts with at least one accomplishment.

Similarly, but on a much larger scale, we are “planning to plan” here at Fermilab. Few things happen without a plan, so we’re focusing on enhancing our planning.

But first, what is a plan? According to, a plan is “a written account of [an] intended future course of action aimed at achieving specific goal(s) within a specific time frame.” When you read a plan, you should get a clear set of expectations about what will happen by when.

A number of efforts are launching this season to enhance how Fermilab plans. The goal, however, is not to produce larger and more complex to-do lists! We want to improve how we combine to-do lists to form larger and more complex plans that guide and shape the entire laboratory. Ultimately, we believe that an improved plan and an improved planning process will (a) enhance our credibility with stakeholders, (b) strengthen our arguments for resources and (c) increase our success.

One of the most important drivers of these planning efforts is the May 2014 report of the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5). This report outlined a vision for the United States in particle physics and identified specific roles for Fermilab. As discussed by our laboratory director Nigel Lockyer, Fermilab is aligned with and in support of the P5 plan. To stay aligned with and fulfill the P5 vision, Fermilab needs a strategic plan that identifies the actions, resources (people, places and purchases) and timelines: the right people focused on the right things at the right time.

Erik Gottschalk, inaugural head of integrated planning and performance management, is leading a group effort to improve how Fermilab can quickly, easily and reliably develop and maintain its strategic plan. As resources change from year to year, as outside partners join efforts or as new discoveries are made, the laboratory needs to modify its overall strategic plan to stay focused on the P5 vision. Erik’s team will redesign how the laboratory develops the Annual Lab Plan by taking advantage of new efforts around the laboratory, including the Budget and Planning System and critical-skills management tools in FermiWorks. Without irony, the first step of this effort is developing a plan!

Elsewhere, Randy Ortgiesen is leading an effort to improve planning through the new Campus and Facility Planning Board. The goal is to bring together the people and ideas for changing our campus and to prioritize and advise the lab on what to do where, when and how. For instance, the new board will provide guidance on the long list of proposed General Plant Projects as well as proposals to the DOE Science Laboratory Infrastructure program. This group will be formed and hold its first meeting soon, so stay tuned.

In closing, a dose of humility is always in order. Dwight D. Eisenhower once noted, “Plans are worthless, but planning is indispensable.” Enough talking, enough planning: time to take action!