The purpose of this article is to introduce the straight line as a very simple, every effective, very reliable and proven planning tool.
Planning can be simple or complex – or somewhere in between.
My preference is to:
- keep planning simple – by using simple, effective and reliable planning tools,
- involve the people who will be affected in any way with the decisions or choices that follow or fall out of a planning discussion, and
- ensure that all statements, possibilities and problems are expressed in simple yet concrete terms.
Why is the Straight Line so useful?
You can draw a straight line as horizontal, vertical, diagonal. You can use a pencil, pen, keyboard, highlighter, coloured texta. Any of these (and more) will ensure multiple ways to feature an item: you can also give different values or characteristics to your straight lines by use of colour, line texture or length.
Simple examples of uses of a horizontal straight line:
- place a positive value at the beginning of a straight line and the opposite or negative value at the end of a straight line – and there you have a ‘continuum’ (between these two extremes, there are points along the straight line that will indicate key stages between the two extremes; you can also identify the neutral point at which there is neither positive nor negative activity or influence: there’s no end of uses with a continuum),
- underline one or a series of words for emphasis or for further consideration or simplification,
- rule through one or a series of words or figures to amend or delete,
- separate two sets of figures by a straight horizontal line to indicate that the figures below the line should be divided into the figures above the line.
Simple examples of uses of a vertical straight line:
- draw one or more vertical lines down one page, whiteboard or computer screen, and you have two or more distinct working spaces side by side,
- connect items in any of these working spaces with items in another working space,
- draw a vertical line in the margin to indicate sections of text or figures for further reference.
Simple examples of uses of a diagonal straight line:
- offer two or more similar words or concepts as options for consideration,
- indicate different values to items each side of the line,
- link items that appear in a matrix diagonally – as separate from vertical and horizontal links,
How I use a horizontal straight line as a continuum
My uses of the continuum include:
- exploring steps in a total sequence of activity or involvement,
- predicting growth and decline,
- ensuring continuity,
- allocating responsibility, and
- identifying existing gaps in quality control and risk management.
Example 1: Job tracking
In this example, the continuum is a progression from left to right – from commencement through to completion. My use is to plan a consistent level of quality in the experience of a client or customer. Picture a first-time client or customer as a folded A4 sheet of paper, pin yourself to that sheet of paper and track its progress within your organisation from the first point of contact through to completion of the sale or service, payment of their account, archiving of details and completion of a distinct client or customer journey or experience.
The objective is to ensure that responsibility for the sheet of paper is a constant within your organisation through the entire experience. Responsibility may move to different persons, but the sheet of paper must never fall into a void – or sit unattended or unseen – where no-one is responsible until or unless the client is forced to bring their incomplete or unsatisfactory experience to someone’s attention.
Benefits of this use of job tracking include:
- planning client or customer satisfaction,
- identifying stages along the continuum of the client/customer’s experience where dissatisfaction can occur, or where the client/customer may give up on your organisation,
- identifying areas of responsibility along the continuum where additional or advanced staff training or support are essential, and
- contributing to your organisation’s continuous quality improvement system.
Example 2: Continuum of trust (extract from One Man Show – the smallest of small business, Jean Roberts, 2008)
In this example, the continuum ranges from extreme negative through to extreme positive, with a neutral position at the centre. My use is to establish that the ideal starting point in a potential working relationship is to adopt a neutral attitude and expectation of others, and to manage trust by seeing if others earn or deserve our trust, or if they should not be entitled to or worthy of our trust.
- If a working relationship earns our trust, the next step toward the extreme positive is respect, then willingness to collaborate, perhaps even dependence, and finally investment of time, energy or even money: the ideal working relationship is one of mutual trust and respect where both parties work at retaining that trust.
- If a relationship does not earn our trust, we should heed any warning sign, which may turn to a sense of alarm: the working relationship can then become dysfunctional and finally break down.
- Twists and turns along this continuum between extreme negative and extreme positive are always possible, but the lesson here is always to enter any position working relationship at the neural position at the centre of the continuum.
How I use a vertical straight line to divide a planning page
My uses of two or more distinct working spaces side by side on one page include:
- separating features and benefits of a product or service,
- distinguishing between cost, price and value,
- separating immediate, short-term and longer-term objectives, and
- listing suggestions for activity in the left-hand column, extending each suggestion to cost estimates in the centre column, and listing responsibilities and accountabilities in the right-hand column.
How I use a diagonal straight line
My frequent uses of a diagonal straight line include:
- tracking a diagonal sequence in a matrix,
- shading cells in a matrix that need to remain unallocated until a later stage in the planning process, and
- giving a second or ‘shadow’ dimension to a set of possibilities, eg extending individual benefits to organisational benefits.
This series of ‘planning tool’ articles consists of:
- Step 1 – how and why planning tools can be my simple, effective and reliable planning tools – including a circle, triangle and straight line (uploaded 23rd May 2012)
- Step 2 – Triangle (uploaded 7th June )
- Step 3 – Straight Line (uploaded 13th June)
- Step 4 – Circle
- Step 5 – Square
- Step 6 – Arrow
- Step 7 – Table
- Step 8 – Symbols