Planning Associates Program: Growing as leaders, Serving with Integrity, Planning Solutions

Growing as leaders, Serving with Integrity,
Planning Solutions

The 2013 course’s core objectives were for Planning Associates to be able to readily define “federal interest” in accordance with planning modernization principles, review the six-step planning process, and define both the five SMART planning milestones and the four key outputs of planning charettes. 

Planning modernization permeated the course.  While certain processes will remain the same, such as the six-step planning process, quality engineering and science, and compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and all laws, much is changing within USACE by necessity.  Major changes in the process of developing reports that are currently being adopted include a focus on decisions rather than tasks (e.g., deciding that we can rely on certain existing data, perhaps held by stakeholders and other agencies, rather than performing additional USACE studies).  Associated with such decisions, planners should focus on managing risk and acknowledging uncertainty in their recommendations.

The Planning Foundations course focuses on managing risk and uncertainty. Risk is a function of the probability of something happening (bad or good, but usually bad) and the consequences, which are often defined in terms of vulnerability or cost.  To manage risk, planners must make decisions about the necessity of reducing uncertainty (e.g., in a few cases, perhaps by performing a new study or analysis, if the necessary data is not available). 

Planning charettes are a technique planners can use in order to develop risk registers, which are lists of project-specific potential actions and the associated risks involved with each that help clarify thinking while moving forward in the planning process.

Risks identified during planning take a variety of forms and their consequences may appear during the planning phase or in subsequent phases of the project life-cycle. All risks, however, should be evaluated  during the planning phase to determine their bearing on the planning decisions being made.  The Risk Register and Decision Management Plan, two critical outputs of planning charettes,  are crucial in this evaluation. 

Risks having the greatest bearing on planning decisions should receive the most attention during the planning study.  Planners “tolerate” risk; they don’t “accept” it.  In tolerating risk, however, planners must understand and openly address uncertainty. Other topics included in this Planning Foundations course included the contents of a study report synopsis.  Discussion covered problem and opportunity statements, objectives and constraints, and decision criteria and metrics.

Planning Associate Thomas Maier, a Biologist from the Pittsburgh District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, contributed to this story.

Thomas Maier, a Biologist from the Pittsburgh District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, contributed to this story.