“Damn it Valentine, you never plan ahead. You never take the long view. I mean, here it is Monday and I’m already thinking of Wednesday. It is Monday, right?” (More)

How We Win, Part II – Plans

This week Morning Feature explores the political organizing strategies taught in the Democracy For America Campaign Academy. Yesterday we discussed the important process of setting goals. Today we see how strategic planning turns goals into action steps. Tomorrow we’ll conclude with how to be more effective in action.

The characters of Val and Earl in the 1990 comedy-horror classic Tremors are hardly models of strategic planning. They rely on pluck and luck to solve the problems in front of them, or in the ground beneath them. It’s a fun movie, but not a template for political activism. Alas, too many political activities seem to run on the Earl Basset Model: “Here it is Monday and I’m already thinking of Wednesday. It is Monday, right?”

So how do you develop an effective plan?

Write It Down

One person rarely needs a written plan to do one thing. You can probably remember to stop for milk on the way home. But add a few more stops, or a few more items, and you’ll need a list. Add a few more people to the process, and you’ll need a written plan. Writing forces planners to think through their SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Written plans also allow other participants to see the larger picture, so they can better focus their efforts.

Note that was planners, plural. A group will think of details that one person will not. Group planning also gets each planner more invested in the project. Group planning also helps to develop broader and deeper leadership, as new participants learn how to prepare and follow through on a plan. But a large planning group can easily bog down. How do you get more people engaged in the planning without letting “too many cooks spoil the broth?”

Assign Specific Goals to Specific People

Most Big Plans are collections of related smaller plans. As we saw yesterday, an effective plan requires goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely. Once your central planning group identifies your goals, break the goals into categories and designate a specific planner or task group to each category. Remember: “Someone” is no one.

In a Big Project, each category planner may recruit a group to help plan for the goals in that category. Planning groups can be formal and hierarchical, with a designated leader of each group who reports to and takes part in the central planning. That has the advantages of consistency and clear lines of authority and responsibility, but it has disadvantages as well. Networks of people sharing ideas across ‘boundaries’ tend to evolve in any organization, and such networks also have advantages and disadvantages. And a person who struggles in one role may be brilliant in another. Be flexible, and be progressive: put your people first.

Benchmarks, Timelines, Bottlenecks, and Priorities

For each of your ultimate goals, ask “What needs to be done before this can happen?” and “How much time will that require?” Then work backwards, step-by-step, to create benchmarks. Like your ultimate goals, each benchmark should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely. Each benchmark should have its own due date, and together they form your timeline.

Backwards planning also helps you recognize bottlenecks: actions that are prerequisites for several other goals. Bottlenecks often span categories and affect more than one person or task group. Effective plans set priorities, and those priorities often focus on bottlenecks. If several people will be stuck until X happens, make X a high priority task.

Always work on the highest-priority task that you can address that day. There will be days when you can’t do everything. Make sure the things you did were the things that most needed doing.

Revise, Update, and Share

You’re done writing your plan, so your planning is done, right? Not. Your benchmarks help you know if you are on pace to meet your ultimate goals, but to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz, “No plan survives first contact with Realworldia.” You can’t revise events to fit your plan. Revise and update your plan to fit events.

Then, please, share the Revised and Updated Plan with everyone involved. There is little more frustrating than diligently working toward a benchmark that was revised out of the plan a week ago. And that’s not just frustrating. It’s also a waste of your most precious and irreplaceable resource: time.

Example: Cindy’s Campaign Plan

Yesterday we discussed Cindy’s initial vote targets, and what she could expect based on past Democratic performance. Based on demographic changes and her analysis of each precinct, Cindy’s campaign develops her final vote goals:

  • Precinct 1 (Base) – 198 votes, Persuasion/ID #5, GOTV #1
  • Precinct 2 (Hostile) – 84 votes, Persuasion/ID #6, GOTV #6
  • Precinct 3 (Swing) – 109 votes, Persuasion/ID #3, GOTV #5
  • Precinct 4 (Swing) – 121 votes, Persuasion/ID #4, GOTV #3
  • Precinct 5 (Swing) – 147 votes, Persuasion/ID #1, GOTV #4
  • Precinct 6 (Swing) – 254 votes, Persuasion/ID #2, GOTV #2

The Persuasion/ID and GOTV numbers are priorities. Cindy needn’t spend much time identifying and persuading voters in Precinct 1, as Democrats usually win 69% of the votes there in her race. It’s a Base precinct, because Cindy expects at least 65% of the vote. For every three voters who go to the polls in Precinct 1, two will vote for Cindy … so that’s her top-priority precinct for GOTV.

Conversely, with a Democratic Performance Index of 21%, Precinct 2 is Hostile. Worse, the data show that only 8% of the voters in Precinct 2 are persuadable. Cindy won’t waste resources there. If she does GOTV in Precinct 2, it will be for identified supporters only, and only by phone. She wants no yard signs or visible campaigning there, because for every five voters who go to the polls, four will vote for her opponent.

The other four are Swing precincts, where a Democrat in Cindy’s race expects 36-64% of the vote. Her Persuasion/ID priorities are based on the estimated number of persuadable voters. Her GOTV priorities are based on the Democratic Performance Index: the percentage of votes cast for Democrats in that race in the past three similar elections.

For each swing precinct, Cindy’s campaign will use this timeline:

  • July – Recruit and train canvassing and phone bank volunteers. Begin weekly canvassing and phone-banking to identify supporters.
  • August – Continue recruiting and training volunteers. Continue weekly canvassing and phone-banking. Identify 10% of supporters (e.g.: 26 voters in Precinct 6).
  • September 15 – Begin daily canvassing and phone-banking to identify strong supporters, persuade weak supporters, and encourage vote-by-mail. Identify 20% of supporters (e.g.: 52 voters in Precinct 6).
  • September 30 – Recruit and register poll-watchers. Continue daily ID/persuasion contacts. Reach 25% of vote-by-mail target. Identify 40% of supporters (e.g.: 104 voters in Precinct 6).
  • October 15 – Recruit election-day GOTV workers. Reach 50% of vote-by-mail target. Identify 70% of supporters (e.g.: 178 voters in Precinct 6).
  • October 30 – Schedule and train election-day GOTV workers. Reach 100% of vote-by-mail target. Identify 100% of supporters (e.g.: 254 votes in Precinct 6).
  • Election Weekend – GOTV in Precinct 1 and with identified supporters. Reach 100% of Early Vote targets.
  • Election Day – GOTV in Precincts 1, 3, 4, 5, 6. Poll-watchers report identified supporters. Call identified supporters who have not yet voted.
  • Week After Election – Thank each volunteer personally.

It looks like a good plan. Tomorrow we’ll see how to make it work.


Happy Friday!