Planning, with a difference

Planning for reliability and reliable planning are to be distinguished from each other, in the words of my research colleague, Paul Schulman.

–Much of infrastructure planning is dedicated to planning for a reliable electricity grid, water supply, transportation system, or other core critical service. Planning for infrastructure reliability has it textbooks, courses, and disciplines. Risk analysis in this planning also has established sets of regulatory and professional standards, methods, and “best practices” depending on the infrastructure in question.

–Reliable planning, in contrast, is not about the reliability of infrastructure but rather about the process of planning—a process for selecting appropriate means for achieving expected outcomes in the infrastructure’s safety and reliability. Reliable planning means sensitivity, much as infrastructure control room operators have, to possible errors of forecasting and in basic assumptions for the planning exercise. Electricity transmission planning, by way of example, has to estimate load, generation resources, and policy constraints, say, ten years in advance and at times well beyond.

How then do we render planning more reliable as unpredictability ramifies?

–One part of an answer is to manage expectations across the cycle of infrastructure operations, extending from normal operations, through service disruption, system failure, recovery and establishment of a new normal, if there is to be one. Since that is not always possible, managing setbacks is necessarily part of the answer. Fortunately, some setbacks are positive in illuminating better directions ahead in the face of turbulence.

–Where does this leave us?

In the absence of managing expectations and setbacks, a plan falls short of both planning for reliability and reliable planning. Plans collapse into a by-product of the interplay between contingency and events, i.e., far too often those involved don’t realize that what they confront are not classic cause-and-effect but rather situations and resonances about which they have limited causal understanding.

Principal sources. This blog entry draws directly from Paul Schulman’s work in:

E. Roe & P.R. Schulman (2016). Reliability and Risk: The Challenge of Managing Interconnected Critical Infrastructures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

P.R. Schulman & E. Roe (2018). “Extending Reliability Analysis Across Time and Scope.” In Ramanujam, R. and Roberts, K. (eds.), Organizing for Reliability. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Related blog entry: “The New Normal is managing not just negative setbacks but positive ones as well”

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