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How To Create a Ten Point Plan

By Stephen Northcutt

As a leader we sometimes need to flesh out our vision to achieve coherence and direction with our direct reports. A 10 point plan is a tool and management competency we can use to demonstrate the path between our current condition (where we are) and our target condition (where we aspire to be). I am not sure that the first published 10 point plan was from the Black Panthers, but it is certainly one of the most famous ones. If you take a few minutes to look it over, you will see it has plenty of vision and it certainly passes the coherence test, but at least, for me, it does not establish direction. I can imagine myself saying "right on" while thinking "how are we going to do all that?". You can see an even worse example in the Cities Against Racism 10 Point Plan. Curiously I ran into this pretty good one while working through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.

In the leadership portion of Management 514 we teach that a successful vision must be credible (followers can believe it is possible), coherent (logically fits together and our followers can connect to it), and celebrated (we want this to happen). The first step in expanding vision into a ten point plan is to be certain within our own minds that it is achievable. Next, we think about our audience, our followers, how can we explain this in such a way that we can achieve coherence. Since this is as much vision as plan, we do want to keep the things we desire to accomplish at the forefront. And as we start to build the plan, we want to design opportunities for celebration.

The simplest way to create a meaningful ten point plan is to have two parts for every point, defining the point and "in a nutshell" how we are going to achieve it. For example, let's say our vision was to engineer greater uptime and capability for our IT operations. The first step is to define the current and target conditions and let's say we have a single data center: that is automatically a single point of failure which puts us at high risk of downtime. This serves as point number one. Next, define the target condition and that becomes the tenth (or final) step.

We realize that as a single data center we are a single point of failure. We cannot change until we realize we need to change. We begin to speak with peers, co-workers and point out our observations and ask, "Do you see this as a problem?". Look for empirical evidence such as evidence of service outages.

We require management support as this project will require a significant investment. The sooner we can broach the issue to management, the sooner they can start thinking about the resources required. We do not have to complete the entire detailed implementation and test plan; but, a ten point plan, a Gantt chart of the major tasks and milestones, and a high level design and price list can work wonders. The most likely reason senior management might not support our initiative, even if they see the risk, is that we are not convinced we can wisely use the resources they entrust to us. We will have a BBQ at my house for the entire staff when we secure funding.

We will focus appropriate focus on our design and plan implementation and testing. We will use a PMI style methodology to plan our project. We will develop a work breakdown structure of everything that has to happen. We will not allow ourselves to say, "we will figure that out when we get there", we will figure it out now. We realize that testing is where we are most likely going to run into trouble and face delays. We will make sure we know how we are going to test every component. If we don't know how to test, we delay the procurement - putting pressure on the vendor to work with us. The team member that contributes the most to the testing section gets to park in the employee of the quarter parking spot.

We will establish effective change control. If we are going to create two data centers that replicate each other, we must ensure change occurs in an orderly fashion every minute of every day. In addition to standard approaches like a Change Control Board, we are going to automate measuring configuration where ever possible. As a leader, I will consistently mentor my team not to take shortcuts, it is not worth the endstate condition. We will identify critical areas such as the BIOS level of our blades. Whenever possible, we will have a back-out method in the event a change does not go as planned.

We aspire to achieve geographic redundancy, having two sites means that one can cover for the other in the event of partial or total downtime. This is only possible with replication and we will put particular attention to the replication parts of our implementation plan. We will be exhaustive, we will create a checklist and ensure every system has replication and notification if its sister system at the alternate site suffers an outage. When we can demonstrate replication on every system, we will celebrate with a steak dinner for every team member plus one.

We will design and implement local redundancy; for critical systems, when possible, we will do local failover which is faster and keeps the alternate site in reserve. We will do this with redundant power supplies, networks, ISPs and, when appropriate, redundant systems.

Our design and implementation will focus on state of the art strong security controls. We will use the 20 critical controls as our primary guidance and design framework. We will implement automated monitoring and response whenever possible.

We have and will continue to invest in the education and training of our work force. We understand we cannot field a state of the art system without educated, trained staff. We will budget initially for the technologies we are deploying with our IT roll out. When a certification is available, we will require our staff to certify to ensure they have mastered the material.

We will establish a budget of both time and money to keep both facilities up to date, phasing out older equipment over time to avoid a forklift upgrade in a single year. As the leader, I will take responsibility to ensure this happens, seeking technical feedback from my team members so that we can remain state of the art.

We will maintain the level of risk reduction that multiple sites with geographic and local redundancy, effective change control, and systematic upgrades and improvements affords us. Every member of the team will be given a polo shirt with our company logo and the inscription Five 9s Uptime.

Like everything else, this gets easier the more you do it. There is nothing magic about ten points; I would not be concerned about using a nine or twelve point plan to communicate the vision, but I would be concerned about a two point plan or a fifty point plan. Give it a try and let me know how it worked for you, Stephen {at} SANS.EDU.