“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

This military adage popularized by President Eisenhower holds true for the topic of Museum Planning. When reading about the subject it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of work that must go into the planning of a museum. The list of just the basic elements will include:

The Mission Statement
Collections Plan
Rules and Regulations
Staff Responsibilities
Short- and Long-Term Goals
Insurance and Legal Concerns
Community Involvement

…And many more sub-categories that are all major issues unto themselves.

But in the real world, what happens when unexpected problems and circumstances force you to alter your set goals? A strong foundation in the planning process can be the solution. One of the most common problems museums have is inconsistency within the museum plan. Once an initial plan is implemented and a museum gets going, the plan should not be a stagnant document. It should be the practice of a museum to review the value of the plan regularly and make sure it is being utilized as a crucial component to every day operation. An effective way to begin a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis of a plan is to review the level of cross-organizational lines between separate departments. The list of elements under the topic of Museum Planning ranges across the entire spectrum of what a museum does, from security and accounting to public programming and exhibit design. Using planning to sustain the integration of all the components of a museum is essential to maintain that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Out of the planning process comes the mindset and themes that allow for a high performing efficient organization, which is more valuable and adaptable than any one plan. When evaluating museum planning, attempt to answer the question: In what ways can the planning process be used to continually have a positive effect on the actual operations of the museum?

Selected Background Readings for this Post:

Starting Right: A Basic Guide to Museum Planning – Gerald George and Cindy Sherrell-Leo
Creating and Implementing Your Strategic Plan -John M. Bryson and Farnum K Alston
The Manual of Museum Planning –Gail Dexter Lord and Barry Lord
Planning Our Museums – Barry Lord

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4 Responses to “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

  1. omerta518 says:

    I agree with your post. It is easy to be swept away with an idea of what a museum should be, but without a plan, one that explains both the goals of the institution and how it intends to achieve these goals, the endeavor could fold on itself. A not for profit museum needs a business plan, one that analyzes real-world situations, and a revenue base needs to be established. Once a museum is open, it should have a plan to achieve continuing revenue. Development and marketing are often ignored, but they help bring the visitors to the institution to see what it offers. Many want to avoid the strategic plan and go straight to collection and exhibition, but without this crucial step a museum cannot operate.

  2. robecr15 says:

    I also agree. If you don’t think about procedures for changing the plan after it has been approved, it will be very difficult to adapt to difficult situations. I also think that built-in mechanisms of evaluating a plan during various stages is useful, especially if those evaluating it have a potential need for future changes in mind.

  3. laublb01 says:

    I agree that a problem with planning is inconsistency in following the plan. One way to rectify this is to be sure that the institution has a clear mission that is used as the foundation of decision making. The mission should ultimately steer team members back in the same direction to achieve the same goal.

  4. The notion raised in your post that the process is as important as the plan itself is an interesting one. Going through the planning process is a very valuable experience that helps staff to get on the same page and can generate wonderful new ideas as well as contributing to building the museum’s team.

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