Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why is there so little actual planning in Ministry Plans?: a rant

Oman's Supreme Council of Planning, presenting to Sultan Qaboos
All of the Ministries in Oman say the same thing. They refer to the strategy of their next 2 year, 5 year, or 10-20 year plan, and I really do try to be upbeat, and remind myself that, well, Healthcare, Logistics, Economics, Politics, Transportation, City Planning, Education, and yes, even Tourism, none of these are subjects have I ever attempted to get a formal educational degree in. What does my opinion matter?

However, when I do get that rare opportunity to read the actual plans, or am made privy to a "strategy", I am always left scratching my head. I have to wonder, is it just me, who sees that this person (who is okay with proposing such a "strategy") is either one of two things...

A. An idiot who can't understand the questions being asked.
(And if so, how did they get to the level of their position?)
B. Someone politically adept at avoiding the actual point of the question no matter how the question is worded and, never mind how many times the same question comes up.
(Like, "what are the steps of the plan?" and "okay, that's point Z, and your saying we're at point B, so what are all the other letters of the alphabet before we get there?")

Most of the time, I suspect it is the latter, as all these plans are the same: a bunch of jumping around, avoidance mumbo-jumbo, packaged, rather grandly, into the obvious.

...Like, I'll repeat myself endlessly using different wording on challenges, explain reasons for stalls while simultaneously complimenting the entity being coyly and charmingly blamed for any hiccups or failures, avoid mentioning any actual understanding of processes as they exist or are required to exist in an organizational structure to enable the "strategy"....

It makes me laugh. As these things are commonly tape-recorded I literally have to stop myself from snorting, laughing, and accusing the auditor of making it all up. It's hilarious I tell you.

And...if I'm reading transciptions of such over, I have to rename the file, because I've probably marked up the document with comments, not polite to have read over by co-workers, even if I know they're thinking the same thing. Like, I can't 'scoff', 'name a fool', 'congratualte the cunning of', in the "insert comment" sidebar of a word documment on a discussion of a Ministry 10-year plan. 
...Although, any time I have accidently emailed someone the wrong attachment containing my personal copy they seemed to enjoy it as much as I did;)

It also makes me bored.  You have no idea.
My brain literally goes numb with thinking, 'Yes, "so you said in your last five year plan". Or... "Obviously. Obviously important things are important"'.
Stating the obvious or being repetative makes one feel that anyone working at the Ministries is an idiot. (Which I know for a fact they are not---I've met some super smart people there).
But, like,
I know fifth-graders who could come up with something more creative, and original,
and perhaps even make it better put-together.

It often makes me want to bash my brains out against the wall or on the conference table as I listen.

I'm sure everyone Omani has thought it at least once:

Why is there so little planning in a Ministry XYZ-year plan?

Come to think of it, any expat whose been here for even the length of a Ministry 2 year plan close, probably have wondered also, those words, silent, or aloud.

Apparently I plan my trip to the grocer, in greater detail, than the Ministries do your given 2-5-10 year plan.


1. Processes to achieve strategic aims are not explained in such plans.

Indeed, I rather question if existing processes are actually known in their entirety by anyone at any given Ministry, let alone, between Ministries, or {GOD-FORBID!!!!} someone actually having to visit a Ministry to get anything done. I bet even a single Ministry department doesn't know what it is doing, and why it is doing an actual step of work within that process, not entirely.

...That's why you are always told to go from one person to another to find out how to do something to get something done in Oman.

2.) A strategy is not interchangeable with, nor is it the same thing, as a strategic aim, or goal, or objective.

A strategic aim does not constitute a strategy.
I hear "Omanisation is our strategy" and "expanding service levels is our strategy" and I want to scream.
There seems to be a great confusion here in Oman, between goals, and required efforts to achieve goals.
There's a saying in English, "the Devil is in the details". And indeed, it is a great evil to Oman, to skip the details of actual planning, like ordering the steps, setting guidelines, having a specific timeline, and outlined consequences for not meeting the guideline or timeline goals.

...Far greater evil than I, failing to buy the right food at the grocer, or not having made it to the grocer at all, find myself at home with nothing to eat but Indomei again for dinner. However, nothing but Indomei consumed for long periods of time is a great evil, for things of no nutritional value whatsoever, weaken bones, and immunity, and...

Of course, that brings us back to issue number 1. You can't strategize without knowing the process as  it exists, and can, ideally and reasonably, exist.

Think of it like this. Winning the war is not the strategy, it is the strategic aim. So you have to fight certain battles (meet certain challenges) along the way. Strategy is knowing what resources you have and how to employ them. You can't do that if you don't even know yourself.

In national-level politics, as in war, the old adage "Know your enemy and know yourself, then have no fear of failure" (The Art of War, I do believe;) applies. If a Ministry does not even know its own processes  of today, it cannot fight the enemy (challenges of years from now), and thus, such plans leave everything to fear.

Beyond the price of oil, that's why real estate is down, why the skilled/educated workforce is down. The why is fear. The fears of the population. These run toward---and against---government plans that are increasingly, in the last decade or so, failing.

So why are the ten year plans of the 1970s that were so brilliantly successful, not working for Oman and Omanis now?

I think, and this is my personal opinion here, is that, back then, there were no processes whatsoever, so having a grand strategic aim as a strategy, saying, "this is what we want to move towards" was enough.

Now, it isn't enough. MashAllah, we can be proud to say, as Omanis, that

Oman is beyond the point of where 'an ideal to get one going' is enough.

Now is the time for practical step-by-step instructions, where processes are understood, areas of responsibility are described in entirety for everyone employed in whatever position, and objectives are measured and rewarded.

It is 2016, and this car called 'Oman' is stalled in the middle of the road to great places, as am I, for a better metaphor. So Ministry planners {yoohoo folks at the Supreme Council for Planning !!!!}:

Oman needs a jump, and a push, and, Omanis,
(if you truly want for them to jump on board and drive this thing)
  a veritable road map of plans as detailed as a rally driver's course indicating the speed, and each angle of a curve, not merely, the name of a destination and a gesture in the right direction.

-Peace out, and please forgive, as all is said with as much love in my heart, as there is, tongue, in my cheek,

Yours truly,


Elisa Visentini said...

...My misadventure... I found myself in Muscat, not important how, and decided it was a good idea to try to get the guiding license. i went to the ministery with an arab speakng friend, aand collected all the papers, read them well, presented all needed documents, gave the interviw a th eMinistery....but...in the meanwhile rules changed. So that now I need to have a residence card for having my license...and I was there by tourist visa. So that now one year passed and stil I am waiting for getting my licnse...even if I regularly had my interview passed. ...well...feeling little bit down. I decided to write my blog as well, about my crazy trip to Oman :D it s fab to read yours. :)

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Elisa: Thanks for commenting so I could discover your blog!