The ABZs of Planning Management

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The first edition of The ABZs of Planning Management was written some 10 years ago. Since that time we sold out our first and second printings. A number of universities in 6 countries are now using the book as a text for planners, hopefully giving students a leg up on the real-world practice of planning, and it is often recommended as a study book for the AICP exam. We are pleased to announce the arrival of the new edition expanded from 320 pages to 506 pages with many new topics and a comprehensive index. Order your copy today!


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Leaders Praise the ABZ's of Planning Management, 2nd Edition....

“This is that rarity, a must-have book about a potentially dry subject that's actually fun to read.”
- Harold Henderson , Planning's book reviewer.

“We hire the best technical planners that we can find, and if they are really good, we promote them to managers. After that, we just hope for the best or we buy a copy of the ABZs.”
- S. Gail Goldberg , City of Los Angeles Planning Director.

“Doctor Z has done it again. The second edition of the ‘Zucker Bible’ is better than ever and in lockstep with our changing times. It should be required reading in every planning school and within daily reach of every practicing planner. The chapters on ‘change’ and ‘stress’ are my favorites. They reflect the ‘moving target’ nature of our profession.”
- Jim Duncan, FAICP, President, Duncan and Associates, Austin, Texas.

“Your book is a practical and insightful look into exactly what the practicing planner in management needs. This workbook format offers the flexibility to all planning managers to ‘pick and choose’ those elements that are applicable to their organizations’ unique environments. This is important in developing successful managers. The Zucker approach to planning management is your legacy to our profession.”
- Ed Gawf, Assistant City Manager, Scottsdale, Arizona.

“The second edition of Paul Zucker’s ABZ’s of Planning Management is a must have resource for today’s planning directors. Paul does a great job of distilling current management advice from both public and private management gurus and blending them with his years of experience to give us an easy ready, a must read, and a go-to resource!”
- Sue Schwartz, FAICP, President of the American Institute of Certified Planners and Neighborhood Planning Division Manager, Housing and Community Development, Greensboro, NC.

“The ABZ’s of Planning Management, Second Edition is an essential, all-encompassing guide to meeting the numerous real-world challenges that are confronting planning agency managers. It’s a resource and reference book that will be found in an open position on the desks of planners, not on their shelves.”
- Bruce McClendon, FAICP, Director, Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning

Foreword by S. Gail Goldberg, Los Angeles Planning Director

Between accepting and starting my new job as Planning Director of the City of Los Angeles, I was inundated with messages and reading material passed along to me from my new friends in L.A. Many folks shared history and personal anecdotes of their native city as they welcomed me north from San Diego. They described the neighborhoods that I might like to live in, the sites of interest and the restaurants that I really must try. Others provided their political perspective and an overview of the business and development environment. But most of the folks I heard from shared with me their stories about a planning department bogged down in case processing and void of long-range planning.

By far, the most popular e-mail attachment, for my reading pleasure, was an audit of the planning department that had recently been completed by the City Controller. The accompanying newspaper articles carried somber headlines, such as “Audit Criticizes City Planning Policies.” My head was spinning with quotes: “an agency cast in a time warp of past practices, old procedures and outdated technology” that was “mired in backlogs,” etc. etc. One can only imagine how excited I was to read this. After all, I had already resigned my position as Planning Director of the City of San Diego.

There was one ray of hope. The audit had been conducted for the Controller by Zucker Systems. And I know “The Management Doctor.” I have seen Paul Zucker many times, in his all-white medical garb, standing in a booth at planning conferences under the ZUCKER SYSTEMS banner with the sign on the desk reading: “The Management Doctor is In.” We all know the true measure of a doctor is not just diagnostic skill but the ability to find a cure.

Beyond the occasional encounter at a planning conference, I also was fortunate to have spent many years of planning in San Diego, the home of Zucker Systems. I have had opportunities to interact with Paul and to assess his work. He is most impressive. He combines a very successful career as a planning manager with a subsequent and equally thriving career as a management consultant. I knew that if Paul had conducted the audit, it would be fair and there would be constructive recommendations.

More than a year has passed since my first introduction to the Los Angeles Planning Department. Dedicated planners joined with me to create a Strategic Plan for the Department that addresses many of the recommendations in the audit and introduces “real” long-range planning to our work program. Our journey is that of all planning departments: to produce great plans, to efficiently and effectively process cases, to be responsive to our stakeholders, to nurture staff and foster creativity, and to fully engage the public.

And we face the same challenges of limited funding that most often results in insufficient staff, which we compound with inadequate training. Of course, nowhere is training more lacking than in the area of planning management. We hire the best technical planners that we can find, and if they are really good, we promote them to managers. After that, we just hope for the best or we buy a copy of Paul Zucker’s The ABZs of Planning Management.

This new edition of The ABZs of Planning Management, and the one that preceded it, delves into the chaotic world of planning departments and, with clarity and humor, identifies our most common challenges and offers best practices and innovative solutions. Reading Part I, The New Environment, challenged my thinking about the nature of organizations today and the role of managers while it expanded my view of leadership. The Vision and Mission chapter was particularly relevant to me as I work to set a new direction in Los Angeles. And I laughed with Paul as he talked about planners who see themselves as somehow separate and apart from the political process. What country do they work in?

Part II, Employees, gently reminded me that “people are our best asset” and then convinced me that nurturing individual growth and creativity in our staff is, quite simply, a survival strategy for today’s planning organizations. Part III on Planning and Development Functions provided practical ideas and examples of best practices that helped me rethink both our planning functions and case processing. And then, of course, I was challenged to fit all of that into a creative and fluid organizational structure.

Thank goodness the doctor is still in the house and that Part IV addresses structural issues. Office Management not only provides examples of effective organizational structures, but also challenges conventional thinking about vertical and horizontal responsibilities. It also offers many practical ways to create that efficient and effective department that we all aspire to have. Finally, Part V, Tools, provides a concise review of key management tools to help evaluate and improve our organizations. Of course, if all else fails and downsizing becomes the tool of choice, the book concludes with a great chapter on Unemployment Blues.

If you are a planning manager or aspire to be one, you will find The ABZs of Planning Management a great read with many “aha” moments. One cannot read it without wanting to share the ideas with co-workers. The book is a wonderful impetus for real dialogue with your management teams. It is thought provoking and inspiring. I can assure you that all of my managers will have a copy.

S. Gail Goldberg, City of Los Angeles, Director of Planning
Spring 2007


New Material

  • Management – Leaders, Chapter 1
    Since writing the first edition of The ABZs, there have been hundreds of books and extensive research on managers and leaders. This chapter is intended to report on some of this research and help you visualize your role as both manager and leader.
  • Boards and Commissions, Chapter 11
    We may not like all your boards and commissions, but planners need to learn how to work with them.
  • Building Permits, Chapter 18
    Cities and counties used to want me to review their planning program. However, today the desire is to reform the entire permitting process, so planners need to know more about the building permit, engineering and other related functions.
  • Stress, Chapter 13
    Many planners were stressed out in 1997, and I find many are today – a needed topic.
  • Budgeting, Chapter 21
    In my classes, I always ask which departments need more staff. Invariably it is: all of them. Yet, in my consulting practice, I find few departments that know how to make the case in their budget. This chapter will show you how to do it.
  • Technology, Chapter 22
    I was hesitant to write this chapter since technology is changing so rapidly. Hopefully these ideas can help you keep up the pace. It was written by my firm’s technology expert, with lots of input from our head planner.
  • Office Space, Chapter 24
    Managers have the responsibility to see that staff has a workable and invigorating environment.
  • Measurement, Chapter 27
    The need for using measurement as a management tool has taken on increased importance since the 1990’s.
  • Consultant Selection, Chapter 28
    Outsourcing has hit the private sector, and it is on its way to the public sector. This chapter will help you get prepared.
  • Other Office Management Issues, Chapter 29
    Lots of new ideas here to help you run a better shop.
  • Benchmarking, Chapter 33
    We can learn from each other and this chapter will tell you how

Table of Contents


About the Second Edition
How to Read this Book

Part I – The New Environment

1. Management – Leaders
2. Vision & Mission
3. Customer Service
4. Politics
5. Change
6. Communication
7. Time Management

Part II – Employees

8. Hiring
9. Delegation
10. Evaluation
11. Motivation
12. Training
13. Stress

Part II – Planning Functions

14. Planning
15. Plan Format
16. Permitting
17. Boards and Commissions
18. Building Permits

Part IV - Office Management

19. Organization
20. Systems
21. Budget
22. Technology
24. Telephone
24. Office Space
25. Forms
26. Manuals and Handouts
27. Measurement
28. Consultant Selection
29. Other Office Management Issues
30. Downsizing

Part V - Tools

31. Focus Groups
32. Peer Review
33. Benchmarking
34. Department Audits
35. Unemployment Blues
Annotated Bibliography


About The Author