Having a plan vs. planning

Plan vs. Planning
Plan vs. Planning

As some of my readers know, I have combined my long daily commute with my interest in American history by listening to a biography of every U.S. president in chronological order. I listen more for leadership reasons than political.

I recently finished Dwight D. Eisenhower’s biography.  While Ike was seen by many as a “retiree president” who primarily golfed his way through two terms, he actually used his military knowledge for a lot of behind-the-scenes foreign policy diplomacy.

One of the more interesting quotes he is known for is, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

I found that to be very enlightening from a military perspective. The man who masterminded D-Day certainly had a plan. But he knew that there were many things that would go wrong and situations that would change.  He knew as soon as execution began, situations beyond his control would immediately cause them to deviate from the plan.

But the process of planning includes considering what can go wrong and establishing alternatives. That provides the indispensable aspect of planning.

Planning in project management

This is just as true in project management as in the life or death world of the military. Every competent project manager knows that every project needs a project plan. And every project manager knows that as soon as the plan is done and the project begins, deviations begin rearing their ugly heads.

That’s where issue and risk analysis come into play. In addition to developing a detailed project plan, project managers should do extensive risk analysis. This should be done early and often.

At the beginning of any project, the project manager should meet with all project stakeholders to brainstorm on any risks that could be faced.

With every risk, analysis should include the likelihood of the risk occurring, the impact to the project should it occur, and mitigation plans to avoid the risk, deal with the risk, or accept the risk.

This type of planning allows for many deviations in the original plan. The project manager knows how to deal with those deviations and what to do when they happen.

You can’t think of everything

I’ve experienced pushback from people in the past when it comes to risk analysis. They tell me that I’m wasting my time. You can’t think of every bad thing that will happen. You can’t tell the future.

True. You’ll never think of every possible thing that can go wrong. That’s not the point. The point is to think of as many possibilities that you can. Brainstorming like that and coming up with mitigation strategies will help make it easier to zig when things zag.

Mitigation strategies provide ideas that lead to mitigations for other things that go wrong. That’s where the planning is infinitely more valuable than the plan.

Being on the same page

Another major outcome of planning (rather than the plan) is the communication that it generates. Have you ever been on a project where people are asking “What are we doing and how are we going to do it?” They may look at a plan. But that may not make it clear.

When they are involved in the planning, they have a keener sense of the project purpose. They are also much more aware of how the project will be managed.

If they are involved in risk mitigation practices, they understand that the straight line of the plan, may be a circuitous path. But they know the end point will not vary too much.

Conclusion

Many project managers develop a plan and stubbornly stick to it. Their inflexibility can cause many problems for the project. They end up focusing more on the plan than the original purpose and intent of the project.

Having the flexibility to deviate from the plan can be the key to their success. The magic is in the planning, not in the plan.

What have you accomplished through planning?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

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