The Thing I Hate About Planning
Everyone needs to feel responsible, not relieved, when planning meetings are over.
A collective sigh of relief at the end of planning sessions predicts disaster.
15 factors for creating great plans:
- Try things for awhile. Figure out what does and doesn’t work. Make plans after you’ve actually done something. Planning something you’ve never done is pooled ignorance.
- Plans don’t work, people do. Where can your current team take you in the short-term?
- Anything that doesn’t create or keep customers is a waste of time.
- Learn from people who are succeeding in your sector.
- Look into the past while planning for the future. What worked? What have we learned from failure? Planning looks into the future through the lens of the past.
- View the future through the lens of current behaviors. Plan accordingly.
- Identify behaviors when making short-range plans. What will we actually do to accomplish our objectives?
- Set high goals. If you always reach your goals, you didn’t reach high enough.
- Acknowledge that long-range plans are vague; short-range specific.
- Plan to adapt as you go. Things never go as planned. Course adjustments reflect agility not failure. Make plans anyway.
- Follow the energy when making short-range plans. Pour more resources into what’s working than what isn’t.
- Explore what you don’t want. “We don’t want…”
- Consider dangers when making mid-range plans. What do we need to protect? What needs to be improved?
- Determine how and when to evaluate progress. How will we know we’re winning?
- Create celebration points. When will we recognize hard work, lessons learned, progress, and great results.
The thing I hate about planning is the feeling that we’re actually doing something. Planning is talking, not doing. If people don’t do things, nothing gets done.
When successful planning meetings are done, everyone gets up with something to do.
What’s important to successful planning?
Great plans work until they are met by reality.
The best of plans consider contingencies, and aren’t hampered by inflexible people or policies. The most useful part of planning is the process and thinking that goes with it, not the details of the plan.
“The best of plans must eventually degenerate into work” – Peter Drucker
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
Thanks Joe. Great add!
Drucker had it right. Thanks for reminding us. Planning well is very, very hard to do – but achieving results without a plan is almost impossible.
Mike Tyson, such a way with words (lol) and one of my favorite quotes! Just have to note think of his voice saying it though.
Groups are notoriously efficient at producing a concise, efficient, and workable plan from scratch, and much better at improving one. Planning as a group is not easy to do and not very productive, unless the group is commenting at least an embryo of a plan. There is a need for someone (often the leader), to spend time in the weeds doing some thinking prior to involving a group. However, if the planner takes the embryonic plan too far before consulting others, they won’t be as involved, and he/she risks becoming defensive about making changes.
If the mission is clear (not always the case), then planning becomes a matter of sequencing events and assigning resources, evaluating risks, addressing contingencies.
The job of the person responsible for the plan is to set a direction with as much clarity as he/she can give, then to ask for people to comment/criticize/improve that plan. This requires the planner to be firm in direction, flexible in means, open to criticism of ideas, and able to distill the best of those ideas in an improved plan, sometimes in a series of cycles. It also requires that person to know when to stop planning and begin moving forwards. Pareto’s Law can often be extended to say 20% of effort produces 80% of results. Perfection can be an enemy of “good enough”, because it is wasteful of time and resources.
Temptations for the leader include 1) being so risk averse or obsessive/compulsive that they plan too long and act too late 2) acting rashly from bravado, laziness, or groupthink by moving too fast 3) not being flexible enough to change plans in midstream 4) not being just as willing to be accountable for bad results as good ones 5) not securing sufficient resources and/or overpromising.
The successful planner puts mission above self, stewardship above personal success. He/she works to understand and apply basic skills like setting goals, sequencing activities, estimating time and resources required. He/she believes in the mission, perseveres through the “forming, storming, norming, and performing” associated with bringing a group together to accomplish something hard and worthwhile.
The first step for any plan to be effective is to insure that all are on the same page as to what is being planned.
I love how people are so into creating action plans, but fail to ACT! This is the part where follow up and persistence on the goal come into play…. The devil is in the details, but the details can also be the devil if we enjoy/spend too much time knowing instead of doing.
The sentence “Make plans after you’ve actually done something.” was a joy to read and know that someone else thought (at least in this case) like me. In high school, how could I outline, first, a paper I was to write when I didn’t even know what I was going to write. I had to first learn what I was to report on/say and then I would go back and outline it. I was told it was backwards, Was so glad, many years later, when I learned that Harvard was teaching my (they didn’t get it from me, personally) approach. Made me feel somewhat “normal.”
Just like success is not a straight line, planning is not a straight line.
Thanks for making me feel “normal” (even though I’m probably not) again!!
Alan – I liked that part, too. Your reply reminded me of a anecdote I heard a long time ago about a college, when being built, didn’t have any sidewalks or paths – they let the students walk on the campus whichever way was most efficient and then after the first year went back and poured the sidewalks. I have used the analogy over the years in meetings when people get hung up on having everything mapped out before we can really know which way we will want to go.
..business can be a lot like Golf — “I was aiming for the Pin, I didn’t expect the ball to wind up there!” …So I like your – “Plan to adapt as you go. Things never go as planned. Course adjustments reflect agility not failure. Make plans anyway.”
In my mind the strength of the plan is in the course corrections/adjustments you can make from it (as opposed to a strict adherence to it)
That said there is a bandwidth of flexibility that you should not cross.. Example 3% over budget is normal, 30% over budget requires sound explanation, 300% over budget is fatal.
Variance from a plan is normally proportional to the degree of planning and the stage of execution.
For those familiar with the FEL (front end loading) project planning process, early stage estimates can vary by a great deal, while later-stage estimates are much more accurate. For example, a Class 5 estimate used for project screening and based on capacity factored models or judgment can vary from a low of -20% to -50% to a high of +30% to +100%. A Class 1 estimate done much further along in the project will result in a low of -3% to -10%, and a high of +3% to 15%.
The actual numbers and techniques don’t have to be memorized to be understood. Leaders must recognize that early planning is not accurate. Lessons to be learned include: 1) Don’t commit a great deal of resources too early 2) Don’t hesitate to abandon plans that may initially look promising and fail to pass deeper scrutiny – that is quite normal 3) Don’t blame people with great ideas when they don’t pan out. In fact, encourage generation of many plans (if they support the mission), so the few that make it through successive hurdles are very good indeed and have a high chance of success. 4) Planning is hard work, but not so hard as the firefighting and despair that often happen when we don’t plan.
Great information! Thanks!!
I completely agree that people matter the most in planning. They make things materialized. One can make good plan, and good strategy but unless committed people are there, it may be difficult to achieve goals. However, it is equally challenging to find out right people. In the organisational context, people are more concerned about their individual projects. Engaging into project that everyone own it, is a challenging task. It needs people with right intention and maturity. I also agree that in the planning process, it is important to create parameters. It provides clarity with responsibility. In absence of parameter, people become critical and even small project appears big.
I really find your key concept very useful like celebration point and setting behavior etc. I agree that there should be every arrangement to celebrate success or failure. They provide where people are heading. Many times, we assume that people are rational and are expected to behave responsibly. But it does not happen always. Many people do not have control on their voices and say whatever they fee like. Such symptoms create unhealthy environment. So, it is must that you should define what constitutes desired behavior and what is undesired behavior. All your suggested steps are important.
One point I would like to add- when people do not own the project deliberately, fix accountability, address issues and if possible do not hesitate taking actions.
Yes, plan – but recognize that if the goals are meaningful (include some risk…), it is necessary that metacognition (used mostly in education I think – ‘how are things going and what revisions should be made’) will need to be one important part of the plan implementation. I’d agree about getting started but would do some planning – enough to make good choice of starting steps reasonable. Learn from the past, learn from what others do, BUT plan / implenent for what makes sense now for your team / organization.
You have rightly pointed out that the entire course of organizational planning depends on three term of planning (i) short term (ii) medium Term and (iii) long term , however, in all the cases the involvement of the leaders who are responsible of making the planning and also who are executing the plans are responsible for making it successful. Many a times it is observed as you have pointed out that after the finish of meeting or presentation people have a sigh of relief not only that when their turn for presentation is about to come they are tensed and look her and there, but there presentation is over they are relaxed and hardly focus on the others presentations. this makes the entire meeting a waste and there is no long drawn strategy concluded. Thus it is very much important that management must focus on the exploring the possibilities instead on focusing and devoting and doing postmortem for the work not done. Instead the meeting should focus more on involving the people and providing them a direction and leadership role and there should be some outcome instead of munching on the snacks and lunch. Meetings should always be on the goal setting and achievement of goals in the near future and long term. Leaders must ask the questions and shall be ready to be probed for the failure but it shall not a tool to catch the people on the wrong foot, instead it should be a part of management planning to weed out the deficiency and set the course for the future.
Plans and Meetings: Everyone hates them, yet we can’t live without them. How many things have to happen to us “before something occurs to us?” Dan makes a distinction between plans and “planning”…is there something to this?
In medicine there is the admonition “primum non nocere”–the Latin expression for “First do no harm.” But, first do no harm does not mean do nothing, rather “carefully do something.” Otherwise, if treatment is withheld until a definitive diagnosis is made, for example, half the patients would die before receiving treatment.
Imagine a “plan” that mandated a diagnosis before treatment vs. “planning” that makes provisions for patient-doctor variables.
So, plans are something, and planning is everything. The plan we write in advance will probably fall short of the reality of our work, while the planning we’ve done gives us the agility and ability to adapt and find the solutions we need.
Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem and empowerment of others. When people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.
Your next to last paragraph is a marvelous summary of why we should plan. Incredibly well written and lucid. Thank you.
“Set high goals. If you always reach your goals, you didn’t reach high enough.”
I really appreciate this message. This reminds me of the saying: “if people are not laughing at your goals, your goals are too small.”
Thank you, Dan, for such encouragement and reminding me of my vision.