A change of plan

In an unpredictable and uncertain world, plans often need to change.

As of writing this:

Two years ago, we were all locked down in our homes, adjusting to working remotely and not being able to see our family and friends.

Two months ago, Russia had not yet invaded Ukraine.

Two weeks ago, Will Smith was revered and had not yet smacked Chris Rock unnecessarily, causing worldwide outrage.

So much has changed in such a short space of time.

In terms of large scale change, globally, we have had more one-in-hundred year events on a more frequent basis. Whether it may be climate events, wars, or pandemics, they continue to happen at an increasing rate.

Given this increasing uncertainty, what is our plan in such a volatile world?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as saying, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”.

Why is this such a profound concept? When you have a plan, ideally, you try to stick to the plan. It becomes the thing to follow, to be reported on and becomes a check in the box exercise that is task-driven. A plan does not take change into consideration, albeit through a little bit of slack often built-in. A plan remains largely static and assumes everything is known up-front.

When projects don’t go to plan or companies suffer significant project failures, the first step is often to tighten up formal project management practices. Gantt charts are updated, Project Managers are often more committed to following up on assigned tasks, and checks are often done irrespective of whether it adds value or not.

The value of the plan does not reside on paper or within the technology where the plan is captured. The value lies in the ongoing dialogue and actions that comprise the planning process itself. Continuous planning is necessary to reflect on the current state, understand the changes in the environment, consider what the future holds, and adapt based on those changes.

Planning does however, require some level of direction. Direction is often manifested through the vision. This vision is the Crux – The set of stars in the Southern Hemisphere that direct you towards the True South. It aligns individuals and teams on where to focus effort, allowing the teams to figure out the “How” of getting there. The teams then consider those stepping-stones that are needed to progress towards the vision.

Planning is also about managing risk for uncertainty. We need to consider the assumptions and then run experiments to either confirm or reject those assumptions, continually reducing the uncertainty as solutions progress.

In summary, continuous planning considers the need to listen to different perspectives, anticipate what the future holds, check current realities, innovate new products and practices that will allow you to complete in this emerging future, and through constant feedback, iterate through continuous planning, towards a shared vision. The better we do this, the more resilient we become when plans change.

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