When Is It Most Important to Plan?
by Alan Willett
February 25, 2020

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
— A quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, amongst others.

Last year a client was telling me that a project was so critically important that it had to start immediately. It was going to be a complex project with a tight deadline. It just had to get done.  

He further added, “There is not enough time nor reason to make an estimate.”

“Perhaps,” I said, “an estimate is not so important, but making a plan is vitally important.”

Our discussion resulted in agreement on these five points that explain why, when the result is critically important, it is equally important to plan.

  1. Weigh the importance of the project.
    Consider it against the other projects in the portfolio.  Know that if the project is critical, it will be important to reassign the right skills and leadership to be in place with full focus on this project.
  2. Plan the approach for speed.
    Take the time to figure out the core value the team must achieve.  Determine the first steps that must be done. Consider design alternatives.  Brainstorm ideas for additional resources or approaches that can get you to the core value faster.
  3. Plan for the base camp and supplies needed.
    If you want the team to go fast, make sure they have the path cleared. Remove any other obligations that are in their way. Ensure they will have the people they need when they need them.
  4. Estimate the work the team understands well and guess-estimate the rest.
    Even on the most ambiguous projects I have coached, the team has known 80% of the work well. It is easy to plan what you know. Guess at the rest.  When you have this information you know what is possible and not.
  5. Make the hard decisions.  

    Doing all the above steps means you will know what choices you have to make to achieve your goals. It often means making decisions about priority trade-offs. Sometimes not planning is easier because you don’t want to see reality. Now that you see it, accept it, and deal with it.

Planning should never be analysis paralysis. Make the best decisions you can with the information you have. Then go!

Sure the exact details of the plan never survive contact with reality.  However, reality will bow before a team that has committed to making the path they have forged work to their success.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

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