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The pitfalls of planning (part 2)

In organizations, a lot of time and effort is spent on making plans. We make huge, extended, well-thought-out plans.
We think a lot. Before we start doing.

Do you know that this systemic approach could be a huge pitfall? And a waste of time (and money).

Here’s why.

Often, this is how it works. Before you start doing, you need to make a plan. To get approval, budget and/or time. So, you set up a Plan. A brief explanation on what is going on, what the solution (or vision) is, how you will move from A to B and what you need to achieve this. This could take weeks (sometimes even months, when a document contains series of objectives, priorities, and even tasks). You’ve figured it all out in a big master plan and after receiving the green light, the project can actually start. Yay!

The tunnel effect

Take a look at the picture of a tunnel.
Imagine you’re standing at the beginning of the tunnel.
Imagine this is the start of your ‘project’.
This is how we often act, in organizations.
Using a systematic approach: planning.

When we make plans, we look at the end of the tunnel. We think logically and we know what we want to reach at the end of the tunnel. The solution is already in sight, and all we have to do is make a plan to go from A (the start) to B (the end of the tunnel) to achieve the outcome. We make a plan with a clear beginning and end, with predetermined results and outcomes, tight deadlines and tight control – particularly of time and money. And then, all we have to do, is take those steps to make it happen. Right?

In this approach, there is a number of assumptions that mislead us.
And therefore, this approach could be a huge pitfall.
Here are a few reasons why.

“Changes will happen faster than your ability to plan”

The problem with planning is that it is usually well-defined; the outcome is already constrained, the approach already dictated, the timeline already established. In this approach we assume that things at the start of our proces (the beginning of the tunnel) will be exactly  the same as the end. Nothing will change. Things will stay the way they are. Even when a project will take more than a year.

That a strange thought. Because things will never stay the same. Maybe, when you have an ‘easy’ project, with a simple, unambiguous, stable and predictable situation. In that case: go ahead and plan. If you think you can control your environment, it may work out. But, when you are dealing with more complex issues in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world, this approach does not work. In these cases, you cannot predict what will happen, you can not contain and you simple cannot control.

By Simon Sinek

By Simon Sinek

The name of the most famous projectmanagement method (Prince2) says it all: Projects In Controlled Environments. We think we can. But we cannot: changes will happen faster than your ability to plan. For complicated issues you simply can not make a detailed plan in advance. And if you do, the project will not proceed as planned and then we call it „failure” (because we like to define our projects as successful when they are executed within time and money). Owh. If you plan ahead in detail, please be aware that this assumption makes it very difficult to make a project succeed, as in „according to plan”. Changes will happen faster than your ability to plan.

Logical steps

Another one. With this approach we assume that the way from A to B is a linear process. We just execute the steps in the logical way that we have determined in advance. First of all, we don’t act this way (see our previous post about planning, part 1: “First think, then act”).

Trapped in the tunnel

Thereby, this one way focus hinders flexibility and adaptability. It may result in failure, to respond to events that require adjustment of the plan. Take a look at the picture again. In the tunnel, you just don’t see what is going on in the “outside world”. You busy with your own stuff, focused on the end, while the world is changing. Focussing on one way, while you maybe have to take a sideway. Fact: during your process things will shift. Always. Shift happens! As mentioned, the situation at the beginning of your project will never be the same as it was when you started. So, you can shut yourself off from the outside world, pretending that nothing is happening there, but be aware that when you reach the end of your tunnel your ‘solution’ will not work the way you wanted it to be.

Missing out the best solution/idea

There is another danger in using this traditional approach. Especially when you want to stand out in the world. This planning approach assumes that all the good ideas are already present at the beginning. Maybe they are. But usually it is not the case. Good, better or outstanding ideas appear throughout the process. You will have new insights along the way, discover amazing things you’ve never thought of. A fully thought-out plan, which can not be derogated from, is therefore stifling innovation. You just end up with the first thing you thought of. And in most cases, this is a average, mediocre, so-so solution. (See also our blog about focus on solutions)

The danger of making plans

So, we use a systematic approach, assuming a stable situation, with a linear proces. This could work when situations are simple and unambiguous, and stable and predictable. But when you are dealing with more complex issues in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world, this approach does not work .Things will often not turn out as planned and you simply cannot control.

How to unscrew this system

We believe in acting different.
So we use a different approach.
It is a „sense and respond” approach; planning that arises in interaction with the environment. Yes, we have a roadmap. Clear and structured. And a time set. That is our plan. It’s simple and we do not describe all details in advance. We think and do at the same time and respond quickly and effectively to all changing events.  It’s an emergent planning. Change is not a single linear thing. A process seen as a system of spaces in stead of a pre-defined set of ordered steps. A living field; just as in the ‘normal’ world. (Think about the buttons of your movie or music player. You can press start to play, take a pause, rewind, take a step back or skip things and move forward. Playing with time. Playing in time).

As Simon Sinek says: “Always plan for the fact that no plan ever goes according to plan.”

This planning approach helps you to deal with the fact that projects always evolve in other ways than you have planned and it helps to adapt, respond to changes. And you’ll actually innovate more quickly by opening up for new ideas, creativity and smashing side paths. Ohw, and you’re saving yourself a lot of time and money writing huge, extended, well-thought-out plans (plans which often are actually written for justification purposes or proposals, not as a basis for action anyway).

Thereby, as we wrote in our previous post about planning:
we believe is important to start; think big about the future and execute what you can do today.
Releasing the assumptions that we first have to think, before we act.
Focus on action and do it all with incredible speed.
Getting things done. Making it happen.

Want to know more?

Check out our magazine
about planning ‘the other way’.
Read what other people say about this.
View my Flipboard Magazine.

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