The Road Not Taken

This week I was repeatedly annoyed by a fervent, but tiresome project management zealot loudly asserting that new steps should not be part of a project plan. As near as I can tell, this guy does plans, he doesn’t do work.
I started pondering the issue and decided that if we can separate planning from reality, we get a situation much like when we confuse a model with reality. In both cases, reality is where the results are counted. The model and the plan are artifacts, like 3 by 5 cards and beer.
I think the wish implicit in a plan is for clear steps to a solution. That works on simple problems, but only on some days. I like it when those work, too.
I worked with a prominent venture capitalist who told me, “I hate the part of the project plan that has a gold star that says Breakthrough Required Here.”

I use that. You can too.

I am reading a fantastic book, The Emperor Of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Sid calls it a biography of cancer. Actually, it is one of the best detective mysteries I’ve ever read, with a cast of superheroes. Those guys love to plan, so they plan the background noise, to give them time to concentrate on each breakthrough…after breakthrough…after breakthrough.
Two days ago, we got some news from a client, that punctured our plan. Jack asked if we should tell the client. I said, no, we should sleep on it and address it in the morning.
The next day we came up with a workaround, six tasks that create a much stronger product. It didn’t take six hours to define the new tasks.
Which got me thinking how often we start with a plan, when the plan ruptures, we develop a workaround, sometimes feeling disloyal to the plan. And now I’m realizing that the only plans that work the first time are the real simple ones, and then only on the good days.
“If at first you don’t succeed, you’re running about average.” M. H. Alderson

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Steve Cottle

Good post, Dick. Last year, I read a book called “Rework.” Having recently left a project, where I routinely had to search through tens of thousands of lines a project plan, I really enjoyed their section on planning, which they simply call “guessing.” This quote, which gets at the balance I think you should strive for, has stuck with me: “Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.”

Josh Nankivel


There’s a common tendency to think that plans create reality, in the details. It’s not true and when you try to force reality to a plan conceived long ago and with imperfect information, usually it’s mostly pain that results.

Personally, I think plans of all kinds should be as high-level as possible while still providing value and direction. Mostly focused on strategy, with some detail on often-used tactics that are unlikely to change and/or should almost never change. Getting in the weeds and trying to cover every “what if” scenario known to man just results in a monstrosity that doesn’t map to reality and no one will ever read anyway.

Seems like a theme this week, see Management Plans – Value add or Not?