I’ve collected a lot of project sayings over the years. Many of them have to do with planning, including the first:
- Fail to plan, plan to fail.
It is the basis of the project management profession. If organizations or teams could/would plan, they wouldn’t need PMs. But they don’t plan. So they need us. Perhaps they live by another saying:
- The nice thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.
I don’t like surprises. I am risk-averse. I want to plan as much as possible to reduce the risk (and the work) of the project. A few more quotes come to mind:
- Initial planning is the most vital part of a project. The review of most failed projects indicates the disasters were well planned to happen from the start.
- It’s not the plan, it’s the planning. (Graeme Edwards)
- Plans are nothing, planning is everything. (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
- No plan survives contact with the enemy. (Field-Marshal Helmuth von Moltke)
And my personal favorite:
- Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. (Mike Tyson)
So much risk and work could be avoided if teams simply took the time to plan their work. I know why they don’t. Everyone is busy multi-tasking on many different things at once, perhaps not knowing the priority of each task. But I don’t care. Projects must be planned. Teams must take the time to do this.
And I know most (all?) projects don’t go according to plan. But Eisenhower et. al. are right – it is not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning. Planning enables you to react quickly to problems that come up. Perhaps you’ve already prepared for the problem, perhaps you have appropriate reserves or extra resources to tap. Even if you are not fully prepared for the specific problem that arises, your planning has eliminated some possibilities and again, allows you to react quicker.
I believe Henry Ford knew the reason people don’t plan:
- Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. (Henry Ford)
Planning requires thinking and too many people, even so-called knowledge-workers, avoid thinking at all costs. They prefer to do stuff. It doesn’t matter what the stuff is, just so they are busy. Email looks like work so a lot of people do it instead of thinking. Going to meetings also looks like work so people spend a lot of time in meetings. (Note: A meeting is only work for the person running it.) Spending (wasting) time in Microsoft Project or PowerPoint looks like work too. And sometimes it is, but a PM should manage the project not the project software.
To reiterate: it is unacceptable to not have a plan. It is a mandatory task (and document). It’s all about the plan(-ning).