Some of the most memorably stressful moments in my career have been spent arguing the benefit of building detailed project plans. Typical counter arguments included “In this company there is no point in making plans because everything is changing all the time and no one sticks to their commitments”. My reaction was, and still is, “if your company is that chaotic, there is something fundamentally wrong with it and perhaps you should invest time identifying the causes of the chaos and lack of commitment?  Having done so, you could then work with the leadership team to come up with a strategy to tame it.  And once you have a strategy, then you can build a plan to do whatever is necessary to tear down the barriers of progress.

When Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces he famously said “plans are worthless, but planning is everything”. His historic statement is not in contradiction of my position, far from it. It makes perfect sense, especially in times of war where, intelligence is scarce and the change variables are so fast and unpredictable. He believe that making plans was a waste of time, but that planning is a dynamic process.  Some people today would call it ‘Agile’.

In the cases where I experienced my stress over the argument for detailed plans, the situations were rather static, there was a great deal of knowledge of the situation and technologies involved and predictable outcomes (in the form of the fact that previous companies had accomplished the exact same things as us). The only chaos seemed to lie within the business and project team and their inability to agree roles and responsibilities, tasks and functions. They would have struggled even more in an ‘Agile’ environment.

I believe that once we have a vision of what we want to achieve and why, the best thing to do is to make a plan, not only for others to see and understand but to anticipate the challenges ahead and to estimate the resources required to achieve the objective of the project.  After all, how can one ever expect support and cooperation without some degree of clarity and expectation.  In a word the answer to the always present question ‘what next’?

I was recently reminded of this story by an over enthusiastic visionary who had become frustrated by the lack of support from those around him.  The situation was clear to me. They bought his vision, they desired the outcomes; they just missed his strategy and a detailed plan of how it could come about.

In the autumn, my colleague Jürgen Van Gorp will be publishing his master work on when and how to use Agile, or Waterfall planning techniques and it is even rumored that he has a completely new methodology that will allow hybrid project solutions. In expectation of this big event, I am going to spend some time anticipating how project managers that are too lazy to even make a plan could be persuaded to learn from someone with Jürgen’s experience. Watch this space! J

Have a good week