Tag Archives: planning

The Plan and Its Train Wreck

“Why is planning so important?” I asked.

“Well, if we have a plan, we know what to do,” Susan replied.

“And, if we know what to do, then we will get what we want in terms of the outcome?” I pressed.

“Well, most of the time.”

I shook my head. “Rarely. Planning only works until its train wreck with reality. Most of the time, things turn out the way they turn out, regardless of the plan. So, why is planning so important?”

It was Susan’s turn to shake her head. So, I continued.

“Think about planning as the mental exercise of anticipation.”

Susan’s head shaking became a nod. “Anticipation sounds like what ifs. We don’t know the what ifs in the future, all we can do is guess. What if we guess wrong?”

“So, our planning has to include what if-yes and what if-no,” I said. “And, is there more than one variable in the future?”

“Always more than one variable,” Susan replied.

“And, if we take variable A-yes, variable A-no and variable B-yes, variable B-no, that gives us four quadrants to plan in.”

Susan jumped in. “And if we take short-term and long term slices.” Susan stopped.

ScenarioPlan

“Planning is the mental preparation for making decisions down the road in the face of uncertainty,” she continued. “And the further into the future we plan, the more uncertainty there is. It is not the plan on the piece of paper that matters. It’s the mental fitness, exercised by planning, that makes the difference in the problems that must be solved and the decisions that must be made.”
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For more information on scenario planning, visit Gideon Malherbe.

Second Order Consequences

I got an email last night warning that the low-hanging fruit has been picked. The CARES Act is past, PPP applied for and received, people furloughed, cautious re-openings. We are very good at those tasks right in front of us.

Another friend of mine, Gideon Malherbe warns of the second order consequences. What are the longer lasting impacts of WFH, online services, digital relationships, telemedicine, distance learning, end-to-end system integration? More important, how can you plan for those things unseen? Worth a read.

The Crisis is Over (Soon)

We created our crisis response. Uneven across the landscape, some more affected than others. By now, we are doing what we thought prudent. For some, that will necessarily be maintained, others may see dramatic shifts in the next four weeks.

Get Ready
While your crisis response is set (one way or the other), it is time to plan for a transition. It is time to blend your crisis response team with your transition team.

Time Frames and Scenarios
Look at the extremes that may happen in your what-if scenarios. Look at the time frames

  • April 30 will see the expiration of current “essential services” guidance. Some places will see continued guidance, other places will see re-definition.
  • Four weeks out, there will be some re-mobilization, and that experience will teach us more about how we will proceed (or retreat).
  • Two months out, we will begin to understand our companies in the midst of this chronic condition. And we will learn more about what is possible and not possible given the circumstance.
  • Four months out (August), we will gauge our ability to cope and determine how to leverage our assets in the face of circumstances.
  • Eight months out, we should see what we will look like going forward into the future, however modified, however different.

This is not something that will just get fixed. This is more likely a chronic condition we have to adapt to. Even if herd immunity kills off COVID-19, you can rest assured there will be a COVID-20.

This is Not a Pause and Restart

One month ago, perhaps we thought this would be a V shaped recovery. Pause, restart. With 6.6 million unemployment claims this week, we are in for a longer haul. In the midst of damage control, if you are the leader, you have to think a bit further out.

Now is the time to plan out some variations in your what-ifs. April is gone. What if May? What if June?

What if June sees a relaxation and there is a resurgence in cases? What if additional government intervention occurs because of case resurgence?

Think about the variables and the combination of variables. We will emerge from this pandemic, we will. This is not the time for despondent thinking. This is the time for resourcefulness in the face of uncertainty. Think beyond emergency measures. What will life be like in two months time, three months time?

Rate of Change in the Plan

“Good work, so far,” I said. “If things work out this way.”

“Well, it’s a plan,” Miguel replied.

“What if things don’t work out this way?”

Miguel closed his eyes, trying to visualize something he had not considered. When he opened his eyes, I could tell he had drawn a blank.

“You expect things to occur, your customers to want a certain product line and your volume of orders to reach a specific threshold. What will you do if these things don’t happen?” I continued.

Miguel shifted in his chair. “I know. I was thinking, as I put this plan together, am I working to finish the plan just to get it done? Or am I really thinking through different scenarios. This year already seems a bit weird. Sales are sluggish even though we have really been working our bids.”

“So, what do you think?” I asked.

“I think the world changed faster than our plan.”

Vision is Where Enthusiasm Lives

When I trained for a marathon (at the ripe age of 39), Thursday would arrive at 3:30a. The alarm clock would ring and I had a decision to make. I could throw it against the wall and return to my slumber, or I could put on my shoes and head out the door.

At 3:31am, I put together the connection between vision and motivation.

The goal was clear, 16 miles, in the cold. But for some reason, that goal did not get me going. In fact, counterproductive reality. The only thing that got me out of bed was the vision at the end of the marathon. My vision was a slow-motion movie-like first-place finish breaking the tape, wind in my hair, looking sharp in my fancy running togs. It was only that clear and compelling vision that got my feet on the floor.

Here is the truth. Your team doesn’t care about your goals. They are not exciting. The only tool you have, as a manager, to get your team juiced up, is a clear and compelling vision of the future. A vision complete with vibrant color, exciting sounds and the smell of success. It is a description of the details that breathe life into a project. Vision is where enthusiasm lives, energy, drive and inspiration.

Goal Setting is Not the First Step

Miriam crept into the conference so as not to disturb the rest of the meeting. Everyone was working hard on their business plan for 2020. “I’m having a bit of trouble,” she said. “I know all the steps for the plan, but I am just stuck.”

“And, from our structured planning model, step one is what?” I asked.

“Step one is to create the vision for my department. And that was easy. I think I got it all captured in a couple of sentences. It’s the rest of the plan that I am having difficulty with.”

“Interesting,” I replied, “that you can capture that much detail in two sentences.”

“Well, you are right,” Miriam confessed. “There isn’t a lot of detail, but I thought it would be better if it was short.”

“Miriam, here is the way the vision part of the plan works. The more detailed it is, the clearer the images are, the easier it is to write the rest of the plan. Instead of two sentences, write two pages. I want to know who your customers are and what services you provide. You probably have more than one customer segment, tell me how they are different and how your services to each are different? Tell me what position you hold in the marketplace, what your market share is? Who are your competitors? Tell me what your competitive advantage is, what are your core competencies? Who are your key personnel, how do you find them, how do you grow them? Tell me about your facilities, your plant? How do you control quality? How do you guarantee performance?”

Miriam left the room with a bit of thinking to do. A couple of days later, I read her vision statement. It contained all the detail we talked about and more. The plan that followed was clear and detailed, all driven by a carefully constructed word picture of the future.

The first step in the plan is vision.
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Vision
Inventory of Current State
Goals
Action Plan
Resources (Budget)
Communication Plan
Follow-up Steps

Or, Let It Sit on the Shelf

“Why do you think you never looked at your plan this past year?” I asked. Rachel was quite interested in making her 2020 plan different.

“I’m not sure,” she replied. “It was almost like it didn’t matter. We could re-read it and talk about, but it didn’t seem to matter all that much.”

“That’s why purpose is so important. That’s why purpose is the first step. Purpose drives the rest of the plan. Without a well defined purpose, your plan will be uninteresting and sit on the shelf.”

“So, we really need to have a purpose,” Rachel was nodding, enthusiasm creeping across her face.

“No,” I said. Rachel’s face turned quizzical. “You don’t need to have a purpose. You need to find a purpose that has you. You need to find a purpose that has a hold on you so tight that you can’t stop thinking about it. You need to find a purpose that captures you. When you find that purpose, you won’t have any problem pulling your plan off the shelf and working it.

“Find a purpose that has you.”

SIP Planning

As Hurricane Dorian skirts the Florida coast, on its way north, I was privileged to observe a phenomenon in several companies, recently coined as SIP planning (Short Interval Planning). We can have an overall plan within what is known or highly likely, but in fluid situations, like hurricanes or projects, those plans have to be constantly reviewed and adjusted to changing circumstances.

So, use your favorite planning model, but look at it often, with your team for –

  • Changes in “known” facts.
  • Changes in assumptions.
  • Changes in timeline (hurricanes slow down, projects get delayed).
  • Changes in workforce (the important “who?”)
  • Changes in expectations.
  • Changes in intention.
  • Changes in supply chain.

You probably have your own list of things that can change. Stay safe during this hurricane.
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My thanks to Bernard Paul-Hus who introduced the concept of SIP planning.

The Schedule and Reality

Phillip stared at me. His blood pressure was up, though he appeared calm, but not like a deer in the headlights.

“So, we should teach our Project Managers to schedule?” he asked, knowing the answer was yes.

“Look. Phillip. Think about this. What is the most frequent problem a Project Manager has to deal with?”

Phillip didn’t hesitate. “The contractor calls up and wants to know how come something on the job site isn’t happening the way he expected it to.”

“And what happens then?”

“Well, the PM starts scrambling. He jumps on his radio to find out what happened to the crew or the materials or the equipment. It can get a little chaotic.”

“Why doesn’t the PM immediately go to the schedule to find out what is happening?”

“The schedule?” Phillip almost started laughing. “His schedule won’t tell him anything.”

I stopped, waited for ten long seconds. “And why won’t the schedule tell him what he needs to know.”

It was Phillip’s turn to wait. He was trying to craft a response, but the only thing that came out was the truth. “I guess we don’t take schedules seriously enough to train our PMs on how to create them and use them.”

“So, Phillip. Yes, you need to train them on how to put a schedule together.” Phillip nodded slowly in agreement. “And that’s not all. There’s more.”