It may seem strange to those of you who know me that I’m in the profession of planning otherwise known as project / programme management. For years, my life was anything but planned, work opportunities seem to occur through a combination of chance and happy circumstance. Obviously it’s been easy to post rationalise my various moves (!) but the reality was very different.
That was not however due to a lack of direction or sense of the ‘deliverable’ – there was clarity in my mind as to what I wanted to achieve and what ‘good’ looked like from a career perspective.
Which brings me to the point of this rather introspective blog!
Why is so much value attached to a plan? As a professional programme manager, I and my colleagues know that even in the most well defined projects where there is a consistent methodology which is tried and tested in the organisation, where resources are qualified, motivated and experienced, where stakeholders are unified behind the deliverables, where the solution has been proven to work, where the benefits are very clearly defined and understood – let me pause for a moment and ask if there’s anyone out there who’s worked on this type of project, I’d love to hear from you (!) The point is that even in these mythical projects, things go wrong and plans need to be rapidly revised.
In the majority of projects, the revision (sometime wholesale change) of plans is a natural and expected phenomena. In business planning, what is developed at the start of the year usually bears little resemblance to what actually happens.
So does this devalue a plan? You might ask what the point of the effort is if all we’re going to do is change it. Why have the debate, the ‘to and ‘fro’ of the normal budgeting process, the constant revision of time and tasks etc. if all that’s going to happen is that we’re going to have to do something very different at the end. You might say our ability to forecast is much less developed than our ability to respond to change quickly.
In an interesting conversation yesterday, a friend and senior executive remarked on the changing appetites in the corporate world away from large scale / visionary / strategic initiatives and more towards a results focused approach to consulting where immediate returns are of paramount importance…an ‘agile’ way of delivering change. This would appear to correspond to the above.
Let me make a case for the plan however to give some balance to this blog.
Firstly, it provides a framework for the order of things…by which I mean, what needs to happen in what sequence…easier said than done but in our increasingly ‘silo based’ world, enabling participants to see dependency in the real world is clearly important.
Secondly, it creates an expectation of when the project will be completed and what gets improved / changed / delivered as a consequence. This creates some energy, momentum and hopefully a rigour amongst stakeholders to hold those involved and indeed each other to account.
Thirdly, in a good plan you get a vision of the future which is important for all those involved and even those on the periphery. Beyond the motivational aspects, it demonstrates a direction, a strategic intent, a focus all of which are important messages for any leadership team to deliver regularly.
And to those who say planning inhibits natural creativity and flair, nonsense! In fact, the ability to respond quickly and innovatively to the changing sands of expectation, deliverable, and circumstance is critical in any project manager.