The value of Planning

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The Value Of Planning

Derry Simmel, PMP, MBA, FLMI Chapin, South Carolina, USA

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States.

Some project managers prefer the quote “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” by General George S. Patton. They reason that it is a waste of time to create plans, since they will be invalid almost from the beginning. This attitude has doomed many projects to failure. There will always be managers who advocate action over planning. Action is seductive, planning is boring.

Boring as it may be, the sole purpose of planning is not to create a set of documents. Eisenhower realized the discipline of planning causes you to think about your project. The planning sessions create a deeper understanding of the project. You address work, budget, resources, risks, timelines and more. As you plan, you gain greater insight into what is needed for success. Your plans will also help you understand if, and how, goals can be achieved. Completed plans are an invaluable way to communicate about the project.

Planning documents record what was discussed and decided. They do not exist to inflexibly dictate a course of action. Unfortunately, the originals will quickly lose their value and relevance. That is why we have two types of planning - initial and ongoing.

The goal of initial planning is to set the course of the project. Initial planning looks at the project as a whole and considers all areas (risk, time, quality, etc). The initial plan sets the intent of the project, and maps a reasonable course to the objectives. The course will change as more information is gained and the situation changes. This is natural. A change in the objectives is less common, and should only be done with caution.

To create an initial plan, you must think about your project, understand the risks and limitations and build a path to success. As the PM, you take your team through planning sessions to do this. Creating an initial level of mutual understanding is vital, particularly right after “first contact with the enemy…reality.

First contact is when the act of planning pays off. Because everyone understands the plan, each member can react independently in accordance with the intent of the plan. Knowing the overall goals and restrictions allows your team to make the right decisions quickly. This is when ongoing planning kicks in.

Your ongoing planning process starts with the existing plan and modifies it to account for the new reality. You planned to start development on May 1st, but now you can’t start until June 1st. How do you make up the time? Can you assign your resources to other tasks which can be done in May? Do you need more time, more money? These are your ongoing planning considerations. You plan, adjust, and then you execute.

Each time you plan you are thinking and communicating about your project. These necessary and fundamental activities will never fail to yield benefits well beyond their cost.

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