When I ask project management students to list actions that are key to successful projects, the overwhelming majority of things on the list are related to planning.
We actually spend most of the time and energy in execution and control rather than planning. So, what’s going on? I think the students’ lists reflect frustrations – struggling to change and cope with plans that do not accurately incorporate reality. Their perception is that much of the struggle could be diminished through better planning.
At the same time, I’ve seen many organizations where there is a strong bias for quick action versus comprehensive planning. Those organizations reward managers that are “quick on their feet” and good “firefighters” (when was the last time any of us were recognized for good planning?).
Are the students just a bit naive? Maybe not. I’ve had European colleagues voice similar views about our planning: something along the lines of, “How did you cowboys ever get to the moon?”
Certainly, the more time we spend on planning, we delay getting to work. And, just as certainly, the less the plan reflects the realities, the more we have to deal with discrepancies, variances, and change. How do you determine the balance? Or, is that a false choice?
I’ve been persuaded that we need to plan, but do it slightly differently than in our “traditional” project paradigm. In a later blog, I’ll talk about some of the processes coming to be known as adaptive or agile methods. But, in the meantime, what do you do?