Do you think that the goal of planning is to execute your plan flawlessly every time? If you believe that, then you probably don’t think making a plan is worthwhile.
Why, then, do we plan?
Although executing a plan exactly as you intended is ideal, it rarely happens. There are usually many variables outside of our control which frequently force us to adjust to the actual conditions. The market is a dynamic environment and we can’t always anticipate things like interest rates or consumer demand. It’s not just your team or department out there doing work- frequently there are many functions working interdependently. Oftentimes we depend on the delivery of external resources. All of these factors inject variability into our operating environment. So as conditions change, and they absolutely will, we are required to adjust our original plan to appropriately address what we experience “on the ground” so we can still accomplish our objective.
So was all that time and effort spent planning wasted?
What makes a plan so valuable is the process you undertake to create it- all the critical thinking and engagement necessary to align your team towards a specific goal. While making the plan, your team gains awareness of the conditions, purpose, and the priorities and expectations you provide as the manager. Those elements are not going to change even if you have to adjust your actions. While creating the plan, you will discuss what truly needs to happen and probably several ways to accomplish each action. The plan, therefore, is a reference point, a goal for how you would like things to go in a perfect world. But when reality occurs and conditions change, your plan allows you to immediately pivot and create a new plan because everyone already has a deep understanding of what is truly important about that scope of work.
When you hit a snag in your plan, and you often will, the most critical factor in allowing your team to respond is your leadership. As the manager, you must assume control and keep the team aligned on the goal, providing updated guidance and direction to keep the group moving toward success. The ability to adjust to the actual conditions doesn’t happen by chance, it happens because the team had a plan in the first place that you will use as a reference from which to adjust.
In Special Forces, when developing a plan we frequently reminded ourselves that “the enemy has a vote.” What that means is even the best laid plans can quickly unravel because we can’t predict how our adversary will react to our actions. We must estimate and assume how the enemy will behave when we make our plan, based on our experience in the business, but ultimately we don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future. Another expression commonly heard in the military is “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” These expressions tell us that we should expect our plans to change. To avoid being caught flat footed when we execute, we have to try to anticipate everything that could affect our progress (which we call contingencies) and plan countermeasures to respond; ultimately, however, it takes leaders to navigate the team to success when the situation changes. The way to maximize the probability for success is to have a good plan in place from the start. You can’t expect your team to go out there and get it done by shooting wildly from the hip. You need “well aimed fire” to accomplish your objective, and that precision comes from strong planning. To execute work without a plan is to bet on poor performance or even worse, mission failure.