9 August 2007

Plans are useless... but planning is indispensable

“I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Studies have found that planning will reduce project budgets by an average of 20% and duration by almost 40%.

Which studies? “Perceptions of Representatives Concerning Project Success and Pre-Project Planning Effort” from 1994. That's around the time of the forst Chaos Report which hilighted the critical rates of failure and mediocrity that IT projects were achiveing.

If you are a fan of a little less planning and a lot more action you might like to take a moment to read this article. I am interested in readers comments.


  1. I would like to start with the attributes of the two words that this topic addresses: planning and plan.
    Planning - An act of considering the option available, it's a starting point in setting the course of action.
    Plan - A product after the planners have considered options, usually the end product.

    With that as our differentiation, it is essential and very valuable to do planning, that may result in more than one plans. Planning prepares the team in setting a clear vision of what the different options are and why one of them was embarked upon.

    When things start to go wrong, a lot of time, energy, and resources are saved by not switching to options that were ruled out earlier because they lacked one thing or the other. Also, there usually are backups identified that can immeditely be scrambled.

    All in all, I think, planning is valuable, plans may or may not prove out to be. I, personally, like planning but don't hold myself attached to plans. They should be dropped, modified, or simply switched if desired.

  2. Good point Rajeev. Another axiom that gets thrown about is that "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

    I guess what planning does is makes you think deeply about the problem and the paths you may take.

    Training and exerience can bring many of the same benefits. If you know your environment and the problem and solution models well you probably need to plan less.

    THere is an interesting article on decision making for emergency service people here.

    When we, in our offices and project environements deal with decisions in a slow and rational way, forefighters, for instance, have to make their decisions sometimes in microseconds. Decisions are made by instinct and intuition.

    The article talks about how people make decisions based on 'gut instinct' and then rationalise it. I think many of the detailed business cases and business plans stack up to about the same thing.

    Even six sigma process improvement workers seem to follow this path more often than not. And six sigma seems specificaly designed to counter this behaviour.

    And then there are the people who say instinct and subconscious decicion making is better than rational methods anyway.

    Right or wrong it seems to be a hard habit to break for many.