Meticulous planning usually results in…well…a meticulous plan. If you’ve ever been asked to follow a plan, you know that when the perfect plan meets reality, you need to be flexible.
It is in that flexibility that you achieve your best results. As events unfold, budgets are blown and circumstances change, the truly successful know how to pivot. This doesn’t argue for proceeding without a plan but it does argue for responsiveness.
I was reminded of this yesterday during a workshop when we were talking about the challenges of developing training. Several times, our discussion circled back to the same conclusion: Many issues that arise during a project can be avoided by setting out expectations and aligning the right resources in the project planning stage.
Conversely, we also discussed that some issues that arise are unavoidable even when they are considered at the planning stage. Personnel change. Schedules change. Sometimes the ideal doesn’t match reality no matter how hard we try to account for it.
True excellence, it seems, occurs when a good plan meets competent individuals who know how to respond to changing circumstances.
The U.S. Marine Corp Seven P’s
As I was considering the importance of good project planning today, I was reminded of the following saying most often attributed to the United States Marine Corps:
“Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”
The military often precedes and exceeds the private sector in leadership and training initiatives. Therefore, it is no surprise that it also gives us some of these gems of wisdom to live by. But in deference to the fact that the private sector is not as well-regimented as the military and its human resource not as easily commanded, the softer approach to planning in the private sector accounts for many of the inconsistent results.
As the training group discussed yesterday, many issues can be anticipated and accounted for in the planning process. In fact, crises can be averted when the right resources are applied in the right amounts at the right time at the planning stage. However, in an age of constant change, it pays to master the arts of flexibility and responsiveness. For example, if a project loses a critical person midstream, there is a far greater chance of completion if there is a plan in place that the rest of the team and any new members can continue to follow. In a cult of personalities where individuals run the show, the loss of any single critical team member can derail a project. A well-run project has backup resources and focuses on the plan, not any single individual.
While the best laid plans may go awry, anyone who has ever achieved anything of note knows that a well-thought-out and well-executed plan employing well-considered resources was somewhere at the heart of it.