Invest in Planning: Know what you are buying.

"If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!" — Benjamin Franklin

Of course the converse of the Ben Franklin quote is that "No plan survives contact with the enemy, the implementation, with reality." Yet, planning is critical. One of the most important keys to planning is understanding that the time in planning is an investment. You must start with a clear idea of what you want to buy.

The following are the attributes you can buy with planning. Each attribute will cost you more time.

  • Clarify goals. It is quite difficult to make a plan if you don't have an idea of where you are going. With important projects, I do not expect perfect clarity of the destination until we reach our goal. However I do expect my plans to get me pretty close to where I want to go.
  • Quick and Dirty Estimate. Is the project worthwhile? One of the first steps should be a quick and dirty estimate. In other words, a very fast estimate of how much time and money it will cost. This estimate will have no precision to it, thus is will be wrong. However if it is in the "ballpark," you will have a good sense if it is worth going farther. For some projects, this is sufficient planning.
  • Break it down into detail. Do you want more precision? Do you want a more accurate estimate? Break it down into as much detail as you can. Consider how many things have to be accomplished. Consider how many resources are available. At this point you can start getting more comfortable about what is really needed.
  • Get Others Involved. You could do all the above steps by yourself. However if you want to get a more accurate plan, get others involved. If you want the people that will execute the plan to be invested in the plan, have them make the plan.
  • Invest in determining the fastest ways to the goal. There are two other investments you can make. First, if this is a time critical project, it is worthwhile to look at multiple designs and approaches. It is worth turning over every rock to find the fastest way to your goal. This is expensive but very worthwhile for big important scary projects!
  • Sure as possible planning. After you do the "what is the fastest way we can get there plan", there is one more investment you can make. If you are leading a big project and you want real commitment to the end date, the final investment I would encourage is to have the people who do the work, to make a plan they believe they can deliver early to. Then as a leader, hold them accountable to the commitment they have made.

The biggest problems people get into with planning is either buying way too high which results in frustration. Or in buying way too low resulting in a significant failure to meet your and your key stakeholders expectations.

With planning, like any other investment, you do get what you pay for.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,
ALAN WILLETT