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Planning Is More Important Than The PlanYour plan will not survive the first encounter with reality
— Paraphrased from Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke.

Do I believe that?  No, not if I’ve done my homework, but the notion is still useful and so is the planning, even if it doesn’t unfold as expected.  This is because we’ve thought out many different approaches and selected a few to call the plan, but those unused ideas, in one form or another, are often what makes the difference.

It was to be a weekend of high pressure and fast action.  Our ROTC cadets were to plan and execute a tight training program for the underclassman and do it on a local Air Force base.

As my cadet team was planning, I made a few suggestions on what to do if things got behind and didn’t go as planned.  They were in the form of “instead of having the underclassmen figure out what to do here, just tell them what to do.  It will still be a challenge for them, but we’ll skip the planning step and save some time.”  The reaction from my cadet leaders was “we don’t need to do that, they need to take on the challenge of planning too.”

What do you think happened?  We got behind.  Even though we had considered and rejected this notion, we still had thought about it.  My cadet leadership team just “did it” when they got behind (they told me about it later!).  It was not in the plan, even as a contingency (we had listed a bunch depending upon what might happen) but they were still able to execute it without a hitch.

I’ve often argued that we are going to have problems and that we probably don’t know which ones we’ll encounter.  I’ve characterized projects as being typically exposed to 100 different potential major problems, but we’ll only encounter a dozen of them.  The challenge is we’ll not know which dozen until they happen.  Thinking about and discussing them all, where possible, prepares us for them.  This is also a risk management technique, without attempting to “counter program” every possible risk to the plan. The act of discussing them brings a lot more benefit than we imagine.

Strategy is a system of expedients — Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke

Planning is important to help us understand what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Even the things we dismiss are useful, because plans rarely go as planned.  This is why we want a fair number of people in on the planning and why we want to consider a wide range of possibilities, so we can take action when things go awry. This way, our plans always survive their encounter with reality.

Are your plans made with everyone’s involvement and do you discuss possibilities that might not happen?

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