I guest posted over on the PMBlvd blog “PM Bistro” about keeping processes and PM tools simple. Check it out.
The guys at 37 Signals were almost on to a good thing with this post about Planning as Guessing. Sure plans are guesses. Sure they are just a hopeful take on what we think might happen. Nobody that is good at what they do has ever questioned the transient, unsteady nature of plans (and yes, to be perfectly clear, by this I am implying saying out-right that those that think that their plans are cast in stone and not to be wavered from are bad at what they do.) But what their post gets wrong is that by dismissing plans and planning as a waste of time and diminishing the importance of planning they encourage the very thing that we need WAY LESS of in the world of, well the world of EVERYTING: a lack of planning. They seem to think there is too much planning. Well Im going to go the other way and say that there is nowhere near enough (good) planning. Maybe the problem is that it is assumed that the only outcome of planning is a plan. That is often the tangible product that one can hold in their hand or email to the team but it is not the only output of planning. The process of building that plan (the one that SHOULD be assumed will not last through the first week or so of the project) makes us smarter about what we are doing. It makes us think about what might go wrong. It makes us walk through different scenarios and different possibilities. Creating that solid plan that we know will get at least heavily modified if not out-right replaced is the very thing that equips us to make those heavy modifications or to come up with the replacement plan. Without the planning, if we dismiss planning as just the creation of guesses, we leave ourselves exposed to the four winds like so many backpackers huddled around the campfire at basecamp.(Sorry, just kidding. I could not resist. LOL. 37Signals makes some cool stuff for sure. I mean them and their products no disrespect.) But seriously, the planning process is not about coming up with the be-all, end-all, rock-solid path through the project. It is about preparing yourself and your team for what might happen. It is about thinking through what could go wrong, figuring out what will likely go wrong and figuring out what you will do when it DOES go wrong. My fear when I read posts like the one at 37Signals is that they seem to minimize the importance of planning (and even, if just a little and very subtly, ridicule those that think planning is important.) If this leads to even one team doing less than the appropriate amount of planning because a plan is “just a guess” then it has done a disservice.