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To PLAN or not to PLAN – that is the question

To PLAN or not to PLAN – that is the question

If you ask someone if they have a plan for their work, you’ll get vast array of different answers from ‘not at all’ to ‘yes, and I’ve planned my whole life out’.  

So, do you need a plan? Why do you need one? What sort of plans should you make? How do you make a plan? How long should you spend on it?  

I’ve led programme and project managers that hated and dodged project planning despite it being a key aspect of their role. On the other extreme I once worked alongside a project manager that literally scheduled her whole life to an extreme that made me shudder, with holidays mapped out for the next 50 years, and a weekly life plan that included what time of day her and family would get up to when she would have sex with her husband (including day of week and hour of day, yep, it was not the best idea to detail these in work time and keep them on the public work drive!).  

What makes that story even more poignant is that this project manager ran off with one of her clients about 12 months later, making all that work a total waste of time (although I imagine she was getting more of what she wanted!). 

I’ve trained many project managers in planning, and I’ve worked with countless people who find themselves needing to make a plan with very little background in it, and from all the years of doing it myself, mentoring people who are planning, and seeing the execution and results of said planning, let me share a few thoughts with you about it. 

Do you need a plan? 

If you need to achieve something, and you don’t have a project plan, how on earth can you know whether you will achieve the desired outcome, and when you get there will it be worth it?  

Think about it like this, you see programmes on TV like ‘Grand Designs’ and you see them over and over again finding folks that have a budget and no idea how much it is all actually going to cost, they don’t have a PLAN. They go massively overbudget, they let their emotions run them, they often lose money.   


What are the benefits of planning?  

Having written details for nearly all situations that involve any level of complexity are critical to evaluating the PATH to your destination, review the risks involved, the likelihood of success, the costs and time durations involved, you can then EVALUATE and decide which path to take. 

Here’s a big headache for you: your plan is only useful on the day you write it. The next day, everything’s probably going to change.  

That’s right folks, this process isn’t a one-time event, a plan MUST be seen as a living and evolving snapshot of the route to the finish line. If you get blown off course you need to replan to get back on track to your destination. 

So, some folks need detail to such a degree it cripples them, it becomes a death by plan for anyone that goes near it. Other people literally rock in every day and just do stuff that seems about right. 

Your job is to plan at the right level or relevance, and the easiest way to do this is in chunks of time

How do you make one?  

Now, let’s say you have a project that is going to take 1 year, I’d immediately recommend creating a high-level summary plan with estimates for the main chunks over that year, and how they depend on each other.  

Once you have a high-level scope, you can take the chunks that fall in the next 3 months and go into more detail. If after going into more detail you find you had to double all your original estimates, you can apply this to the whole project.  

Without going into specifics, there is great value in having a near term focus and clear breakdown of what is needed, whilst allowing items further in the future to be more and more hazy.  

Trust me when I say there is no point planning out a chunk of work in minute detail that is 12 months away of more because it will have completely changed by the time you get there, and your effort is wasted. 

People that get too lost in planning and ‘not doing’ are procrastinators, they are avoiding the real-life execution of the project. People that get lost in execution without planning are avoiding having a reality check on what they are doing. 

What should you plan?  

Whilst there are many basic things in life that should be straight forward for you (like going to the toilet), having a plan can literally CHANGE your life, your work, your achievements, everything.  

I work to the following:  

  • 10-year wish list 
  • 3-year horizon (what I would like it to look like) 
  • A 1-year business plan 
  • A quarter breakdown of objectives and goals I wish to achieve 
  • And then I run a weekly plan (the plan of the week is a PLOW) to give me direction.  

As I’m a human I often fall into lapses on this and stop following my own rules, and do you know what happens, I don’t achieve very much. When I have focussed plans to guide me, I achieve a lot more. 

A plan should be proportionate to the ‘doing’. The old ‘Plan, Do, Review’ saying is very valuable here. It is actually the same as the techy / agile saying for ‘design, build test, repeat’.  

Keep it simple, keep it short, communicate it and share it with the folks that you need support from in the plan, and then get on with the ‘doing’.  

You can then review your progress, see how effective it’s been, learn about your own estimations vs what actually happened, then feed all this knowledge into the next project. 


Should you plan?  

Absolutely yes, you should have a plan for your upcoming week with your key desired outcomes listed. 


Do you ever NOT need a plan? 

Not really, not unless what you are doing is so ingrained in you or so predictably simple that it is self-explanatory. 

So folks, start simple and grow, if you don’t do it at all, start with very short plans and grow from there. If you are one of those ‘death by plan’ types, wind it right back to the next few weeks only, and DO something.  

To sign off, I’m going to say this, you can MASSIVELY change your life, if you make a 1 year AND a weekly plan of what you wish to achieve (not a task list – that’s another BLOG), and look at your plans briefly every day, I dare anyone to come back to me and say you haven’t exceeded your own dreams, and you are smashing it after 1 year. 

Want to learn some more about Fred? Check out his LinkedIn here!

Or check out another one of our blogs, our most recent: Social Media Do’s and Dont’s.


Risks vs Issues explained!

Risks vs Issues explained!

Through my career going back to my project and programme management days through to executive management, I always enjoyed pointing out the difference between a risk and an issue and was often bemused at how many six-figure “business experts” could not discern one from another. 

So, I thought I would share, in my own humble opinion, my views…..

Lets start with the basics:

  • A RISK is something that may, or may not happen but hasn’t yet happened.
  • An ISSUE is something that HAS happened and is having or has had an impact.

So let’s make a really easy example to create a view

If you are driving a car and you see a pothole in the road ahead, the pothole is in the future, it hasn’t “happened” to you or your car yet. There is a RISK that you will hit the pothole which may have an impact on either you, your car or your load. (E.g. IF I hit that pothole in the road THEN I may spill my nice cup of coffee that Fred Warner made me!)

The pothole won’t hit you, you will hit it! If you have your eyes open and on the road, you can assess that there is a risk of hitting said pothole and decide on which course of action to take: Avoid, Mitigate, Reduce, Accept (the typical methods). To AVOID it you could steer around the pothole, To MITIGATE it you could pick your coffee cup up to avoid it spilling. To REDUCE it you could slow down before hitting it and drive slowly over it. To ACCEPT it, you think, “whatever” and carry on as you are and take the consequences. (You may even blend your RISK approach and do several of the above)

Now, lets say that for whatever reason you have hit the pothole and it HAS had an impact on you, your car or your load (or coffee in this case)

Lets say you were thinking about something else, didn’t discern the risk, hit the pothole, (which came as a huge surprise even though your son or daughter in the passenger seat saw it, pointed at it, and you ignored them – just like employees so often do) and as a consequence, the coffee has spilt all over your lap (and you are now shouting at your son or daughter for distracting you and telling them it’s their fault – maybe like you do with your employees?)

You are grateful there is no long-lasting damage to the car, although repeating the same mistake over and over will create excessive wear that will lead to shortened suspension life (avoid getting techy here and talking about MTBF and Failure Modes).

Hitting the pothole has resulted in an ISSUE of coffee spilt all over your lap. They are not one and the same thing. One RISK (pothole) led to another ISSUE (coffee spillage). One RISK can result in many ISSUES, all impacting each other like a spiders web of dependents.

Another set of circumstances could have been many ISSUEs coming from the one IMPACT, so maybe you hit the pothole, spilt your coffee, suffered a tyre blow out and the shock of the hot coffee on your lap distracts your attention from the road, you swerved, crashed into a tree, and, well, you can let your imagination do the rest!

Understanding RISKS

Understanding what a RISK is and how it can result in many, many ISSUES, all of which could have been managed effectively in the first place, is really the crux of risk management. Sometimes it is easy to say you can overthink RISK, but you’d be amazed at how this can work.

Get your team together, play a few scenarios out that you can think of, get their creative juices flowing, and let the team go, you’ll be amazed what they come up with. THEN, most importantly, make decisions. Which RISKS do you accept (e.g. The world ending is not a plausible risk for most businesses to manage), and which do you take up and do something about? Maybe you change how you resource, manage your cash flow, the order or sequence of events to come. Maybe you put checks and balances in place. Maybe you think you can cope with the worst outcomes and time is of the essence. If you have considered your RISKS, you will be in a stronger position and should find yourself dealing with so many fewer ISSUES.

RISK and ISSUE management

I achieved a lot of varying business deliverables to the satisfaction of the stakeholders in the past, some through pressure & blood sweat and tears, but I would say mostly through RISK and ISSUE management, far more than the quality of my planning or my detailed tracking of where we were at, and far more than shouting at anyone to work harder. (How many times do staff feel the pressure because of delays at a senior level in making decisions in the first place!)

In my leadership roles, I always pictured myself as the key RISK player. It’s as though the team are in a car driving down the road, the team leaders are at the steering wheel, the team are making the car operate/ work (engine, suspension, steering, air con, etc) and it is my role to be up ahead of the car to ensure the road ahead is as clear as possible for the team to follow me where I want them to go.

If ISSUES arose due to them being unavoidable, then I and the team will have to stop the car, mop up the issues and get the car moving again, with me up ahead road sweeping as before!

So, I suppose you could say that leading RISK and reducing RISK is like being a road sweeper!!

All opinions are my own!

Fred Warner

#RISK #ISSUES #Management #Programme #Project #Team