Does Your Project Plan Make Sense?

How do you approach project planning?

Are you one of those Project Managers who fuss and fret over your plan, mind agonising over every date, dosage dependency and resource load?  Do you hold back…refusing to lock it in until you’ve added every line and every last detail?

Does your Project Plan make sense?

Or do you let it flow a little more freely?  Do you start at the beginning, then kind of roll along with an end in mind but no really firm path to take you there?

Or are you somewhere in between?

I have been reflecting on a famous quote by Martin Buber over the last few days, which has led me to this Twilight Zone moment, where I ask the question – should our planning capture every detail from the beginning, or should we plant a flag at the finish line and trust the universe to get us there in the end?  Is there a happy medium?  What’s the correct balance?  

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware – Martin Buber

Although he wrote this in another time and place, Martin Buber’s words reach out to us as Project Managers – we who live and breathe through our project plans, and invite us to think about how and why we plan our teams the way we do.

If Buber is correct, is there any point in our project planning, knowing that the plan will not hold true…that we are unaware of our final destination?

Imagine if you could stand at your project start line – the moment when everyone is enthusiastic, the plans are agreed and the expectations are high. Right there and then, as you take the first, confident steps along the path, where do you imagine it will take you? What would your roadmap look like?  What does the picture look like in your mind?

What if you now jump in time and stand at the project finish line – everything complete and handed over – and look back behind you, what would the path look like? How would it compare with the map that you started the journey with?

Even though you reached the final destination that you set out for, we can safely say that the two paths would be different.

What appeals to me is the idea that whilst planning our project journey is critical – we need to understand what the destination looks like and how we intend to get there – we know that the journey will have twists and turns. As Project Managers, our challenge is to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the end destination – to try and anticipate the unexpected and plan the journey as best we can, understanding that inevitably, things will go wrong along the way.

Surprises pop up. Diversions take our focus elsewhere. The path becomes a little rockier than we originally expected.

Buber tells us that our plan should NOT be rigid but rather, should be flexible and dynamic. It should give us a framework that allows us to move in different directions when we need to, all the while remaining pointed towards the destination.

His message is to not expect to follow the path at all times; keep your thinking creative and flexible so that you can respond to the twists and turns. Treat your plan as a roadmap, give yourself the freedom to run with the variations whilst constantly realigning your project management compass.

How do Buber’s words resonate with you? Do you put a lot of effort into your Project Plan? Do you invest your time and energy, making sure that every last detail is just right? My personal preference is to move away from micro-planning every detail and instead, use a “rolling wave” approach to planning – keeping the overall plan at a high level, whilst teasing out the detail for the next phase. Does that work for you or do you have a different approach?

What level of planning works for you?

Disclaimer – this post was originally published on 14 January 2014.  I have updated it and corrected a few errors.

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