The Plan is Nothing but Planning is Everything

A mentor of mine once attributed this quote to General George Patton. I don’t know for sure if Patton said this first, but I do know that these are words for every Program/Project Manager to live by. I’m not saying that running a program is equivalent to waging war, although it may seem that way at times. What I mean can be broken down into “Planning is Everything” and “The Plan is Nothing”.

“Planning is Everything“: The planning activity is the foundation upon which your project will run. You and your team owe it to yourselves and your company to take those vague marketing requests and turn them into a well defined architecture with the requirements fleshed out and defined in as much detail as possible (without breaking the timeline or complicating the design to the point that you can’t recover). In other words, define the problem you are going to solve. Once you understand the problem, determine how you will go about the development: what resources (people, capital, expense, etc.) will be required and when. When done properly you should be able to track the design, development, validation, documentation, manufacturing plan, and quality plan back to every requirement and even the vaguest marketing requests. You should also look at every aspect of the effort to determine what the biggest risks are and define mitigation plans for them. If you are really pumped, you may even look at the magnitude of the potential impact vs. the likelihood of occurrence and come up with a weighted impact for each risk to add to the plan (worked great in the government world but I haven’t made that sale in the commercial world yet).

The Plan is Nothing“: Seriously the plan is nothing more than bits in a computer or dead trees holding your desk down in case gravity takes a brief vacation. The plan doesn’t execute the program, it doesn’t stay up all night fixing that critical bug, and, it certainly doesn’t fight for the equipment and people that are necessary to succeed. However, to say it is nothing is an overstatement. It is a tool that you can use to justify your requests and it does provide the baseline against which you can measure your performance.

Putting the two pieces together: People get sick, they take vacations, and some even win the lottery. Components will come in late, your layout will take twice as long as you expected and that memory leak in the code will pop up at the worst possible time and take a week to nail. In other words, life happens so don’t get too attached to your plan because as soon as you hit print it will be out of date. You have to be flexible and ready to adjust your plan on the fly, proper planning will allow you to do this. On a personal note I have run several very successful programs and some not so successful programs. The successes all had one thing in common; we were able to go through the planning exercise properly. The failures also had one thing in common; we didn’t go through the planning exercise properly. We either took short cuts in planning or disregarded the recommendations that came out of planning.

Remember Planning Is Everything!

Ed Gaeta

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