When planning becomes a problem: become agile to stay focused on long-term goals


We all know that a detailed plan is crucial to the success of your team and your business, right? Maybe not.

The answer is more complicated than you might think.

Planning is a task we have to be good at on many levels; as an individual, as a team and as a company, good planning is the key to our success. But only up to a point.

At each level of planning, we must master the art of knowing when we have reached the stage of a “good enough” plan. Over-planning leads to tunnel vision that prevents us from seeing other more interesting opportunities along the way. Or, worse yet, over-planning causes us to stubbornly lean on a plan that is no longer useful and will lead directly to failure. “Working according to plan” can give us a false sense of progress and we can end up losing sight of the goals behind that plan.

Planning and goals are not the same thing, and knowing the difference is the basis of knowing when you have planned enough.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” As soon as life or work hits you in the mouth, your plan doesn’t matter anymore. In shock, you can try to figure out your plan, but your situation has changed. Your goals haven’t changed however, so we need to build our plans within a framework that not only allows change, but invites it.

To think about how you can craft a plan that thrives on change, let’s consider planning at the team and company level.

Use agile methodologies for flexible team planning

At the team level, we are particularly guilty of following the wrong metrics. In the worst-case scenario, we curse a project from the start by assigning it unrealistic goals that set the scope, budget and schedule all at once. We build a sophisticated plan that shows every task we imagine to complete by the deadline.

We don’t leave any room for creativity in the team, and we don’t leave enough room in the plan for unforeseen delays and obstacles. We can even pride ourselves on a fancy Gantt chart, but that chart quickly becomes obsolete and only serves as a monument to the pride of our initial project planning when we thought we had all the answers.

Planning and goals are not the same thing, and knowing the difference is the basis of knowing when you have planned enough.

The framework to fight against this at the team level is to follow an Agile methodology such as Scrum or Kanban. Agile teams set broad goals for a project, while allowing flexibility in the budget, schedule, or scope needed to achieve those goals.

An agile team plan identifies the goals that our clients must achieve in order to achieve a positive result. Most importantly, we prioritize those goals and work on the most important ones first.

We can always have a fixed budget or a fixed timeframe, as long as we are flexible about the scope we can achieve for that budget or fixed timeframe.

If there is a minimum set of the highest priority scope that needs to be completed before our clients will consider our work successful, then we need to allow flexibility as to how long it takes to complete that work, how deep we complete the work, or in what budget we can complete the work.

The worst part of any plan is the initial assumption that we already know everything we need to know about the problem we are trying to solve. It probably isn’t, and we’ll learn more about the problem as we go. By implementing an agile plan, we will have the flexibility to change the path we take to achieve the most effective solution.

Keep annual business goals but keep planning shorter

At the company level, we must allow the same flexibility in our annual planning. I recently came across an old notebook in my files, and in the first few pages I had listed my frustrations with running my business at the time, and the things I wanted to change to resolve those issues. I had made specific assumptions in my business resolutions that year, which assumed what efforts of our products would be successful, and how far we could travel on that path to achieve the success I wanted.

The depressing part of finding this 2019 notebook was how it looked like things I would have written in early 2021. The problems I described were the same almost two years later, but none of the solutions I did. ‘had imagined in the past had worked. Why was only one of these problems not resolved over the next two years?

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

If you guessed “global pandemic,” treat yourself to a prize. While that wasn’t the only reason I didn’t fix my 2019 issues, the global Covid-19 pandemic that spread into 2020 completely upended my assumptions about how I could approach the challenges. commercials I was facing. I had made other wrong assumptions in my plan, which the negative economic effects of the pandemic amplified and forced me to face drastically. In commercial survival mode, I quickly discovered how little these plans mattered and abandoned them in the face of rapidly changing conditions. If I had stubbornly stuck to my previous plans, my business would not have survived.

At the start of 2021, I defined the objectives of my company differently. Instead of prescribing myself or my senior executives on specific paths to resolve these same issues starting in 2019, I focused on the results I wanted as a business owner. We focused on the goals of achieving certain levels of stability and profitability, and delegating certain responsibilities in order to create more time to work on strategic elements and be able to respond to unexpected changes.

Instead of defining a detailed tactical plan for the year, assuming I knew how to achieve my goals, we created a more strategic plan to identify the issues we were facing, and created the framework in our leadership team to better. manage changes as they occur. path. For example, I did not define a fixed number of employees that we had to have by the end of the year, rather we committed to following a management framework that helped us to communicate better as a team. We also agreed to constantly review our plans throughout the year so that we could adapt to what was needed in order to achieve our most important goals.

In business survival mode, I quickly discovered how much small projects matter

In our case, the management framework that we have put in place is the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), which is defined in a book called Traction, by Gino Wickman.

As part of this framework, we set annual goals, but we’re not prescriptive or too detailed about how we’re going to achieve those goals. Each quarter, we set new ‘rocks’ for each member of the leadership team, which are shorter term goals for the things we need to accomplish this quarter in pursuit of annual goals, or to solve d ‘other problems that arise along the way. The details of how to accomplish this Rock are always up to the individual, but we meet regularly throughout the term to update us on our progress.

In your case, a different frame might make more sense. For example, in a large organization with many different agile software development teams, you might need a framework like SAFe, which helps you organize a portfolio of work across many teams, while still maintaining flexibility. in the definition and implementation of this work than traditional business management methodologies do not allow.

Today we made great strides in solving the issues I noticed in 2019. The way we did it is very different than I imagined before, but it didn’t matter. ‘importance. We have actually become a better and stronger company than before the pandemic. We have not only learned specific lessons from the struggles of the past, but more importantly, we now have a framework in place to help us better respond to unforeseen issues that our business will no doubt face in the future.

Preparation rather than detailed planning

As usual, the only constant we can expect is change, and therefore we must learn not to fear it. Planning too detailed will not help us stop the change, it will only slow us down to respond to that change we are facing. The key to success at all levels, from the individual to the organization, is to follow a planning framework that encourages adaptation to change. It’s the kind of preparation that allows us not only to plan for change, but to plan to thrive through change.


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