Why bother with a plan

I have met plenty of cowboys in my day. I’ve written about this topic several times. One thing that cowboys hate, is writing-up a plan. It makes me think of the times when I MAKE my kids do homework. Their effort to avoid doing homework, usually is greater than the homework itself.

It probably isn’t a surprise that I’ve also worked with people who were not cowboys, but still refused to write-down their plans. Maybe you are you familiar with the saying “failing to plan is planning to fail”. It is a catchy saying, but how accurate could it be? After all, if it was true, a cowboy would always fail. Right? However, cowboys don’t seem to constantly fail. Perhaps this is iron-clad evidence which contradicts this catchy slogan.

To plan, or not to plan

So-many people do-not believe in plans because they have operated without a plan and have experienced varying degrees of success. Therefore, to them, a plan is just some BS busy-work that has low ROI. I’ve heard the same about Algebra homework. (deep sigh, and eye-roll).

Well, good news/bad news: This negative rhetoric may be accurate under some circumstances, but I cannot name very-many times where [having a plan] was actually a complete waste of time. So, let’s start with some conditions where [having a plan] will probably end-up being a total waste of time.

  • Very small tasks
  • Busy-work
  • Tasks where creativity is the fundamental goal
  • Tasks which only involve one, maybe two people
  • Tasks where the outcome is unclear and it is impractical to plan “research” or “discovery”
  • Tasks which require a cowboy (emergency outage in production, or a panicked fix)

In contrast, I guess you could say, nearly every other condition is a time when you want to have a plan. For example:

  • Large projects (or even medium projects), which require coordination and timing
  • Projects which are being watched by important people
  • Projects with a significant budget and expected ROI
  • Projects which should be predictable
  • Tasks which require surgical precision and zero margin for error

For work like this, there really is no excuse for not having a plan. If you’ve done something before, you know what you are doing, you can predict how things will go, then make a plan to show that you really do know what you are doing. As you hit your marks, it will increase confidence in your process and skills. Clearly you must know what you are doing if this is so predictable, and you predicted it so well.

Of course, there will always be some surprises on any project, so document your expectations about those too. If you encounter more surprises than you anticipated, then adjust your plan and adjust your work to bring the project back to the plan. It might sound inconceivable to predict surprises, but with some experience, you will come to expect surprises and you will prepare to 1) recognize them early, and 2) react to them and handle them so they don’t derail your plan or timeline.

Bottom line, if you know what you are doing AND you are not a cowboy, then cowboy-up: write-down your sweet plan and sport it like the magnificent elitist that you and I know you are.


About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in Lessons Learned, Professionalism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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