The simple truth no one told you about planning

Plan well, but do not plan too much

Do you know the funniest thing that happens in most of the organizations at the start of every year, and sometimes before the beginning of every year? It is a circus called the annual planning session.

Come on, no one can foretell winning a lottery or meeting with a disaster. Even Nostradamus has had his share of failures. And even after all of this, several wise leaders still around a table and plan for the year ahead and sometimes for ten years ahead.

All this can be a sham. As 2020 dawns, it is funny to see how many roadmaps to 2020 have been met. I am sure that not even 1% would have reached their target.

The problem with plans is that, well, they are forecasts. Do not get me wrong. It is good to have a plan. But once the plan moves beyond a certain point of time, plans tend to become wish-lists and is never a priority that has been well thought out.

No one has made this more evident that the former India cricket captain who, when asked about practice and planning, said, “After the first bowl is bowled, it is only chaos. What you are trying to do is you are trying to manage the chaos. It’s not like a script that happens.”  He was replying to a question which quoted the legendary German general Erwin Rommel who once had said that no plan survives contact.[i]

In an ideal world, I would create a plan for not more than three months and break it down into monthly milestones. Break it down into weekly if the plan you are making is upper critical. But do not go beyond and below. For anything after three months, put that in your wish-list. It is what I called as a laundry list when I talked about the product roadmap. And the long-term plan can be the organizations mission.

After every three months, reconvene amongst yourself. If organizations do not do this, they do not deserve to be in business. Spend two days or three days to discuss and even fight on what went wrong. “

Let people shout and accuse. That is when truths come out and people become more accountable. Diplomacy has killed many organizations. But organizations should do whatever it takes to chalk out a plan for the next quarter based on their learnings as well as the laundry list they have for the remaining three quarters.

As organizations do this, they should ensure that they have a rolling three quarter laundry list which looks forward by at least three quarters. Doing this will help organizations fight against what I call the annual planning syndrome where people put off new ideas and initiatives for the next fiscal year.

Three months is the most apt timeframe. Anything less is too short. Anything more is too long.

Organizations also must ensure that this plan is communicated to all the people in the organization. This is where many organizations lose the plot. Once the wise leaders step out of the room, they carry on with their work and forget about the amazing plan they had created. And then the world comes apart.

So, go ahead and ditch the five-year plan handbook. Make your plans more realistic and more agile. Use your long-term plan as your mission.


[i] MS Dhoni, and managing chaos; Deivarayan Muthu for ESPNCricinfo; May 21, 2018; https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/23558441/ms-dhoni-managing-chaos

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