If the plan always changes then why bother planning in the first place?
A client asked me a very challenging question recently – if the plan always changes then why bother planning in the first place? I thought it worth sharing some thoughts on how it should be addressed.
Towards the end of a project workshop, we were discussing the need to manage changes to schedule, resource, costs or scope in mid-flight, as these can often diverge from what was originally planned. One participant looked puzzled and piped up:
If the plan always changes, then why bother planning in the first place?
Some colleagues looked at this individual in a way that implied they didn’t rate the question worthy of discussion. However, the old axiom that ‘there is no such thing as a dumb question’ was never more true than in this case – this simple yet fundamental question spawned a vigorous discussion which helped everyone to better fix in their minds why we plan projects.
Why bother planning in the first place
We identified the following reasons we plan projects in order to:
- prove that, based on current knowledge and working assumptions, the project can be completed successfully within the limits of organisational constraints while ensuring that risks are actively managed
- create estimates of time and resource, so that we can procure them through the project sponsor
- actively engage business stakeholders in thinking about how and when the project will impact their business environments and bring about the intended benefits
- agree with stakeholders how and when they will play their part in supporting the project’s goals
AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, TO:
- provide a CONTROL mechanism – a ‘route map’ against which we can monitor actual progress, and make decisions about when and whether we should adjust course.
Finally, we identified two dangerous myths that distract from good project planning and control:
- Planning is NOT about scheduling a precise sequence of activities and dependencies – absolute accuracy about the future is unattainable, and striving for it is therefore a waste of precious management effort
- The schedule is NOT the plan. Changes to the schedule (for example rearranging a meeting or changing the delivery date of a component) can often occur whilst leaving the overall project plan intact. The plan (route map) is a much wider and strategic view of how to achieve the project, while the schedule is a tactical response to the plan.
What is your take on this? How would you answer the above question?