No plan resists first contact with reality

  • December 13, 2017

No plan resists first contact with reality

Unless you’re repeating a well-established process, you can only plan ahead so much . And even if you are very careful and thorough, the universe, Fate, Karma, or whatever personal beliefs you hold to will eventually render your beautiful plan obsolete and unrealistic.

When you face a new task you don’t know a lot about, planning for every contingency becomes futile, if not wasteful. This doesn’t mean that you will start a project completely blind, you can lead a successful project having three “ingredients”:

A good team
An idea or vision of how you want things to be at the end of the project
A diagnosis of your current condition
Let’s use an analogy to explore this concept.

Let’s imagine a car trip. Suppose that you want to go from Place A to Place B. In our analogy Place B, the destination represents your idea or your vision. Place A represents where you are now, your current condition. So, you mentally map out a route to follow (your plan). The trip starts and two blocks into it construction workers close a street, forcing you to take a detour; at that moment you start to think, “where to go next?”, so you plan another route, and off you go. You drive some more and come to a very busy avenue that will add one more hour to your trip and that’s unacceptable so you take another detour, this process might be repeated many times over during you car trip until you arrive. The next day, if you have to do the same trip all over again, you will take into consideration what you experienced yesterday then take the necessary actions.

In this example, you repeat the evaluation-compensation process many times over until you eventually arrive; the route you took was not the one you planned beforehand because there were unforeseen slowdowns you could not possibly have anticipated, i.e. highways where cars were bumper to bumper for miles due to road repairs or accidents. You adapted based on the new information you received during the trip, and applied it as you went. And what about your original plan?. Well… reality crushed it like a fly.

That the level of uncertainty surrounding a new project is usually high sounds simplistic, but you don’t know what you don’t know. This is even more of a reality when you work in teams. Based on prior experience you can estimate that a team can complete one task in a certain amount of time, but by no means is that completion rate a future certainty.

When innovating you are building on what you know or what others know today, and today you haven’t faced tomorrow’s problem. Every time you meet with your team you evaluate what progress you have made, what you have learned, and then you think about the next step.It’s not the other way round. With newly acquired knowledge, you’ll discuss and eventually agree on a new target condition that aligns with your vision. This process repeats over and over again, each iteration bringing you closer to your vision, which, of course, you’ll never reach.

This may seem to be a simplistic example but it’s based on the scientific approach to achieving your immediate, mid-term and long-term goals. You might not have a formal Plan, but with the ingredients we mentioned before you can be a successful at your goals.

In our experience as a company this approach paid-off consistently over the years, if you never tried give it a shot, start small, pick a small project, set a realistic goal and trust your team.