Planning on Purpose

Leadership PurposeThere are generally two camps when it comes to planning—those who love it and those who hate it.

Those who love it generally enjoy the comfort of knowing what to expect and being prepared to answer questions like, “what are we doing?” “What happens next?” “How are we going to get there?” Unfortunately, sometimes they love planning so much that they never get around to actually executing.

In the other camp, those who hate planning generally dislike wasting their time working on a course of action that will never actually come to pass. No one can anticipate every possible scenario, so why not just wing it? While they leap into execution, they usually hemorrhage time and effort that could have been purposely applied—had they invested in a little planning.

To lead successfully, you must take the best from each extreme while avoiding the pitfalls of each. To do this, you must understand the true purpose of planning:

The Purpose of planning is to help you achieve a goal. Nothing more nothing less. Planning serves this purpose by:

1. Bridging the gap between here and there. This bridge is the basis off which you as a leader can adjust to the developing situation. It’s much easier to shift and change something that already exists, than to make up something new in the spur of the moment.

2. Facilitating better decisions. The process of planning front-loads your thinking. It challenges your assumptions  while forcing you to consider the factors that could affect your execution. This allows you to prepare yourself for contingencies and generally increases your awareness of the situation, thus allowing you to make faster, better solutions.

3. Coordinating efforts. Planning gets everyone and everything on the same sheet of music. A well constructed plan that is well communicated can quickly align the disparate members of a team. It’s also critical for making sure you have the resources that you need when and where you need them.

Whatever you do, keep your plans on purpose. Often plans take on a life of their own. The moment people start to focus on executing the plan rather than achieving the goal, the plan begins working against itself.

How do you keep your plans on purpose?

11 thoughts on “Planning on Purpose”

  1. I always try to remember Eisenhower’s famous aphorism – “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.”

  2. A brief, info-packed and timely blog that applies to achieving one’s career and personal goals as well. I’ve posted to Parachute4Teens FB page.

  3. Geoff

    There seem to be two kinds of planners, those who can see the trees and those who can see the forest. An accomplished planner sees both or realizes she’s either a tree person or a forest person. I’m a tree person. I know that to keep my plans on track I either have to step back occasionally to get perspective or I must have a forest person as a partner or mentor for balance.

  4. Thank you, Geoff – a really clear and on purpose summary of the point of planning. How come Project Management books can take 100+ pages to say what you’ve said in less than 400 words?

  5. Geoff – great post. The Eisenhower quote is something I use a lot and think about a lot as well. Its pretty powerful; when you ponder on it. Planning is a deliberate exercise to explore paths to a goal. If you do it right, you will think of other ways that could work, but are not optimal and decide a course of action that best fits this given scenario. It also means that you have thought through alternatives; some of which might apply if circumstances change. Why do we celebrate D-Day on June 6th? Because weather prevented execution on the original date planned for. The plan failed, but the planning exercsie allowed for it and adapted.

    I’m also partial to the rephrased quote over time of “no plan survives first contact with the enemy..” Whatever you plan for, the static conditions in the plan can no longer match the dynamics of the day upon execution – and require adaption to fit the new landscape; or you need to accept failure. The path to a goal is winding – not straight as most people and managers would tell you. Planning to be flexible is hard. Good planners know how.

    BTW – I’m a forest person.

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