ImpaQ is pleased to spotlight our friends at Evans Incorporated, Nicole (Morrow) Anderson and Margit Jochmann. This article on addressing the challenges of project planning has been reposted with permission. View the original post on the Evans Incorporated website.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • There is NO TIME to plan. We need to make changes NOW.
  • The more attention and involvement there is from executives, the more pressure there is to just move it forward quickly.
  • Why plan? It’s outdated as soon as we document it.
  • No one follows the plan anyway; it just sits on the shelf. Why waste our time?

Have you heard any of these on your projects? Perhaps even SAID some of these yourself? It can be a challenge to plan projects without PMO. Pressure is high to demonstrate results, causing us to want to rush into executing, which creates an imbalance between planning and execution.

Planning and execution characterize important aspects in projects, organizations and, life in general. Planning and execution relate to each other like yin and yang, complementary and interdependent forces, interacting to form a whole greater than either separate part, giving rise to each other as they relate. To be effective and successful, both planning and execution are needed, in balance.

Balance is key. Either too much or not enough planning may cause the end result to not be what was needed.

How can we withstand those forces pulling towards execution and find the right balance between planning and execution to propel our projects towards success?

The answer is found by growing a strong foundation, or root system, within the organization that cultivates a balance of planning and execution, which in turn, bears strong and healthy fruit throughout the projects managed in the organization.

Project Tree

To strengthen your foundation and ability to weather the elements pulling towards execution, within reason, we offer 4 key areas for consideration when starting a project:

1. Having a Plan. There is no way around it. Planning a project prior to executing it is understood by many project practitioners as a best practice. Common sense tells us that the better we know why we are doing what we are doing along with the assumptions surrounding it and how to best implement it, the better we can execute to meet our goals. Taking the time to plan allows us to identify what is needed for execution, align execution plans with the project objectives, and minimize risks and maximize the return for our stakeholders. Furthermore, it helps us stay on course when we encounter “distractions”, such as scope creep for example.

2. Passionate People. When a group of passionate people are involved, extraordinary things happen. The objective is not to have a plan. It is to get things done. A good plan is helpful. But it is not the whole story. Step away from the plan and focus on the people who are doing. Walter Isaacson, in Steve Jobs’ biography, said it perfectly:

“A mediocre plan that you (and others) feel passionately about will serve you better than a technically superior plan that you don’t feel that strongly about. I’m not telling you not to plan. Even the greatest and most innovative of CEOs, Steve Jobs, knew the benefit of research. But he also knew that by focusing on bringing the best out of his people and inciting motivation and passion, success will follow”. Steve Jobs – “My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary.”

3. Agile Planning. “The pace of change in today’s world makes traditional planning virtually meaningless….Even as you plan for your business, be ready for change, and embrace it.” – Inc. author Michael Gerber from The Myth-and the Truth About Planning. Rapid change requires a different approach to planning than traditional methods. Traditionally, project management methodologies are linear in their planning process, moving from planning à execution, just like the waterfall planning approach in the software management lifecycle. The problem is that by the time the software has been implemented, your organization’s needs or your customer’s needs have changed. The conditions for your project may have changed by the time your plan is complete.

The project management community has caught wind of the challenges inherent in waterfall lifecycles. An agile project management approach has been on the rise as an iterative and incremental method for managing projects. It involves planning in smaller cycles as opposed to fully baking the end-to-end-plan upfront. It allows for flexibility and gathering data points, in a controlled and collaborative manner, thus allows for addressing the rapid change we encounter today.

4. Crowd-Source Your Plans. Boost the strengths of your plan by crowdsourcing. By soliciting contributions and feedback from a larger group of people, in particular including the online community, rather than just the core folks involved. Instead of starting planning at the top and pushing it down, get people at all levels in the project or organization and your customers engaged in the plan. Use enterprise focused social media elements to get ideas from others. To know what will work and won’t work, ask the people impacted by the plan. Engage the employees that will be implementing the plan.

There is no one answer as to how much planning is enough or what type of planning should be conducted. Many variables are at play and need to be considered when selecting the approach, such as resource availability, capability, project type, organizational culture, etc. However, applying one or more of the concepts presented here will help strengthening your planning foundation and finding the right balance with execution, while effectively managing the rapid change and high level of interconnectedness we often face on projects today.

We would like to hear from you:

  • What hurdles do you or your organization face with respect to planning projects? How do you overcome them?
  • What pros and cons do you see for these concepts in your workplace?

Nicole Morrow, PMPNicole (Morrow) Anderson, a Project Management Professional (PMP) ® with more than twelve years of experience, excels at achieving results by integrating people, processes and technology. Nicole is highly regarded by internal and external stakeholders for consistently leading and motivating dynamic teams while never losing sight of their needs. Nicole holds a Bachelor of Social Work with a minor in Communications from University of North Carolina- Wilmington. She is also a Certified Change Management Professional, and utilizes her experience as a trained DiSC facilitator to improve client and team communications. Nicole is a strong executer and planner during the week but relies on hiking and kayaking at Lake Anna with her adopted 5 year old boxer to help reenergize on the weekends.

Margit Jochmann

Margit Jochmann has 10 plus years of experience in management consulting focusing on project and organizational effectiveness. She has worked with numerous teams across the private and public sector worldwide on finding the right balance between planning and execution, on projects as well as in project organizations. Her background is in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, bringing in the human and change management aspect in her work to successful planning and execution. Born and raised in Germany, her planning side is strong and may at times outbalance the execution side.