When plans change do you?

At some point you’ve probably heard the saying ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. The saying has been attributed most often to Benjamin Franklin, who is also credited with the phrase "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” 

In World War 2 Winston Churchill also said "He who fails to plan is planning to fail."

What’s the point - how does this apply to how we work?

Some jobs require little planning when basically the same function is being performed over and over with the key areas of improvement being derived from greater efficiency.

Alternatively there are jobs which are quite proactive by nature and therefore require a level of planning and coordination. But if requirements change then how quickly should the plan change? Especially if it took a degree of effort and knowledge to put the plan together in the first place.

And we have to face it that plans will need change in fast paced agile and flexible environments. An important management skill is the ability to adapt but before we get into that why don’t we have a look at a couple of examples.

An instance of inflexible planning would have to be the maiden voyage of the world’s largest ship the Titanic in 1912.  So convinced were the designers of the Titanic it was unsinkable that by design (plan) the 20 lifeboats could only take 1,178 people, even though there were 2,223 passengers on board. Unfortunately when the Titanic sank only 705 passengers made it to the lifeboats with the rest drowning.

Strangely we sometimes don’t hear about successful last minute changes to plans. Maybe that stems from a fear of not being perceived as having a strategic plan - this is especially true in the political arena. However, sports is an area where coaches and players can often have success from changing tactics (plans).

A case in point is the 2015 National Basketball Association Finals where the Golden State Warriors (who had the best record in the league in the regular season) were up against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Of a best of 7 series Golden State won Game 1 but lost Games 2 and 3. Being down in the series 1-2 and with Game 4 on Cleveland’s home court, Golden State made a significant tactical change to their team by essentially removing their centre (who was their tallest and highest paid player) and replacing him with a smaller player. In other words the team who were the favourites decided to play without a centre and their best interior defender. Not only did Golden State win Game 4 but also Games 5 and 6 to take out the series 4-2.

Back to how does this apply to how we work? Assuming our role is such requiring a level of planning our work, 4 tips to help decide how quickly to change the plan are:

  1. Evaluate first - Before jumping determine priorities based on what has the biggest impact
  2. Commit - When it's time to change then change - no half efforts
  3. Follow through - Don't stop short of the finish line - otherwise efforts will be wasted
  4. Regroup - After completing the new priority, it's important to go back to what was dropped - is it still important and required?

Remember our plans are usually based on the information we have at the time and if the information changes over time then sometimes our plans also need to change. Flexibility based on a quick analysis is the key to determining how quickly to change the plan and it might just provide the winning edge.