Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
This quote originally comes from Dwight Eisenhower. Whether it’s sales, product roadmaps or business development – it holds true.
When Eisenhower employed this quote he was talking specifically about the unknown nature of wars and emergencies, but his reasoning can be applied outside the battlefield with just as much success.
The very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.
Although he was talking about the radically unknown, we can use the same logic with our own lives. There are three simple steps to planning:
- We should make the best plan we can now, with the data we have.
- This will help us learn about ourselves and the situation.
- When new data arrives (the unexpected) we should alter our plans accordingly (throwing them out if needed).
Most people go wrong is thinking that the point of planning is #1 – creating the plan. Wrong. It’s #2 – creating the plan.
The creation, the research, the understanding, is what counts. That’s what makes it easier to quickly detect, interpret and integrate new data, pivoting the plan as needed. You have the other facts, you understand the model, you’re good to go.
Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting you wildly reverse course, changing your plans every time you learn something new. Hopefully, as you develop expertise in your area (assuming it’s not a brand new market) you’ll have fewer and fewer unknowns and your instincts and judgement will improve.
Getting your pacing right for changes is critical. It varies by role. With sales, you likely need to be able to change faster as it’s typically a more emotive process. With product development, context switching means you’re better staying focused for at least 2 weeks before you change course.
- Know your business. What kind of plan horizon do others in your field have?
- Listen to your team. They’ll let you know if you’re changing things too often.
- Vary your decision granularity. Commit exactly to things that are happening today. Choose a direction for things happening in a month. Have some options for things happening next quarter.
When plans change
Be upfront with your team. Explain what new data you have and why that means you need to change your plans. Be aware that they’re going to be suspicious that you’ll change again. Either reassure them, sharing why you have confidence, or be open and point to the things that could happen to change the plans again (bring them inside the decision).
Ultimately if it makes sense to change and you have a good team, they’ll understand.