Plans are worthless, but planning is everything

If you’re familiar with military history you’ll know this quote. It’s from Dwight Eisenhower, who said this during the second world war. With my interest in military history, projectmanagement and personal development this quote has given me inspiration and a sense of understanding how we can deal with the combination of planning, goalmaking and finding ways to deal with uncertainty and change.

Why planning matters

For people who like to plan and live an organized life, I fall in the category ‘people who procrastinate‘. I love the heat of the moment, the pressure of the deadline, the vibe that comes with the chaos. Let me just deal with the situation, in the moment. I love it. And still I am a true believer of planning. And everything that comes with planning: training, preparation, dry runs, studying, failing, and being curious in the process.

A plan makes this possible. It gives direction, a goal, an outcome, objective, insight in what is needed to achieve the goal. Project management and project planning is all about getting a job done, aiming for a predescribed result, within a set timeframe with specific standard for quality. Even if you go agile you participate in aspects of planning and preparation, even though you accept more flexibility in the process. Thus being agile.

Why plans are worthless

Because like projects, they never come out exactly as planned. A Normandy beach landing? Surprise, German’s everywhere. An IT project? Surprise, legacy everywhere. Did I just compare a beach landing with an IT project? I might. Point is: we’re trying to predict things outside our control and leave little room to adept to this. So at the end, we have plans and we do planning, to make sure everything is there – but as soon as we start working on things, we adapt to the situation. Sticking rigidly to the plans would cause instant failure. Again, in an agile mindset we’d be able to do this as part of the process, thus confirming my point: long term extensive plans are worthless.

Because like projects, they never come out exactly as planned. A Normandy beach landing? Surprise, German’s everywhere. An IT project? Surprise, legacy everywhere. Did I just compare a beach landing with an IT project? I might.

Why IT projects are not like beach landings.
Sunset in Alkmaar – because some things just happen at the right moment and the right time

Make goals

So at work, or in private life, I set goals and so should you. All the mantra’s concerning goals are right: they should be achievable, specific and support what you want to achieve. The goals you set are not the goal in itself: they should help you go where you want to be. Even on a daily basis you can set goals – from making your bed (yes! first goal of the day achieved!) to something bigger, achievable, the same day. And should you be disappointed when you do not succeed that goal? Only if you think that learning and settings steps, progressing and moving forward is bad. Set a goal, fail and learn. Set a goal, succeed, goal achieved.

Laserfocus makes no sense

I’ve read a lot about achieving goals, from manifesting them to make rigorous hardline kind of project plans for your personal life. One of the things that kept me busy was the concept of ‘keeping a laser focus‘. When you want to achieve something you should have a laser focus on that goal and only do that. The logic behind it, is that what is given your full attention will grow. And you want that, so why not put all of your effort in there.

Same with laser focus: keep that focus, but step back often to see if the light at the end of the laser is actually pointing to something or somewhere.

Why laser focus can get you off target. Situational awareness is necessary.

But seriously: it’s like loosing 90% of your vision if you take that to seriously. It’s like the planning and making your plan the goal, instead of what you wanted to achieve. Same with laser focus: keep that focus, but step back often to see if the light at the end of the laser is actually pointing to something or somewhere. Maybe you’ve aimed it into a black hole in the meanwhile, so to speak. Referring back to military history: it’s called situational awareness.

So we plan, we keep focus and use this as a tool, not as the goal.

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