Project Management

Don’t Get Hung up on the Plan

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” It’s paraphrased from a 19th Century Prussian military leader with the rather wonderful name of Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke.

He was obviously referring to military planning, but the concept translates well to projects as wellwhich isn’t to suggest that a project should be viewed as a conflict! The idea is that it doesn’t matter how good the plan is; it needs to be adapted once reality begins to set in. That’s something that new project managers need to learn very quickly.

In some ways, the modern approach to project management has made that easier. It’s now less common to expect a detailed plan for the entire project to have been developed before work starts. Instead, there is an expectation that plans will continue to develop and evolve as the work proceeds.

However, there is still an expectation that once work is planned, it will be executed in accordance with that plan. If variances do occur, the PM then views it as their responsibility to get the work realigned with the plan as quickly as possible. Sometimes that’s the right approach, sometimes it isn’t.

Let’s use the analogy of a road trip to explain what I mean. Before satellite navigation came along, we would sit down with maps and plan …

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"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no use being a damned fool about it."

- W. C. Fields