Project Management

When Planning & Uncertainty Collide

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

As project managers, we like planning. There are degrees, of course, as in all things. Some of us plan the general themes of our week. Others would like to micromanage very detail of every resource allocation.

Regardless of where you personally live on this spectrum, there is a plan. On some level, you expect it to be followed. And that's wonderful, right up to the point where reality happens.

One of Eisenhower's more famous quotes was, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." There is a great deal to love about that quote. For starters, it values the action, not the result. In Eisenhower's view, the plan that is the physical result of the planning process isn't worth the paper it's printed on, but the actions that led up to the creation of that plan have huge relevance and value.

What tends to be true of most project plans is that they don't predict reality in any meaningful way for any meaningful amount of time. Even a week into a project, you may deal with some activities not progressing, others starting early or finishing late, and new activities appearing out of the ether that no one had identified or considered. Trying to ride herd on all of that is pretty analogous to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; it also has about as much relevance and usefulness.


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"More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

- Woody Allen