Too Much Planning Can Lead to Inaction!
Many of us are taught to make plans for everything, be it our educational path, career, buying a house, getting married, etc. Which is all good, mostly.
In fact, whenever you embark on something big, you’d be asked if you have it planned out. Even the bank will ask you for a plan when you want to borrow money to run your business.
Without doubt, planning is very much ingrained in us. But there is a way of doing it that actually makes us prone to failure.
That’s when one focuses too much on planning. So much so that the actual work gets postponed. Or nothing gets started!
Why is this so? How can it happen?
What Planning is Really About
Dr Scott Sonenshein discussed in his book “Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less — and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined” that planning revolves around the idea of getting resources ready to work on a project.
These resources — tools, people, funds, approvals, etc — are deemed necessary for the execution of the venture. Without them, the project is likely doomed. That’s what most of us (are taught to) think.
As experience tells us, and we can gather this working in organizations big or small, we rely on plans to get things done. Planning is especially required when we aren’t working solo.
When we work in a team, the plan is both the guide and glue. It keeps the project going and the people involved doing the work.
Work can come to a stop when a needed resource isn’t available; or worse, wasn’t anticipated — that is, it was unplanned for. Thus, the original plan wasn’t good and more planning is undertaken to restart the stalled project.
At the end of the project, there is usually a postmortem review of sorts to evaluate and understand how everything went: if results are in line with expectations; if we kept within the budget; if there was good team work, etc.
Keys part of such a review include looking at issues encountered and mistakes made; and discussing how the team can do better next time. The whole purpose is to build up best practices and improve.
From a different angle, it’s a detailed look at whether the project plan was a good one. Importantly, lessons learned from this feedback session are usually expected to be rolled into future planning to avoid repeating mistakes.
But We Aren’t Quite Ready to Start… Procrastination by Perfection
The thing about carrying over lessons learned is that we tend to become more careful in planning.
We are supposed to have become wiser from previous projects — our bosses are definitely watching and judging us on this! Therefore, we’d include more details in new plans with the intent to avoid past failures.
However, no amount of planning can anticipate future issues. As Dr Scott said, no one can foretell what will happen, especially in fast moving environments.
Who knows what the competition is planning, how others might respond to what we planned to do, what new laws and regulations may come into place as markets evolve and shift, etc.
Unless we have a crystal ball, we can’t really tell the future. Which then necessarily means that no plan is ever a perfect plan.
But if our plan isn’t watertight, then aren’t we failing to plan for success? For the most part, this is the prevailing wisdom; hence, the practice of making a solid plan is widespread.
Thus, more effort is put into planning for all sorts of contingencies, real or imagined. All this while, the discomforting feelings of inadvertently leaving out something and being doubtful of our own best efforts at planning linger.
It’s no surprise then that the project will begin late and run the risk of not hitting its objectives. Worse, the team may have convinced themselves that they aren’t ready to start, not with a plan that still isn’t perfect.
Perhaps we know a resource needed down the line isn’t yet available. So we wait, rather than start. Better safe than sorry.
Procrastination sets in. Nothing gets done. Meanwhile, the world moves on…