Project Management Tips

16. Planning to Build vs. Building the Plan

Courtesy of Jim Brosseau,

Clarrus Consulting Group

Dwight D. Eisenhower once said "In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable."

Project Management Training Sessions

I ran a couple of sessions with the same material, for the same organization, but with different groups. We ran simulations where the students were tasked with physically building a small but complex device.


Initially they try to build with virtually no planning, then they get another crack at it with this experience behind them, and finally they create a project schedule aimed at making the building process as efficient as possible.



With the first group, this network planning session was extremely chaotic. It was difficult to discern any progress with the team. Several people voiced some frustration during the exercise, and indeed, nobody in the group managed to put together a complete network. Nobody could express which tasks were on the critical path, and nobody had a defendable expectation of how long the overall project would take.


For the second group, there was far more visible organization. The teams disseminated and shared their knowledge very effectively. At the end of the planning session, each of the four component teams produced schedules that looked very similar, with critical paths and durations that all came in within 20% of each other. Every one was a credible plan of attack for building the device.


Both groups managed to identify all of the same optimizations to bring the overall project duration down, and had good ideas of how to resource the project effectively.



When they were unleashed to build the device one last time the first team, that had been so chaotic in the planning stages, ran like a fine tuned engine and completed the project in record time. The second group, despite building a credible schedule, ran out of time and was not able to finish.


The real kicker here is that the group that finished in record time, did so in a time that was within 10% of what was expected from the other group's schedules! It appears that while one group did a great job of building a schedule, the other group did a great job of planning how to build the device.




In the real world, clients couldn't care less how pretty the schedule is if you never manage to deliver the product. That chaos during the planning activity was the necessary walking through of how the successful group would coordinate to get the job done.


It really isn't the plan that is important, but the activity of planning. The discussions and debate, sometimes heated arguments, can go a long way towards helping the team arrive at a common understanding of what needs to be done.


Apparently, Eisenhower also once said "What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog." It seems that Dwight was a pretty wise fellow. -J.P.


Note from Roy: I love Jim's insight that the actvity of planning -- not the formal plan -- is what is most important to project success. I wonder how his students would have done using Project KickStart, which combines the activity of planning with a straight forward plan. Could it be the best of both worlds? Download Project KickStart Trial and see for yourself


If you learn better by doing, you'll want to download our software as we've incorporated many of the approaches and best practices cited in the tips section. In less than 30 minutes, you can have your first project created. Jumpstart my project, with Project KickStart.



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