“Why do we plan if plans change?”

Some people ask this question. A reasonable question but it should not be an excuse not to plan. There is no dilemma in here; you should plan. However, how you plan is what matters. Organizations with a plan perform better than those without a plan.

People tend to like the plans with highest level of details. At the same time, we know these plans do not stick. They always change. Therefore, some people avoid planning as they do not want to spend time with creating a detailed plan.

There are two extremes when it comes to planning; one with too many details, and the other is no plan at all.

For one side, a very detailed plan might take time and effort to cover all the aspects. In return, the value from the details might not be worth the time and effort. The details might not be necessary. Although most people know, plans change, bureaucratic organizations tend to ask for detailed plans before approval. Details make them feel comfortable making decisions.

When things are certain, a detailed plan is effective.  But what is certain in the world?

On the other hand, because the details take time and effort, some people go with the other extreme; no plan at all. Managers sometimes believe they have a plan, but that plan is only in their minds. Not written and not communicated. A plan that only the manager knows about. We have asked many managers about whether they have a plan or not, they say yes, and they claim that they have it in mind but not written. If the team does not know the plan, then what is the purpose of having a plan?

Plans are not meant to be fixed. Even when we know plans change, we need to plan. Because planning is a way of considering factors, explaining scenarios, and communicating actions. Planning process is more than ending up with a plan with action items. Planning process allows you to:

  • update your information and knowledge about what is happening within and outside your organization,
  • organize your thoughts of what should be achieved (your goals), and
  • direct your actions toward achieving your goals.

These are important things in any organization to survive. If that is not done properly, then what managers have in mind is just a to-do list.

A plan should be flexible, editable, and easy to adjust based on the external and internal changes. It is not a catalog where you find everything you need to do, like dealing with a washing machine. And it is not a to-do list hidden in your mind. An effective plan is the one that everyone understands, and it explains the general direction of what should be done in what circumstances.

This is at least what planning should be. It is better to have a plan than not, even when plans change.

We once worked with a client for a strategic plan. One month after the plan approved, they made a change in the plan. Fortunately, the plan was flexible and easy to adjust. It was not a sophisticated plan, it was just what they need. So, the plan changed, but their performance was much better than the previous years when they did not have plans.

So, what to do?

There are many types of plans, each one is meant to serve certain purposes. There are best practices you can follow. (But be aware, best practices 20 years ago are not best practices these days.) What we recommend is that you should at least do planning in your own way, if that makes it easier for you. But consider the following points when you plan:

  • Consider the current status.
  • Set objectives or goals.
  • Create SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely).
  • Make things clear about what you want to achieve or do.
  • Leave the details for each action to the time of execution.
  • Empower your employees to work out the details of the execution.
  • Make the plan understandable and working as a guide for the whole team.
  • Leave room for adjustment and change. Design your templates so you can track, change, and edit the plan easily.

These points are what make effective plans.

By Muath Bin Hussain