He who has begun has half done. Dare to be wise; begin! – Horace. This quote has resonated with me for some time since reading it back in university. Back then it was a reference to procrastinating on assignments and realising that once I had actually begun writing, the hard part had been completed – trying to remember that the next time an assignment came around, didn’t seem as easy however!
Today this quote is as relevant as ever, but in a completely different way. In our work, we all have projects to complete – whether its large organisational change, team reassignment or smaller projects such as document creation, office events, etc., and they all require one thing – planning. Recently the contest between ‘planning vs. doing’ has been front and centre as I see organisations struggle to get off the ground, getting bogged down in the notion that all answers must be defined prior to delivering. Although the battle between planning and doing will always be one to discuss, I fight for the doing corner in order to gain a few crucial benefits:
How long does one’s excitement last when continually only hearing about a plan? Not long. Considering people’s excitement (or lack of) is often overlooked as a critical factor in the success of project delivery. The age-old saying of, “seeing is believing” is just as relevant here as it is anywhere else. How often is our enthusiasm killed by being excited about something only to hear it has changed, then changed again, then changed for the… Xth time? Doing is how we turn a plan into reality, and only reality can keep people’s enthusiasm for the project high. Senior stakeholder buy-in can be gained by showing prototypes, project team buy-in can be gained from action rather than talk, and end user buy-in is only gained by ‘playing’. All of these are lost if planning dominates the agenda. Choose when to communicate a plan and keep it close to your actions of delivery. Doing, and therefore delivering, is how you will spread organic word-of-mouth communications, increasing and maintaining enthusiasm for the project.
Planning requires you to work from previous lessons learnt, personal expertise and assumptions. It should be no surprise then that as these are the factors to your input, these same previous lessons and assumptions are determining your output. Doing on the other hand, allows you to derive real information of your project environment, allowing you to change your inputs on the fly. In this situation, you start small, gather information and tweak your inputs until your outputs align to your goal. Completing smaller tasks more frequently also allows you to gain immediate value while constantly reassessing what is most important to you and the business.
By leaning too much on planning, you don’t allow yourself to be flexible enough in the ever-changing environment around you. Too often I see the planning phase dominating the project, only to see the outputs completely misaligned to the goals, due to environmental changes happening throughout the course of the planning.
Do, deliver, reassess, repeat (perhaps with a touch of planning).
Of all the possible benefits, this is the one that is truly unique to the act of doing. As mentioned earlier, planning is based off previous knowledge and assumptions, therefore roles and responsibilities must be designated off the same factors. Although this works well for similar projects, how do you understand who is the best fit for each role, if the project is unlike anything else you have done previously? The answer, unsurprisingly, is to do. Piloting or dummy runs of your project can help you better understand who the best fit for each role in that particular project truly is. Who you have first identified as your suspected best fit may not have the nuance knowledge, skill or personality to deliver the value and success your new project could achieve. As a New Zealander, my analogies are naturally going to relate to the All Blacks rugby team; To remain the best year on year, trials are held to determine who is best fit for each role. If all the selectors did was look at previous matches and select the same players, for the same roles, then current players would not be able to display their abilities in different positions. This would result in the team never being able to excel past their current state. Trialling not only allows current players to display their abilities in different positions, it also gives the opportunity for newcomers to showcase a new way of playing.
The above analogy highlights another benefit not often exploited, which is the ability for people to display their skills who otherwise would not have had the opportunity. Taking yourself as an example, how many skills do you have from previous roles, life experiences or personal interests that your colleagues don’t know about? These skills may never be discovered during the planning phase of a project because they may not have been identified as being necessary or the opportunity to display them is missed. Keep an open mind during the delivery of the project and set it in a way that involves a spectrum of people in your organisation. Provide initial members of the project the ability to showcase their skills across the board and then utilise them where appropriate. A well-used example of this is when after the launch of a new business initiative, champions are identified due to their engagement and enthusiasm with the initiative. Their skills are then used to support others throughout the business. Most people can relate to this example in one way or another and therefore the question is… why wouldn’t you bring this process into the project earlier?
Although there will always be a need for planning, organisations too often tend to think that having a ‘solid plan’ is how they will ensure success. The idea of doing rather than planning, is not to avoid failure, it’s to accelerate failure and gather real data for which you can feedback into your project. Getting caught up in planning may ensure that you don’t ‘fail’ as much, but it will most certainly ensure that you don’t succeed as much.