Planning for Planning (and Frying Eggs)
Without planning, outcomes are often little more than coincidence. This series of articles will focus on one of the management practices we take for granted the most.
How Long Does it Take You to Plan Something?
Can you picture the process of planning to do or achieve something? How about the amount of time it takes to come up with said plan? I bet you just grumbled, “well, it depends,” and are hovering over the back button, but hold on!… it gets worse. Some of today’s highest-value initiatives are complex programs with multiple phases, unfamiliar technologies, and complex value propositions. So, it’s basically like frying an egg. Ok, now you can hit the back button.
Uncertainty, assumptions, miscommunication… all obvious impediments to effective planning. I expect you’ve already read other articles on remediating those challenges. So, they won’t be covered here. However, given that is an assumption and my goal is to help you plan, I will communicate certain remedies to those challenges at the end of the article. For now, I want to discuss the hidden challenges.
“Frying an egg is easy! You take an egg, then you fry it.”
Our own experience, knowledge, and intellect are irrefutable assets during execution, but they can also be one of the greatest challenges to planning. Add that to our innate ability to take existing assets and materials for granted, and voila: you have the makings for a fried egg.
Hidden planning challenge #1, also known as the “I don’t need a plan to fry an egg, it’s obvious and would take more time to plan than to just do it”-challenge. The importance of a clearly communicated consensus on formal planning is critical. It’s basically like saying, “I want a fried egg,” before you start frying an egg. The more experienced and knowledgeable we are at something, the less we plan for doing it again. With experience, we start to take our knowledge for granted. Can you remember the first time you fried an egg? You took nothing for granted. Do I even have an egg? If I don’t have an egg, where will I get one? I need a pan… oh, wait, do I know how to work the stove? Don’t I put something in the pan first? What temperature does the stove need to be?
The combined set of answers to the myriad of first-time-questions that eventually led to you eating the first egg you ever fried is about as good a plan to fry an egg as you are going to get. The more experience we have executing, the less we plan. At the office, this gets even more dangerous as we start to situationally substitute experience. You wouldn’t assume you can now fry a catfish filet just because you have fried an egg, yet we make similar leaps in our business planning all the time.
Hidden planning challenge #2, also known as the “Of course I have a frying pan”-challenge. Yes, I said I would gloss over remediating assumptions later. No, this is not the same thing. Like the trap of our own experience beckoning us to cut corners, misappropriating your environment is categorically one of the largest planning gaps you will come across.
Whether it is over-planning to unnecessarily retain an element of the current environment or under-planning based on presumption of relevance, the lack of comprehensive environmental assessment will rapidly diminish your plan’s accuracy, if not its effectiveness entirely. In egg-frying terms, under-planning would look like the assumed use of a frying pan while your electric skillet has been warmed and buttered on the counter. Sub-relevant over-planning would be akin to planning all the steps to 1. Find one of those 20%-off-one-item coupons, 2. Walk to the car, 3. Drive to the store, 4. Find the kitchen aisle, 5., Find the right non-stick frying pan, 6. Compare price-performance of frying pan options, 7. Check the price against… and so on, all while your electric skillet has been warmed and buttered on the counter.
Hidden planning challenge 3: The age-old, “So that I can have a fried egg”-challenge. Challenge #3 is hidden in plain sight and often appears in most technology strategies. At its worst, this challenge is the confusion of the program goals and the program outcome. As such, this challenge is of a higher order and can have many adverse effects on your effort overall. The impact specific to planning is endemically substantial as it creates inefficiencies of effort in the face of value, misprioritization of tasks, misappropriation of resources, and a general incompleteness of the plan itself.
Ending up with a fried egg is an outcome, it is not the goal. In this scenario, your goal would typically be eating the fried egg or giving it to someone to eat. Your goal may have been less direct. For example, perhaps you were teaching your son or daughter how to fry an egg through demonstration.
“Will I think about this article every time I fry an egg?”
Judicious use of a planning framework is the common key to planning success. The consistent rigor implicit to a framework ensures a repeatable and predictable approach; the vagueness we often sense around a planning effort is largely abated in companies who have adopted a framework. Frameworks also force the exploration of the obvious in a way that still captures the efficiency of experience. Explicit policies address the challenges, while planning practices are optimized per industry, market, or operation to ensure efficient execution of the process. Also, inherent to a good, planning framework is the intrinsic inclusion of value-based goal-setting. Indoctrinated best-practices help you inspect what you are trying to achieve and create proper Objectives for your efforts. Returning to the obvious challenges: uncertainty, assumptions, miscommunication… solving these challenges is the minimum functionality for a planning framework. Summarily, the adoption of a leading framework will mitigate both the hidden and obvious planning challenges. As with any management methodology, adopting a planning framework is a change-intensive program. Experience-based guidance is critical in ensuring the success of such a reputational effort. For a phased implementation, the phases should be grouped vertically (top-down), not horizontally (departmental, project-to-project, etc.). Potentially, your first framework-based plan could be the implementation of a planning framework: a plan for your plan.
You will be able to picture your planning process and estimate the time it takes. So, let’s get out there and start planning something! It’s as easy as frying an egg.
If you like this, please send me some of your favorite planning links/resources. If you didn’t like this, but like fried eggs, send me your favorite egg prep (plan)!
About the Author.
Justin Glatz is the Global Head of Strategy at Eccella. As a career technology leader, Justin has lead IS teams through some of today’s most challenging innovations. In his role of Executive Director — Information Services at premier media company, Conde Nast, Justin’s responsibilities ranged from architecture through operations and were founded on a holistic approach to planning and the strategic use of data. With the explosion of data technologies, Justin’s time at Informatica focused on the growing information revolution; Justin helped Informatica and their clients capitalize on the changing IT landscape and modern architectural patterns. As Head of Strategy at Eccella, Justin applies this experience to help Eccella’s customers drive their business with today’s fuel for performance: Data.