The importance of planning is often underrated.
I get it. Planning is boring. It’s much more exciting to do things, not plan them.
It’s also a waste of money. All these people sit around coming up with a plan, when they could be doing the work!
Why can’t we just work it out as we go along?
That sounds great. But let’s take a look at why that might not be such a good idea.
Why People Underestimate the Importance of Planning
Surely everyone knows about the importance of planning.
The problem is, leaders know they should plan. They’ve heard statements like “Failing to plan, is planning to fail”.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sink in.
Innovation is a hot topic in workplaces today. Sometimes, innovation is about just getting on and trying things. No long approval processes, just get on and see how you go.
Sometimes, that’s fine. But not for everything you do.
Many leaders want to tick the box just by having a plan. But they don’t use it. They let someone else worry about the plan, while they run around doing things. This is as good as not having a plan at all.
The urge to do something is often too great. Unfortunately, it’s a false economy. The money and time you save by avoiding planning is spent later, when people are confused and things aren’t going well.
How Planning Helps Leaders Deliver
1. Planning Helps Leaders Set Expectations
One of the main benefits of a plan is that it acts as a communication tool. People know when they should be starting something and when they need to have finished.
People know when things are going to happen, giving them some certainty of what to expect. Whether your plan says something will happen in two weeks or two months, it often doesn’t matter that much. As long as people are aware of what is happening.
A plan also helps a manager seem like they’ve put some thought into what they are doing. This has the side-benefit of earning them respect and credibility, when done well.
2. Planning Helps Leaders Allocate Resources
Many changes and projects flounder because there aren’t the right people available to do the work. Without a plan, you’ll never know how many people you need, or when you’ll need them.
This means you’ll be stuck in a never ending loop of “We’ll know the answer when we get there”. But…you never get there. So think about it early and work it out.
You don’t need to be running a project to care about resourcing. If any extra work is going to require help from your team, you need to understand how much effort is involved so you can hire in some more help to do your usual work.
In other words, a plan is for everybody – not just the person creating the plan!
3. Planning Helps Leaders Hold People Accountable
Without a plan and deadlines, work just continues until somebody gets around to completing it. But if you have leaders who understand the importance of planning and hold people to deadlines, suddenly people start to respect the plan.
When people respect the plan, their behaviour changes. The work is no longer optional, it’s deadline driven. This is how you start to deliver things on time, rather than letting them drag out over long periods.
Remember that to hold people accountable, there need to be clear expectations and consequences for missing deadlines. Consequences don’t need to be severe, but they need to exist. If everybody just shrugs and moves on with their day, nobody gets better or learns anything.
4. Planning Helps to Reduce Uncertainty
Sometimes when you’re faced with a big problem or task, it can be daunting.
Building a bridge, implementing a new software system, delivering a training program to your entire company – these can all be large undertakings.
So how long do they take? Without a plan you can guess, but you won’t really have a good idea. This uncertainty can cause stress for you and your team.
I recently had a coaching client who was stressed because she had many competing demands, one of which was to finish her postgraduate studies, including completing a large project.
She had a hard deadline which was a few months away. When I asked her if she thought this was enough time, she said “I don’t know.” This uncertainty was causing her to worry.
So the first thing we looked at was planning to break the project down and work out whether my client was in trouble with that deadline. Once we understood that, she could decide what she needed to do next.
A plan can help you decide whether you’re in trouble or not. Without it, you’re flying blind!
Why Can’t We Just Work It Out As We Go Along?
There is a temptation for leaders to just work things out as they go. “We won’t know until we get there.”
This usually isn’t true. If you have the right people involved during planning, you can work out a lot of the answers early and create a plan. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it’s a good start.
There are issues when you just work things out as you go.
- Future work is delayed. When things take longer than expected, there is a knock-on effect. If you don’t plan, you don’t know if this will happen, or not.
- Costs pile up. When things keep dragging on, it costs money. Even if you are using people who are already paid for, you’re wasting money. Why? Because they could be working on something else.
- Uncertainty builds. Without a plan, nobody can say when things will happen. It’s a guessing game, adding to workplace stress and discomfort.
The importance of planning is not to be underestimated. Take control of your destiny and make a plan today. Your team and colleagues will thank you for it.