Not Everything Goes According to Plan!

Have you ever been in one of those situations where you’ve been told: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”?  And you feel that’s unfair because you DID put all the effort into doing the planning, but it still didn’t go right!

I would like to talk to you about the ability to be a lot more flexible in your planning.

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No matter how much planning you do, there are still going to be things that come at you from “left field”. Things you didn’t anticipate, that either cost more or took a lot longer to complete than you expected. So, having some flexibility factored into your approach around how you going perform tasks means that you can roll with any changes as they happen.

You also need to ensure that when you’re doing your planning and you’re setting the expectations for this change, you build into the plans the probability that things will not go smoothly.  If you don’t allow for this necessity of flexibility in projects, you’re potentially setting everybody up for a fall, including yourself! Let’s face, it none of us likes to be in the position where we set ourselves up for failure.

As well as having flexibility built in as part of your overall planning cycle; you need to set the expectations of the stakeholders. Having this flexibility means that you can then move and change when required.  So you can make things happen on time and in budget, achieving the goals you set out in the first place.

I remember the first time this happened to me, it was back in 1997.

If you’d been with me, you’d be leading a significant acquisition of a gas-fired power station in the UK. Now, this was the first time I’d ever been left to “lead” something of this size and complexity. We were changing everything related to this organisation’s IT infrastructure. How it was interfacing with its own mother company, how it was interfacing with the National Grid, and how it was interfacing with all the other bits of interconnected technology that went around and alongside it.

Sometimes Things Don’t Go Entirely to Plan:

I relished the challenge!  I put considerable effort into making sure the plan worked, and that project went very smoothly and completed on time and budget. However, towards the end of the project, we found there was one connection into the building, from a telephone provider which connected into the back of an old router.

Now the people who were running the power station didn’t understand what it was and had no record that this router even existed.  It didn’t conform to any of their standards.  It didn’t have the standard password or anything. We also contacted the telephone provider who provided the telephone circuit.  They too had no record of it. So, they didn’t know what it was, they didn’t know what to do with it, and as far as they were concerned, it didn’t exist.

We needed to get this issue concluded; we need to make sure we’d dealt with this specific device in some way. Now, this unforeseen situation was entirely outside our planning, as we hadn’t known about this device. We planned for a great smooth migration over one weekend so on a Friday we turned off the device with the approval and backing of the customer and we went home.

Now, as you might guess by the time we came back on Monday morning, I had a very irate general manager of the plant screaming at me!  ‘Martin the whole plant has been down! With no gas arriving over this weekend, we’ve been on running on emergency gas supplies, what’s going on?’

Document, Document & Document Some More:

Someone had failed to put all the relevant information into their documentation about this one specific communication line, and specifically that this line was for their gas monitoring supply. Now it didn’t take too long to bring it all back up and running. Everything else went smoothly, no one lost any money, and the whole transition for the company was a success.

However, throughout this project it required us to show flexibility, to be flexible in that moment! Being able to think, change and adapt to what’s going on, and to get things back up and running.

Now I ask you, where, in your planning are you making sure you build that extra time to be flexible. How are you going to manage your stakeholders, so they realise and appreciate the requirement for flexibility? How are you going to handle those expectations that flexibility is going to require? Alternatively, are you going to keep setting yourself up for failure by giving people the wrong expectations?

I want to leave you with one last thought; Be flexible today so that you can achieve your plan for tomorrow.