Plan in a way that unlocks business value


Plan in a way that unlocks business value

The way you plan for complex effort, in many ways, determines its success. Planning can be a strong enabler of productive outcomes for the organization. But quite often, it’s the opposite to that, and the way the planning is done creates more problems rather than helps. 

The problem with detailed long-term plans

Here’s how it happens. Organizations often favor predictability, and that is understandable. But because they want predictability, they tend to supply a lot of detail in their plan… in terms of what the solution will be and how it will be implemented. The management often likes detailed plans because for them they create an impression of certainty. Unfortunately, it’s a false impression. 

Complex effort, such as creating some software functionality or a marketing campaign or an employee training program, always contains a significant number of unknowns. And these are not the things that could all be figured out upfront. Many of them will be revealed only as the team starts working on that complex task. So, what do we exactly do when we provide a highly detailed long-term plan of action? We neglect all the future learning; we assume that we know everything upfront which is not possible in complex work. And then, ultimately, even when something is discovered by the teams that do the work, it’s not so easy to retrofit the new learning into the existing plan; mainly for two reasons. For one, since such a plan is usually approved by the management (or even originates from them in the first place), someone would now have to bring the bad news to them and say that the teams cannot proceed according to the expectation. And nobody particularly likes to be the bearer of the bad news. But even if we assumed that nobody would take issue with new findings, changing a detailed plan is hard to do properly because so many things in that plan are interconnected and one little change may have a significant ripple effect. 

So, how can we do a better job at planning? 

Progressive elaboration

The answer is simple. The plan must allow for flexibility… to be able to respond to new facts. Certain degree of predictability is still achievable but requires progressive elaboration. Progressive elaboration means that short-term plan is defined with some reasonable detail, mid-term timeframe has less detail, and long-term – even less and just displays the general intent. But as the organization is progressing with the work, and learns new facts from so doing, the next area will be defined in more detail, and so on. 

How it can be achieved

Here’s how it can be achieved. Let’s say a team operates in two-week iterations. The current iteration is defined in quite a bit of detail. Then for the more extensive timeframe, let’s say a major release two months from now, they will have less detail because they know there will be new discoveries. And then there’s an even longer-term roadmap that just shows the overall vector but stays basically at that. It only gives us the idea of what to expect in general from the upcoming releases, but we know that there will be a lot of new discovery in the process that will have to be incorporated in the plan when the time comes. 

For this whole process to be really productive, the organization also must actively explore the unknowns. Experimentation must become a routine part of development and feedback loops must be established to provide empirical evidence that will support or invalidate our assumptions and will help us acquire next level of detail in our plan. 

Taking action

Time to think about action. Plan for one action item that will get you started on establishing a more productive, more flexible planning.     

Alex Yakyma

Alex Yakyma is the author of “Pursuing Enterprise Outcomes” and “The Rollout”. As a consultant, Alex is helping enterprises succeed with complex challenges. Throughout his career, he operated in multi-cultural, highly distributed environments. Alex has trained a large number of change agents and leaders whose key role is to help their organizations achieve higher effectiveness at pursuing business outcomes.

Explore more content

Improving in the moment

Seeing the opportunity
Read more

Being an Agile developer

Knowledge workers are key to Agile <
Read more

Unit and Integration Testing Overview

The two important types of testing <
Read more
Contact Us