I have worked in professional project management for quite a number of years. Over the last years, I have moved away from classical project management and one of its core activities: planning. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, I believe that classical planning is rooted in fear for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Or, planning is afraid of reality and life where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are central elements. Hence, classical planning is misguided and consequently often a waste of time and energy. Let me explain.
The myopia of classical planning
In classical project management we are expected to have a solid, validated project plan that lists major milestones, work packages and activities. Ideally, all work packages are linked with each other so that it becomes possible to predict the final delivery date of the project.
I have drafted numerous such project plans. And actually I enjoyed it for the most part. It gave me a sense of control and security. And the final plans looked great on paper. Alas, there were and are some major flaws with this: A plan is first of all a piece of paper. That’s it. No more, no less. Yes, of course, it can denote the important phases of a project and create the false impression that everything is under control. People tend to believe that a plan gives them security and certainty, reduces risks, prevents surprises and much more. Unfortunately, this is misguided and distracting from reality. Fact is that most project plans change the minute you “finish” them. President Eisenhower once said that a plan is worth nothing, planning is key. Well, I agree to some extent and add that planning is worth nothing if you don’t understand what’s behind it. I call it agile ‘planning’.
What’s behind agile ‘planning’?
If you start planning because you want to overcome volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, STOP right there. Planning will not help you achieve this. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) have nothing to do with planning. They are rooted in reality whereas planning is just a tool.
If you want to get a grasp on volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity understand their nature, what causes them. And find out why they bother you in the first place. Given that they are core elements and characteristics of reality you may as well ask yourself what bothers you about reality. In other words, find out what bothers you, period. What’s your problem? Or, if you like to phrase it more positively, what motivates you?
Contrast this to your vision of an ideal situation and see the gap between the problem (or motivation) and your vision. If this gap really bothers you, causes some form of pain, think about concrete steps how to get from point A to point B. This is what you could call agile ‘planning’. It is different from classical planning as it addresses the groundwork or foundation of our activities.
Planning without acknowledging and accepting your motivation and vision is just a shallow distraction from reality and a futile activity as it ignores reality, your reality.
Agile ‘planning’ can be joy
An agile approach to ‘planning’ does not erase volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. This is not its purpose. It accepts them as a matter of fact. And it embraces them and explores ways and means to work with them to get closer to your vision or at least your interim goals. This is the opposite of fear. It is working and playing with joy. Doing so introduces lightness, creativity and inspiration to your “planning”. It sparks life into your planning process. You don’t generate a product or service in one bug shot but you develop and deliver it in small, iterative increments. Just as you don’t reach your vision in one big step but in several smaller steps, one at a time.
Contrast this with classical planning that is guided by fear and the urge for control and certainty. Life and reality are not static, lifeless machines that can be easily replicated. Life is ever changing, complex, uncertain, and ambiguous. Corollary, agile ‘planning’ ought to reflect life. It can become a game, a dance, an art and thus an element of the art of new business.