In our line of work we interact with a lot of projects and a lot of projects that impact field staff and those who support them in administrative, customer-facing or planning and scheduling functions.
Projects mean an organisation is doing something new, or doing something old in a new and better way, or with new people, or trying to reach agreement on the best way forward in changing circumstances. It's both stimulating and challenging to work out the best way forward.
Different roles manage this changing landscape in different ways. Sales oriented people think of a funnel of opportunities, qualified leads, and assessments of what's real and what's fanciful. Project managers tend to speak about uncertainty, and manage this through risk registers and project plans. But whatever you call it, you need a way to manage things when you may not know everything (or indeed, very much) about a possible future.
We deal with this through various forms of planning, and I want to pick up two ideas that appear at face value to be contradictory.
To plan or not to plan?
Lack of planning leads to failure. It's critical that we plan what we are trying to do. We need to know, as best we can, what should happen and when. Who should do it. Why it needs to be done, and what depends on it. Are there risks to getting things done? Have we made assumptions in the plan? All this will produce a plan, but it’s also the thought process that matters - considering what could go wrong, what alternatives may exist and soon. To quote Eisenhower:
“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
Reliance on the plan also leads to failure. So, we've thought about things, and we have a plan. Unfortunately stuff happens, reality intrudes and the risks thought about are realised, the assumptions you made turn out to be incorrect. This is why the plan is useful, but not always gospel. The key is the planning processes, and all the thinking around it.
Why you need a plan
Of course we need a plan. It tells us what we're trying to achieve, and how, but we must accept it's going to change as it meets reality. That doesn't mean that everything in a scheduling function should be 'firefighting' and responding to the latest emergency or the most recent customer who has shouted loudly. Rather you need to develop plans and re-plans and be flexible in trusting the tools you use to keep things optimised and efficient.
How to plan better
Here are some suggestions:
Establish a baseline: Does your plan make it clear what you're trying to achieve, when, and how?
Manage the 'unhappy path': Do you understand where and how your plan might break? Develop contingency. Do you know what you're going to do (or might do) if it does break?
Scan reality: Step back from the plan and see what's going on. Talk to people. Can you pre-empt reality?
Manage expectations: Do your stakeholders appreciate that reality wins every time (no matter how much they may wish otherwise)? Are they helping with the planning process?
Change objectives: Has reality changed so much that the original objective is untenable?
Things rarely go precisely to plan. But good management recognises that planning is a process, not a deliverable. Remember - it's the thought that counts!
How we can help
If you would like to make your planning and scheduling work better then feel free to get in touch and we’d love to discuss it further. We’ve helped clients in a range of complex industries to build more effective planning and scheduling, transform and change their scheduling functions and to and fully realise the benefits of implementing better workforce management, scheduling and optimisation systems.