Arguments for Minimalist Planning

Everyone understands the importance of having a plan … to know the route when we drive to our holiday destination; to know the steps when we want to develop a value adding product. “Planning to fail is failing to plan”, they say. Every project manager will approve this quote.

After seeing many projects (small and big) succeed and fail I came to a conclusion when it comes to the question of how detailed or accurate a plan has to be.

The simpler a plan is constructed the more likely its successful implementation is.

Having a detailed plan at hand can give you (and your project team) a feeling of security. It can be used to demonstrate to your stakeholders that the project is in save hands.

On the other hand there are some disadvantages of spending time to develop and adapt such plans.

  •  It is time consuming. The development of such a plan will take a lot of time which you could use in more productive way. Additionally, the more details your plan entails the more you have to constantly adapt it during subsequent phases.
  • We lose flexibility. Thinking through all possible steps and scenarios beforehand can make you (and your team) less receptive to important feedbacks which may have far reaching consequences of the successful outcome of the project. No customer will buy a product that does not create a gain or relieves a pain for them.
  • It slows down your project. The frequent adaptions and realignments with your team and stakeholders will consume time. We might lose our focus on the really important tasks. The tasks which significantly moves the project forward to the final solution.

So why do we over plan things? Here are the possible reasons:

  • Fear of making decision in a complex environment where we might not always be able to anticipate every scenario. With the fear of making decision comes the fear of taking the responsibility of the consequences of the decision making.
  • Lack of experience on the specific topic. If we gain in experience on a certain topic we also gain in tactical intelligence. We develop a feeling or intuition of what is required to move things forward and which risks are acceptable to take.
  • We procrastinate to tackle the next logical tasks in the project … especially when it means we have to eat our personal frog (be it a conflictual discussion in your team, writing that status report or to bite through that return on investment calculation). Instead we tend to over jump this task in our mind and engage ourselves with planning in detail our over next tasks which are pretty irrelevant at the moment.

Here three actions which can be immediately implemented:

  • Reduce the frequency of your project plan updates. Update your project plan only at certain events. For instance it makes sense to update your plan after passing an important milestone.
  • Stay simple. Don’t break down your project into thousands of small task junks. By keeping the project plan simple we also increase the likelihood of focusing on the most important tasks.
  • Near term tasks has to be specified more in detail than tasks which are still remote in time. The probability that you have to adapt those tasks are high anyhow.
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