Some people consider these two words the same when discussing plans and planning. But in fact, the two entities are different. Let's focus on the discussion of Project Management, especially Project Plans.
Plans are worthless, but Planning is everything
In line with the statement of Dwight Eisenhower in his November 1957 speech, "Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable".
That statement implies that a well-crafted and perfect plan often ends up not being worth writing. The situation changes from assumption to reality when the storm of trouble comes. In short, when plans conflict with circumstances in the real world, the real world always wins. This statement brings us to the question: why do we need a plan?
Michael Mankins and Ricard Steele, in the Harvard Business Review, suggest that companies stop making plans. They argue that strategic planning is a complex and rigid process. Its existence hinders good business operations.
So shouldn't we create plans? Far from it! You need to read more about it.
The value of a plan is in the actions and efforts of planning. In projects, it helps you understand objectives, clients and team capabilities. Planning will encourage situation awareness through a learning process and discussion of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and strategies which we usually call SWOT analysis.
Plan: a path and the outcome
Let's redefine what a plan is. A plan is a detailed document for achieving something. It also means a step toward reaching a goal.
In projects, the role of the plan is as a guideline, a map, to achieve the goal. The team sets it before the project, not while the project is in progress. Here lies the point of a useless plan. The plan we make is an agreement on how to achieve the goal of the current state. So during the execution process, most of them have expired.
The plan is prepared from all team members' opinions, including the Project Manager (PM), sponsors and stakeholders, so the form is detailed.
A real example is when the EO (Event Organiser) plans the concept of a client's birthday. All members must give their opinion about this event so that collaboration is created and they understand the plan. Again, the EO must do that before the birthday event starts.
When an event doesn't go well, the whole team will have an understanding of the impact of the incident. For example, the sound system doesn’t work well, the balloons are always flying, and the catering needs extra time. A plan makes it easier to see change, effect and the completion process.
Therefore, the saying “plans are useless” is not entirely true. They are snippets of the line towards the future at some point in time (the beginning of the project). They can expire, so it needs an update.
Types of Plans
In the business or project management process, there are four types of plans. All four are expected to help control organisational activities to reach objectives. So here are the types of plans.
Time frame-based plan
Based on the time frame, there are three types of plans: long-term, medium-term and short-term.
- Long-term: A strategic plan which is designed for the next 3 to 5 years. For example, opening a new branch office or entering a new market.
- Medium-term: A plan which includes tactical goals for the next 1 to 2 years. For example, annual contract changes, and product updates.
- Short-term: It includes operational objectives for a particular department. The term can be up to 3-6 months.
Based on the specifications, plans are divided into directional and specific. A directional plan is a flexible plan to respond to many unexpected changes. A specific plan is a plan with clearly defined goals. There is no room for interpretation.
Breadth based plan
There are three types of plans based on the breadth, and there are Tactical, Strategic and Operational plans.
- Tactical Plan: Tactics define how the strategic plan is carried out. It's like the blue tick of a strategic plan.
- The strategic plan: It contains actions to achieve the company's vision and mission.
- Operational plan: The plan contains the day-to-day operations of the company or project and is short-term.
Based on frequency, there are two plans: a standing and a single-use. The standing plan contains the organisation's policies, standard procedures or regulations. In contrast, the single-use plan is a plan that is only relevant for one time.
Planning: Implementation of a plan
Planning is the implementation of plans, and plans are the product of planning. A project is not just a plan but a process that is executed. With the right plan, realistic planning will happen too. So both of them play a role.
Success in a project is rarely tied to an accurate plan. When the team is aware of the overall project goals and vision, the team is used to making decisions based on current events. This agility requires the team to evaluate and re-plan the movement continuously.
There are two reasons why planning is essential. Here's why:
- Planning determines how we react in a crisis and circumstance.
This is following the business situation when there is Covid. When making plans for early 2019, the world will not know that Covid exists. The plan at the beginning of the year was no longer relevant to the situation at that time. Finally, planning is what makes us start exploring options. Indirectly, you will gain insight into how to deal with these emergencies. Then you also learn how to formulate and calibrate the initial plan.
- Planning provides knowledge about team training.
It means collaboration, challenging each other, and thinking together. Everyone will voice their opinion. The process becomes essential in planning, including combining each team's thinking. Each member will provide insight into the company's good times and bad.
So, plans are essential. A plan is the result of planning. Although plans are short-lived and sometimes irrelevant to current circumstances, their existence is still valuable. The benefits come from the roles working together in the planning process, such as ideas and responses to moving forward in the current situation.
It might be misunderstood if making a plan is out of date. Many circumstances have taught businesses and companies to adjust, evaluate and execute a plan constantly. Therefore, planning means being ready for anything to happen and adapting to all circumstances.