No plan survives its first contact with reality.
That’s my paraphrase of an often-paraphrased Helmuth von Moltke quote that: “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” No one seemed to have heard that advice when I was coming up in business.
In the classroom, I learned that planning was a two-step, linear process. First you planned. Then you implemented the plan. That might work if you were smart enough and you didn’t need to worry about anything else.
We’re not smart enough for perfect planning
Human beings, even the smartest ones, just don’t have the brainpower to plan perfectly. Every plan has flaws.
You are not alone
A funny thing happens when you start to implement your wonderful plan. Reality kicks in. The competition reacts. Some people don’t understand what’s expected of them and do the wrong thing. Others don’t have the resources to do what you want. Some don’t care.
Planning is a good thing
Dwight Eisenhower said that “Plans are nothing, but planning is everything.”
People and organizations that do a little planning are more likely to succeed. Planning helps you sort out what’s important and what’s not. It helps you identify your main goal so everyone can row in the same direction.
You need more than just planning and implementation
Time for another quote. This time it’s Winston Churchill: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”
And what do you do then? You modify the plan to reflect reality. So, how much time should pass before you look at results?
Pick a length of time that’s long enough to make significant progress. Otherwise you’ll spend too much time planning and not enough time doing.
Pick a length of time that’s short enough to correct what’s wrong before it gets too bad. Otherwise you’ll have to spend a lot of your doing time unraveling past mistakes.
For most businesses a ninety-day operational cycle seems about right. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Planning can still give you an edge in performance, but only if you constantly review and adapt.