If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

Back in the days of grade school, we were all taught to put together an outline before writing our paper. I remember it well. And I think most of us hated it.

The raw truth of the matter is that we all want to get things done. We don't want to waste a bunch of time on frivolous tasks. "Let's get to the meat of it!"

But jumping in and starting to work before we really know what we are doing is inviting disaster. Without at least a little prep work, we really don't know what we are trying to accomplish let alone know what we need to do to accomplish it. All too often we get impatient and jump right in.

But what were to happen if you decided to go on vacation and you just loaded up, jumped into a car and took off? Would you forget something you need like your bathing suit or coat? If you don't know where you are going you would have to load up everything you could possibly need. Even then you would likely forget something. You would definitely take way too much.

Before we take off on a simple 2 day or even 2 week vacation we at least need to know where we are going, what it will take to get there, how much it will cost and how we will get back. We do at least a little planning before just taking off. Some people plan every little detail while others like to take it loose and fancy free. But we all do at least a little ahead thinking.

(OK, so there are a few thrill seekers out there who want the excitement of the unknown, the uncertainty. That's great for fun if you like that sort of thing. But the vast majority of us want to know roughly where we are going and what we will be doing so we know the vacation will be fun.)

Planning for Success

When you plan ahead, your first set a target, then you determine what the steps are to get there. Your target may change over time and that is OK, but without at least an initial target it would be like jumping in your car and taking off in some random direction. If you wanted to sun bathe on the beach and you head toward Alaska, you are going to be disappointed when you arrive.

The target is where you want to end up. This target should be somewhat ambitious but still reasonable. With enough hard work you should be able to attain your target. And the target needs to be a somewhat short distance away. Sure you can set longer term targets but the world changes at a relatively fast pace and thinking too far out is more of a dream rather than an attainable target. Definitely think long term but set your next targets close.

Notice I do not say "Goal" here. While it may not exactly be by definition, in most peoples' minds a Goal is a fixed thing you are trying to achieve. But a "Target" is more flexible. We have all heard of a moving target but no one talks about a moving goal.

Targets change over time. As you approach your target it will likely move so plan to move with it. If you set a series of targets, the further out each target is the more likely it is to move as you approach it.

Analysis Paralysis

There is such a thing as too much planning. Sometimes people get paralyzed by trying to perfect their plan, trying to make sure there is no possibility for error. The sad fact of the matter is that reality is not perfect and that no matter how much you plan unexpected things happen.

Perfection comes at a very high price. Generally speaking, about 80% of your plan can be ironed out with only 20% of the work. That last 20% though takes a lion share of the effort. By the time you have perfected your plan you could have simply put something out on the market and tried it out. Trying it out on the market would give you greater returns anyway.

When you work on your plan, set some deadlines. Decide when it is going to be good enough to put the plan in motion and try it out.

Be prepared to make mistakes and learn, then try again. Failure is one of the greatest learning tools you can have. Mistakes are wonderful teachers. Do NOT be afraid to make mistakes but instead embrace them as ways to make you better. The only time mistakes are a problem is if you keep making the same mistakes over again and again - it means you are not learning how to do things better. Really look deep at your mistakes facing them head on and use them to do better the next time.

When Have You Planned Enough?

The real trick is to determine how much planning is enough planning. In general I like to have planning and execution cycles range between 1 week and 6 months with the majority of these cycles at around 3 months.

Your planning cycle should depend on the amount of work the plan and implementation cycle will entail. If you do very small bits of change to what you already have you can get things done in just a week or two. If you are creating something new or making very large changes then 3 to 6 months are in order.

If you find that the effort will take over 6 months you may want to consider breaking your plan up into several stages or iterations. Get the first iteration completed before moving on to the next. Recall that your target moves and the further out it is the more it is likely to move. If your plan and execution of that plan takes too long you may find it has moved so far that much of the work you have done has taken you too far off that target and is wasted. Additionally, shorter iterations will allow you to deliver change sooner which means you reap the rewards much more quickly.

Avoiding Costly Mistakes (how to cheat the right way)

We all fear making big or damaging mistakes. From the time we were kids we were taught that we must do things perfectly (get that 100% or the A+) and that mistakes are bad.

While mistakes are good for us and teach us best, there is a great way to minimize your mistakes and improve the overall result: bring in someone who has already made those mistakes and knows better.

This is why you often hear advice from successful business builders to hire the experts. Experts have been there and done that. They know how to navigate the problems that could come up because they have already done it themselves, often many times. They know not only how to avoid the mistakes but how to avoid them well and do it easily.

The best time to bring in the experts is when you have never or very rarely ever done what you are preparing to do.

This is how we help our customers. We provide expertise and decades of accumulated experience to help make sure our clients set effective targets and hit them dead center. We also assist with determining just how much to plan to help avoid analysis paralysis. And we help reduce the length of the iterations which help reduce up front costs and speed up the time to start making or saving money off the endeavor.

We provide software and software integration solutions for customers. We use and help match up our clients with other experts such as designers, marketing and sales gurus and hardware specialists - people we often use ourselves (we practice what we preach after all).

If you are interested in how we can help you, contact us today and we would be glad to meet with you in a complimentary consultation to evaluate if we are the experts you need and if so tell you how we can make a difference to your success.