Many things can be said about the survivability of plans in the face of enemy forces, or reality. Here I’ll focus on one such aspect, when to revisit the initial conversation from which the plan sprung in the first place.
Plans are made based upon the simple idea that we know what it is we want to achieve, be that via strategic intent “take that hill” or via more specific task lists. There’s much debate on how to adjust the plan during execution or how to adapt to a changing environment so I won’t delve into that here.
What I want to talk about is that first meeting, I’m using “first” in the loosest sense here, it might have been a long process but conceptually it’s what’s often considered “Discovery” or “Inception” essentially where we figure out what we know and the implications for that with regards to our objectives.
The common assumption going out from this meeting is that we now know what needs to be done and that we mostly need to figure out the details and iron out the wrinkles. We encourage debate and questioning, regarding the measure to be taken to reach the goal. But we often forget to bake into the process a mechanism to debate if the goal itself has become obsolete.
Essentially many projects ends up being justified on the basis that we’re doing them. That is, since we’re doing it, it must be the right thing to be doing.
This is clearly a bizarre state of affairs, we might unknowingly be arguing about the best way to arrange the deck chairs whilst heading towards an iceberg.
So how do we solve this, it might sound simple enough to conclude that what we need to do is to periodically assess if the mission is still viable, and if it is, is it still the right mission to be on?
But practically how would we achieve that? Given that most discovery processes are expensive and that the decision makers that often have important information aren’t easily available, when would be a good time to re-run run Discover, when do we Re-Discover?
What I often see groups attempting is to put it on a regular, and by necessity (see above) lengthy schedule. And once they happen since the process of changing direction is painful what we end up doing is not re-discovering the most important mission, but justifying our prior commitment. Often this leads to a feeling that it’s mostly waste and we stop the process and hope that we’ll eventually reach the end of the project. Adjustments will be for the next version.
I think the cause for this is that we enter the initial meeting with the intent to create “The Plan” to solve “The Problem”. We often create risk lists, but we equally often forget to consider what the implications of said risks would be.
Better yet, while we might list many relevant risks, we seldom sit down and explore plausible scenarios and early signals that would indicate that it’s time to adjust not only the path but the destination.
My humble proposal thus is to start the process of deeply considering what would cause us to change direction and make those signals explicit. Continuously monitor and adjust that list and if you detect one of them, don’t hesitate to call the re-discover meeting, now knowing full well that a bigger change is required.
Predictably the plan will change for reasons not initially considered, use those instances to learn more about what drives change and priorities within your context. Leverage all such information to become adept at anticipating the need to switch from operational execution to strategic realignment.