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Your Project Plan Should Be Wrong

Why don’t projects ever go according to plan?  Because your plan is wrong.  Worse, it is supposed to be wrong.  Why?  Because you’re not omniscient and can’t predict the future.   When you make your initial project plan, there is a lot you don’t know.  And even if you did know everything about every aspect of the project, your plan would still be wrong.  Something will happen tomorrow (or the next day) that you didn’t predict, because you’re not Nostradamus.

What should we do in the face of this unavoidable failure of our plan?  Be happy about it.  It means that you’re learning.  It means that you know something that you didn’t know the day before about your project.  It means that you can now change the direction of your project in a way that will make it more successful.  Your project may not meet its original deadline or it may get done early, depending on what you’ve learned.  However your plan is affected, it is good that it changed.  You will no longer be targeting an out-of-date goal with an out-of -date timeframe.  Now, you will be targeting a more accurate goal with a more accurate timeframe.

The key is not being afraid to change the plan.  View it as a good thing and not a bad thing.  It requires guts to announce that the plan needs to change.  This is so hard to do that most people don’t do it.  They just go with the flow and let the project head off the tracks.  It is a matter of facing reality and making tough decisions:  should we change the scope of the project or change the deadline.  This takes true leadership.  It may not make you popular, but it will give your project the highest probability of success.  If you are a manager, reward, don’t punish, those who change the plan, even if it delays the project end date.  They are the ones that are demonstrating leadership by saying what needs to be said to fix the plan.

Be much more worried if the plan is right.  Did you not learn anything new over the course of the project that helped your plan?  Either you got really lucky or you’re not paying attention.  Maybe your team members are afraid to speak and the project is headed for disaster.  You must re-evaluate your assumptions on a daily basis.  A great way to do this is by using a burndown report.  This is a report where you adjust the time-to-completion of each task every day.  Done properly, you use what you’ve learned that day to honestly reflect reality in the plan, and then the project manager can use that information to make the necessary decisions for project success.

Don’t worry or be upset if things don’t go according to plan.   It’s a good thing!  You are adjusting the project based on what you’ve learned and increasing the chances of success.

Are you a business analyst or product manager? Do you have tips for your project plan?

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