Having a product plan isn't enough

Lou Hayes, Jr. is not a software guy. He’s a self-described “Police Officer/Detective/Sergeant for a suburban Chicago police department” whose assignments include: Patrol, Field Training Officer, Criminal Investigations, Firearms & Tactics Training Unit, Crisis Intervention Team, and Tactical (SWAT + medical). Yeah, he’s impressive.

In the world of software and technology, we of course think we are the center of the universe. Spoiler alert - we’re not. I’ve followed Lou for years on Twitter because his world is so different from mine, and his insights always make me think. More often than not, they seem super applicable to tech.

Recently he posted: “Plans? Worthless. Planning? Priceless.”

It’s an old truth. The Plan is obsolete the moment it is committed to paper (see Helmuth von Moltke the Elder or Mike Tyson if you prefer someone less Prussian).

More important than the plan itself, it is the act of planning produces resiliency and better results. It is planning that produces the “what if” idea, not The Plan. The act of planning sparks the new thoughts from the team and then puts them in context. Planning is what makes it possible for teams to understand their changing environment, readily adapt and outperform. In many ways it's the equivalent of training for athletes.

Change is never a surprise. Planning is the way to help teams build muscle memory for how to react to new situations. Primarily because they’ve probably already "table-topped" it during their planning sessions! When Plan A goes south, Plan B goes active. The team is ready.

A core strength of any high performance team is its ability to do planning, not necessarily its ability to create and execute a precise plan. 

Planning is maligned and misunderstood.

In software, Agile is now crowned king. Pick any blog on Agile, and you will see endless talk of “minimize all the BS meetings that devs need to sit through." Unfortunately planning tends to get thrown in this bucket. It is often perceived as just so many meetings where magical thinking is discussed endlessly but nothing gets done. Or worse, planning is perceived as an artifact of the dreaded WATERFALL. Run, hide!

So, planning is often maligned as “waste” or “overhead.” In today's organizations, delivering the outcome is the measure. What is The Plan and are we executing? The time spent planning is seen as overhead so naturally we should minimize it. 

But this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact it is these open-ended discussions of "what-if," tradeoffs, “have we considered," “why don’t we try,” and other ways to think about planning are building the muscle memory of the team. Planning is how the team becomes resilient and thoughtful in the face of The Plan that inevitably goes sideways.

A core strength of any team is related to its ability to do planning -- not its ability to create and execute a precise plan.

Planning is how we adapt to change.

Our point of view is that organizations should plan wide open.

The big difference with today's planning is that it is continuous. Unlike years past where The Plan was meticulously developed over months or years and executed in its entirety, in today's world, planning happens as you need it. Just in time. The plan is the plan until we change the plan.

In the past managers would get hung up on “but the plan is changing” and we need to "stay the course." Today, the focus must be different: "The Plan is falling apart, how do we adapt?" 

The act of planning is a way to continuously engage your team and your customers, and to validate ideas in the market in real time. If software is a team sport, then planning is the practice that helps you win on game day.

Good planning produces great teamwork and resilient teams. Good planning is great strategy. Great companies don’t always create great plans -- but they do great planning. 

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