Planning versus Doing – Getting the Balance Right
Whilst in a previous blog, I hope I have achieved my initial aim of convincing you that a plan is necessary, there is – perhaps – a more interesting question of proportionality here. That is, just how much time should be spent on this, how detailed a plan do you need?
Planning versus Doing – Getting the Balance Right
In giving guidance on this question, I want to look specifically at alternative perspectives that can be – erroneously and unhelpfully – positioned as complete counterpoints. Namely, the schools of lean thinking and agile development. The former practice stems from the revolution that Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo are credited with pioneering at Toyota. Simply put, it assigns as wasteful any activity that is not adding value to the end customer and ruthlessly seeks to locate and remove such waste from the system of production. There are a number of lean techniques to support this principle such as a real focus on engaging the knowledge and creativity of your staff, just-in-time production and accelerated cycle times. Agile development, which has its home in the software industry (but a wider applicability also), seeks to address the grand failures so frequently experienced in this arena … the build of monolithic software products that are over-budget, late-to-market and ultimately not valued by their intended audience. It, rightly, critiques the historical ‘waterfall’ (big, sequential steps) method of software development as being a key contributor to such failures. In such a (waterfall) model, plans feature large (but give false succour to the developer) and, in a worst case parody, the approach is one of taking a gamble on a costly design stage up front with minimal customer interaction involved. Agile, rather, focuses on the continuous, frequent, time-boxed iteration of software releases (built by self-organising, cross-functional teams) in order to rapidly test-and-adjust any product to address a customer’s actual, and potentially evolving, needs.
These schools of thought, and their related method progenies, are un-controversially sound; they have, undoubtedly, been responsible for manifest advances in productivity and entrepreneurial efficiency gains in recent years. Experience has taught me, however, to be very wary of the methodology zealot who, with near-religious fervour, argues that advocacy of such a method leads you to a conclusion that business planning is completely nugatory (or, at an even more extreme position, dangerous). This conclusion is profoundly wrong.
It is manifestly the case that the world is becoming increasingly complex, more unpredictable and that change is the new order. A variant on that statement is the passé foreword to the average business article. The corollary is not, however, a facile one of ‘throw out all your plans, go agile’. Protagonists of this logic almost always either emanate from one blinkered-silo of a business (e.g. software/product development) or are business-book authors seeking to sell a deliberately edgy, bold, new approach to the world.
The answer, however, as is often the case, is that the reality is not so black and white. To juxtapose the practice of sound planning with agile development (as some type of ideological battle) is to falsely conflate management approaches that are often operating at different levels, for different reasons. It is like the most grating case of a mixed-metaphor … or, to strain a metaphor myself … it’s worse than comparing apples with pears; its akin to comparing apples with washing powder.
Rather, it is about recognising the different management domains in which these respective methods best lie and the balance required in their optimal configuration. I would, for example, absolutely advocate a plan-centric approach to your overall goal of building a successful business, but strongly commend you also to lean thinking in relation to your operational processes and to an agile mind-set in the on-going development of your services portfolio.
In relation to balance, your business plan, ultimately, has to be of sufficient granularity to give you a meaningful sense of purpose and direction of travel but not be so stiflingly granular that you can’t pivot upon it at frequent intervals – as and when required to deal with the twists and turns of the real world.
In final analysis, entrepreneurship involves building an enterprise based on human interaction. Such enterprises thrive when there are clear goals, efficient processes and a management discipline. As trendy as it is to talk about a new paradigm that throws out such concepts for the new order of the ‘just wing it’ school, I strongly encourage you to retain some perspective. It may not be a popular view but entrepreneurism involves the balance of an unfettered, creative spark along with real management disciplines (including planning). One without the other is a recipe for chaos.
In a future article, I will look at ‘What a good plan looks like?’.
To be continued …
If you are interested in re-charging your business ambition/strategy/plans, Dom runs his (three-day) Five-Year Entrepreneur Retreat twice a year (March, September) – see here for previous delegate testimonials and details on future presentations. If you would like to make a reservation (capped to 14 attendees per Retreat) please drop a line via the contact page.