Saturday, May 1, 2010

Of plans and the planning mystic

General Dwight D. Eisenhower (DDE) once said during the European campaign of 1944:
Planning is everything; plans are nothing

As one of the foremost military planners in American history, what does it say when General Eisenhower's primary value assignment--did someone say utility?--is to planning and not  the plan itself?  Simply put [well, nothing is really simple, especially in war, but also in projects] that planning is the creative part where ideas, innovation, and myriad of facts and opinions--the 'dots' in the current vernacular--are connected in a particular pattern, a particular network.

Eisenhower was referring to assembling and evaluating the dots--the act of planning--as being more valuable than a particular pattern of dots--a plan--that is a point solution for a moment in time.  Indeed, as a plan is a network of interconnected dots, so is there a critical path through that network, and that path is probabilistic, subject to risks and uncertainties, and likely to give way to another path through the network as events unfold.  Even more so, some uncertainty may pop up and require a whole new network.  DDE would probably say the hard work has been done: most of the dots are available and evaluated; some new dots have to be integrated, and then a reconstituted point solution has to be brought forward.

Dudley Pope, now deceased, was a popular English author who wrote novels about British naval tactics in the French-British-Spanish wars of the early 19th century.  Describing one of his dashing sea captain's thinking about plans and planning during high risk and uncertainty, Pope's hero, a frigate captain, said:
 "....that was one lesson .... learned over the years: do not explain your entire plan to subordinates all at once; do a section at a time, as it becomes necessary.  Rarely can a plan be carried out from beginning to end in its entirety.  There is usually some hitch somewhere in the middle, so the plan has to be amended to fit the new conditions.  Subordinates, however, are slow to change to a sudden new situation if their heads are full of the old plan.  Somehow, they seem to resist any new modification.  But if you tell them a section at a time--keeping them just ahead of events--then they react quickly and decisively".
There's a certain arrogance there about the relationship of leaders and followers that offends contemporary ears, but the message of agile thinking and the hazards of inflexibility in plans is clear.

[Pope, D. "Ramage's Challenge", McBooks Press, New York, 2002, pg 225}

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