Tuesday, July 9, 2013

About options and plans

"...part of [the] job was to make alternate plans in case [the project plan] proved impractical to carry off, or if strategic objectives changed in a way that brought that particular option into doubt. ... several options must be kept open at the same time; if only one option is on the table, it is not an option"
General Eisenhower

That was all good and well for Eisenhower; he got the result he wanted. But how does it work in our domain? In our business, we have:
  • One vision or narrative of "done"
  • One project charter
  • One baseline plan
Do we need options? Of course, yes we do. The practical effect of General Ike's thinking for project managers is this: Every plan is an option selected: there's always more than one way to get there.  Indeed, every plan should be an option in a larger set -- until it (the plan) is carried out -- unless it's the only plan, and then it's not an option: it's a mandate.

Now, playing the options is both an art and a science. In the financial markets domain, playing options can be an exercise in prescient risk management, or just a hunch. But, the financial player has to put something down to get access to the opportunity.

In the PM domain, it's similar: we want options but not obligations. We have these option tools:
  • Rolling wave planning
  • Probabilitic event chains
  • Iterative development and spiral methods
  • Prototypes, experiments, and red/blue teams

Obviously, to act on these things, the PM has to put some resources on the line. It's about putting something down -- aka, down payment, or contingent action -- to preserve the flexibility for future actions. To read more about options and PM, click here.

Of course, Eisenhower was not the only guy making plans. He had to contend with Winston Churchill, a man said to carry about his own china shop. WSC said about plans:
"It was all very well to say that everything has been thought of. The crux of the matter [is] -- has anything been done?"
"Done" is, indeed, the crux of the matter! WSC was all about the 'ends'; he was very flexible on the 'means' -- aka, options.

So whereas strategy and plans close the door on some flexibility, codifying constraints, and vectoring the project down some path, they also are the set-up for 'done'. The "done" thing is pretty important; in the end, it's the only thing that will be remembered and the only thing with lasting business value.

Check out these books I've written in the library at Square Peg Consulting