Of Plans and Planning

Thursday, May 7, 2009 – 12:42 PM

One large project planning tool, a Gantt Chart. In the beginning there was The Plan. The Planner looked upon The Plan and saw that it was good. A prioritized Product Backlog and accompanying Release Plan for the whole of the next release of BigApp 3.0. Enough work to keep hundreds of people busy for the next eighteen months.  Everyone knew what to start working on next and could work on prioritized features and adapt to change in an agile way.

The Planner was so pleased with The Plan that he had it chiseled into a large marble plaque in the Big Co.’s main conference room. And that’s where things started to go wrong…

After ten months the BigApp team released 3.0 Beta largely to gather customer feedback, as The Planner reminded everyone. Feedback came in thick and fast. One thing that was really clear was how little customers used BigApp’s Remote View feature. And that presented a big problem…

Some talked about cutting Remote View from 3.0 but there was push back from lots of people. The Remote View component team were worried about their jobs. The project managers on Remote View were keen to justify their initial backing for the feature. They found some more customer feedback that actually supported their position. The lead PM’s sister really liked the colors for example. Management were concerned that they’d have to lay off the Remote View team or reorganize them. The team didn’t have experience with other BigApp components. The Planner and many other stakeholders had agreed to The Plan. They felt changing it was an admission that they had somehow been wrong in the first place.

Eventually BigApp 3.0 shipped according to plan with the Remote View feature. The Remote View team—their jobs assured because they were the only team who understood their component—agreed that they would “fix” Remote View feature in BigApp 4.0. Hardly any customers used it, but now it had shipped so Big Co. was committed to support it for another two releases. As it turned out “fix” was a common misspelling of R-E-W-R-I-T-E.

The Planner often wondered how Remote View ended up shipping in BigApp 3.0 at all. A few months later, while reading another project management book, he came across a quote from a long dead Prussian general.

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy” 
Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke

Plans should change! With that The Planner headed back to his office. He sent an email to the CTO requesting that his title be changed to something which reflected his real role around delivery. He didn’t want to be associated with the planning for it’s own sake. Next he went to find someone to create him a new marble plaque. It would say: 

“A plan that expects and enables change is only as useful as an organization which is prepared to accept and commit to that change.”

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