Focus on the approach, not the plan

Focus on the approach, not the plan

What is more important? Creating a PLAN to complete the work? Or creating an APPROACH to complete the work.

If the work is 95% the same from a previous set of work you have done, go with the plan. You don’t need to over complicate things, just get to work. But this is the outlier.

Typically, this new piece of work is enough different that following a previous plan would cause more confusion than clarity.

Building a flexible approach will be more beneficial in the long run.

This is because the scrum team, the leadership team, the organization, the competition, and the customer are constantly changing, and unexpected events can often derail even the most carefully crafted plans.

All the hours building that perfect plan to only be immediately discarded, is wasted time, money, and effort.

A flexible approach allows you to adapt to changing circumstances and adjust as needed.

Here are a few reasons why a flexible approach is helpful:

Adaptability: A flexible approach allows you to be adaptable to changing circumstances, which is essential in today’s constantly evolving business world. What is even more harmful is our ability to fall into the sunk-cost fallacy. We built this great plan, and we must stick with it no matter what. We refuse to adapt to new information. And we make statements like “We’ll fix it in production”. Yikes…

Innovation: A flexible approach also encourages innovation and creativity. By allowing yourself the freedom to change course and try new things, you may discover new opportunities or find more efficient ways of achieving your goals. If you are “following the plan” from before, there will be less opportunity for innovation. “It worked before so don’t reinvent the wheel”. And that makes the work less interesting to the team building the solution.

And my favorite is Resilience: A flexible approach can make you more resilient in the face of adversity. If your plan fails, you may feel discouraged and give up altogether. “I just invested all that time to build a perfect plan, and now it is ruined!” But with a flexible approach, you can learn from your mistakes and adjust your strategy accordingly. You didn’t fail when making the initial plan, you just didn’t see that “new customer need”.

I have built some amazingly complicated project plans. 18 months, 30 teams in 4 countries, $150MM budget. I had the Gantt chart down to 4 hour increments. It was a work of art!

What I found out later was that my project plan was “right” on only 2 days:

The first day of the project, and

The last day of the project.

Every other day my project plan was wrong. I had to spend 50% of my time chasing down project plan data issues, instead of helping the team get their work done.

Now I still have a larger plan mapped out, but the level of detail beyond 6 weeks is 40% solid. The level of detail 4 weeks out is 80% solid. And the level of detail 2 weeks out is 90% solid. As real work gets done today, I can use that to firm up the plan for next sprint.

I never commit to a 100% plan because things just never run that smoothly. This way if I leave 10% for last-minute issues, the team can absorb that work without having to reduce their previous commitments (or work nights and weekends to catch up for my lack of omnipotence when it comes to planning).

This way the scrum team has a higher chance to complete a successful sprint. And that goes a long way for team morale.

When scrum teams see, feel, and experience a successful sprint, they never want to go back to the “traditional” approach.

Focus on the approach. It will give you the room to adapt and put the team in position to succeed.

Do you have a different approach or opinion? I hope you share them in the comments so we can have a constructive conversation.

Auld Consulting LLC specializes in building world-class products, teams and organizations that Customers love.

We do this two ways:

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