Who Needs Plans?

Actually, we all do.  Two recent posts, the original by Dushan Wegner and a seconding one by 37signals suggest that planning is not so important–instead, just focus on your skills and a problem.  I applaud identifying both skills and problem definition as being crucially important.  Probably the single biggest failing in Silicon Valley, is poor problem identification.  Achieving clarity of just exactly what problem we’re solving and why it’s valuable to do so, has a powerful focusing effect on the initiating organization, forsaking all other unessential activities.  And once that problem is identified, focusing on the skills necessary to solve that problem, creates a multiplying effect.  But I humbly suggest that this does not let us off the hook on planning.  Among other examples, Wegner’s supports the no planning required thesis with “Steve Jobs didn’t plan to invent the iPod.”  Maybe in 1980 he didn’t, but I guaranty you in 2000 he did.  You can bet Steve had a clear problem statement, he looked outside the company for some of the skills necessary, and yes, he had a plan.

Now, do you need a professionally typeset, printed and bound business plan to succeed as an entrepreneur?   No, of course not.  But you’d better have spent some energy thinking about how you get from here to making money.  You need to think about how many people in which department you need at each stage of the game to have a balanced work flow within the organization.  Think about how many support people are reasonably need to support a given level of product sales.  How many home office people needed to support a given staffing of field sales folk?  What does my revenue profile look like as we add sales people?  And so on.  Doing this in your favorite spreadsheet is a good idea.  Ten slides in your favorite presentation program, shared regularly with the whole company works wonders to keeping everyone on the same page and identifying assumptions or beliefs that may no longer hold.

But Wegner is correct to be suspicious of plans.  And taken for the hyperbole that it may be, his post stimulates good thought.  But should you obsess about the plan?  Do you do nothing except plan until the plan is perfect?  Do you stick to the plan dogmatically?  No, of course not.  A plan is always a work in progress; a way of communicating to the organization about resources, relationships between those resources, and goals.  I respectfully suggest that perhaps the biggest danger of plans lies in organizations that fail to follow two key principles:

  • It’s okay to be wrong; not okay to stay wrong
  • Be present to what is, not what should be or what could be, but what actually is

See my next post on these two.  In the nutshell, as long as you have the courage to admit when you’re wrong, or that something in the plan is wrong, and fix it, you’ll be fine.  As long as you remain conscious to events and context around you, like the market that’s no longer there, then you’re much better poised for success than if you didn’t plan in the first place.  So plan away!

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