Enterprises Don’t Care About Planning

Posted by | April 10, 2019 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Acme Enterprise is the world leader in designing robots for manufacturing plants. They are viewed in the world as the gold standard and the ones that “have their shit together” when you work with them. They release a new robot every year or two that is generally an upgraded version of the previous one with some new bells and whistles. The teams building these robots, from concept to prototype to production, have good velocity and care deeply about their work.

Sounds like a company that is performing well, right? Here’s the other part of the story.

Acme Enterprise is under constant fire from the public market for missing their earnings per share and having a lack of control over their operation costs. They are getting disrupted by cheaper and pointed robotic solutions that move the needle farther for their customers. There’s intense market pressure to move to that direction but Acme Enterprises constantly is late in delivery their robots. That’s not to mention the fact that releasing a new robot every year or two is creating a huge disadvantage for their sales team to compete against. Sales are slowing and everyone is frustrated. No matter how hard they plan and try to execute against these plans, they always fail and have to re-baseline their delivery dates.

I can tell you this now: every damn enterprise I go and talk to that once was but isn’t now is facing the above problem. In general, everything feels like it’s going well but the reality is that they are struggling significantly. This is the “digital disruption” everyone talks about. In my opinion, digital disruption is not about whether or not you have the latest marketing personalization tech from Adobe. It’s about whether you adopt software-minded principles of development and agility to compete in an age where technology drives change at a 10x rate than we historically have seen.

One of the key points, and the general point of this post, is the sentence around Acme Enterprise doing everything they can to plan for confidence only to have the plan blow up. This follows the old adage of “no plan survives contact with the enemy”, in which the enemy is the reality we live in. When we plan, we do it often in isolation, our subjective bias, or we try to account for mishaps only to find out that we experienced none of the mishaps we planned for but all of the ones we didn’t.

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing happen in enterprises is that everyone is moving more towards an agile work methodology backed with some sort of goal structure, such as OKRs. When I say agile, I mean this in more of a little “a” where it’s not a dogmatic state. I’ve seen this in marketing departments, engineering, corporate communications, IT, and even legal! Everyone is starting to adopt a more flexible framework for the sole fact that it provides more freedom. This goes into a longer topic that I’ve written about previously around experience owners and enabling autonomy of oneself and teams to of ownership. Agile work methodologies provide just that.

The tricky thing here is that we do need some sort of structure for specific communication and delivery purposes. It’s foolish to say that we can all live in the wild west where we can do whatever we want and when (although it would be amazing!). Thus, we get to planning. We plan like crazy in order to create predictability but see a stark failure of it when we hit reality – only to be further amplified with a new agile way of working.

Historically, this is where Portfolio and Project Management uses to come heavily in play. These disciplines helped “tame the chaos” and kept teams moving along the right track with issues tracking and risk adjustments.

News Flash: Project Management is Dead.

Yep. It’s dead. Gone. Moving forward, it will no longer be something we value and here’s why:

In the new agile and modern way of working, planning only needs to be good enough.

This means that we need our plans to be flexible and completely shift our focus away from delivering a project to delivering on deliverables that change outcomes that our customers experience. That’s the key shift here. Outcomes aren’t time bound and imply an ongoing experience optimization that we continue to invest in. This is the fundamental change in where rigorous planning is going away.

This isn’t to say that planning isn’t valuable. In fact, quite the opposite. I believe that planning will shift towards a more flexible framework where we think through different scenarios and think more in probabilities than absolutes to gain confidence instead of accuracy around what we’re doing. From there, we move forward with the notion that we are, let’s say, 70% confident in the deliverables and dates with the remaining 30% getting structured, informed, and backwards propagated to our plan to achieve a “100%” plan.

I hate even saying 100% as well because, in an outcome and experience-driven world, 100% is a goal post that always shifts. I often times believe that we should instead find more effective ways of measuring a diminishing return factor, which is to say that we may continue to deliver new outcomes and experiences up until our ROI score is <1.25x or something. This way, tradeoff conversations around resourcing, focus, and alignment are forced to happen in a more objective and quantifiable way.

If we come back to the reality of what I’m seeing in the market, we have just crossed the chasm of Fortune 5000 adopting this sort of mindset. This will be a huge fundamental shift for these corporations as they’re forced to compete with more nimble startups and business as well as a generational workforce that has an extremely high propensity to change direction or rip out software on the turn of a dime. I believe that as we move more into an agile world, the above becomes the truth for everyone.

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