Preventing IT Program Failure, Part 3: Planning Is The Enemy

This is the third in a six-part series on how to prevent failure and accelerate outcomes.

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” A proverb, also attributed to George S. Patton. 

The projects most likely to fail are the ones that are the most expensive. $1M or more projects fail at higher rates than projects that are low six figures. Does that mean that companies should spend less on technology? No. It means they need to construct smaller projects that deliver iterative value.

So, referring part to part 2 of this series, True Prioritization, we know that a limited number of projects is better. We also know that projects with more modest levels of investment have higher success rates. It follows that there is less need for planning.

True leaders should feel incented to spend as little time planning as possible. A typical IT organization spends about 50-70% on compensation for employees, contractors, consultants. So at least 50 cents of every dollar is associated with people’s time. Most of that time should be spent working on designing, building and delivering technology – not on designing, building and producing plans.

A lot of unnecessary times is spent producing and discussing information we already know and have. Executives and leaders know how much money there is to spend. Typically it is the same as last year, plus inflation. Everybody knows how many days and hours there are in a week, a month, a year.  Everybody knows how many people there are and the skills and capability of that talent. If there is interest in increasing investment, CEOs and Boards have a number in mind.

Once you have your true priorities, everyone should be assigned to one of the top projects. The only planning that should be done is:

  1. What those project teams need to get stuff done (people, HW/SW, space, etc.)
  2. How the project teams are going to work together, and with what tools.
  3. People other than the project teams should be doing more “true prioritization” enough in advance of programs or major phases of programs being done so that the next item in the list is always ready to go.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Yes, this can be complex, especially at large enterprise scale with more projects and more resources to coordinate. Two key messages:

  1. “Just enough” should be spent on planning, not a minute more. Once you have enough planning to know the priorities and the resources needed, go!
  2. Leaders should be wary of projects who are re-planning, re-baselining, adjusting scope. This is typically not about bad planning, but a lagging indicator of lack of prioritization and leadership attention.

The plan is useless. Planning is a necessary evil. Delivering is the goal.

Worth considering: 

One-third of Americans now have a negative view of technology companies, according to the Pew Research Center.

Is this negative view leading newly-minted college grads to shy away from leading technology companies? This NY Times article looks at “Techlash” on college campuses.

“Unremarkables,” the latest “No Mercy, No Malice” blog post by Scott Galloway (@profgalloway) presents facts on income inequality, including pointing out the minimum wage has remained stagnant while NASDAQ has pretty much tripled in the past 10 years.

In 2010, we thought that by 2020 we’d have robots doing our laundry and getting flights to Pluto.

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