Plans fail, and they tend to fail quite often. In all walks of life, even the simplest plans tend not to unfold as originally designed.
Organizations spend a lot of money and time creating groups solely focused on ensuring that plans do not fail. Senior leaders hire individuals and give them the sole responsibility of managing plans to success. It is quite the lucrative profession to be given such responsibility.
Recently, I asked our church pianist to perform special music at church. Early in the service, a group of children came up to perform special music. As they were singing, I walked over to the pianist to discuss a couple of things but before I could say anything he whispered in my ear “the kids are singing my song!” I couldn’t believe it! What were the odds that the children and pianist would choose to sing the same song on the same day? Pretty small. But it had just happened.
So our best plans fail to go exactly as we thought they would when we drew them up. It is rare that we are 100% certain that things will work out exactly the way we expect them to yet we often behave as if that’s the case. There is always the chance that something unforeseen will swoop in, alter the landscape and impact our plans.
How then do we proceed? Do we stand a chance of getting anything done? Do we have to spend all our effort trying to ensure that our plan unfolds as we originally designed it?
Back to my story… I was beginning to feel very concerned for our church pianist as I didn’t know what he would do given that the children were singing the song he had prepared. At that moment he leaned forward and whispered “don’t worry I prepared two songs, I’ll sing the other one.”, He had prepared two songs! He had options! His options allowed him to adjust when his original plan did not work out as he thought it would have.
When you develop plans, do you identify options for when things go wrong? Do you explicitly consider the fact that even the best plans fail? Some may consider options to be “contigencies”, “alternatives” or “backups”. As I type this post, I’m at Owo-Ahiafor, Nigeria – my hometown. When I planned the trip to Nigeria, I identified options for various pieces of the plan where things could go wrong. Having options is part of developing a risk mitigation technique. It’s common sense but then again common sense is often not that common. Options should be identified based on the likelihood of the plan not working out as originally designed or based and/or on the impact (financial, social, physical) of the plan not working out. In the case of my church pianist, the odds that the two songs he prepared would be sung on the same day, were pretty slim because it was a regular church service. However, if it had been a concert, he may have needed three or four song options to reduce the odds even further.
At the organizational level, I’ve observed that many an organization will spend a lot of time creating plans and yet don’t spend the time to consider the fact that even the best plans fail, ergo, they have no options or scramble to find options when things don’t go according to the plan. As a result of this, certain people in the organization are incentivized to make sure the plan works at all and any cost. Often, they are not the individuals actually executing the plan leading to unnecessary friction within the organization. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen people recognized because they “rescued the plan”. In previous posts, I’ve hinted that outcomes are what we truly care about. The plan is often a means to an end.
Do you have two songs in case someone else sings the song you originally intended to sing. Do you have options for when things don’t work out as planned? As we head into 2015, remember, even the best plans fail.