“No Battle Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy”

First up in Planning Week is German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke.

“No battle plan,” he sagely noted, “survives contact with the enemy.”

When your plan meets the real world, the real world wins. Nothing goes as planned. Errors pile up. Mistaken suppositions come back to bite you. The most brilliant plan loses touch with reality.

Or as Burns puts it, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” — but he was only partly right. They don’t often (“aft,” or “oft”) go askew… they invariably do.

This all leads us to Planning Error #1.

Planning Error #1: Relying on Plans Leads to Failure.

Note that I did not say “plans lead to failure.” However, the reliance on plans — especially on the congruence between plan and reality — after a project begins is usually an exercise in self-delusion.

When plans meet the real world, it’s not the real world that will yield to your plan; you much adapt whatever you’re doing to the circumstances truly at hand.

I used to race sailboats. There is a racers’ expression, “Get you head out of the boat.” In other words, while it’s good to gather data from your instruments (wind speed, boat speed, compass direction, etc.), all of that matters only in relation to whatever else is happening on the race course — other boats, areas of lighter or heavier wind, and so on.

Being caught up in your plans is like being caught up in your instruments. They provide local information, but they do so without context.

So… if plans fail, is the time spent making those plans wasted? That question brings us to the commentator coming up next in Planning Week, Dwight Eisenhower.

Comments are closed.