D-Day Lesson: Plans Are Useless. (But….)

Today marks the 68th anniversary of Operation Overlord, a/k/a D-Day.

It might be the most complex single military operation of all time, let alone successful military operation.

The man behind it, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, wasn’t known as a great military strategist, or a great fighter, or even an inspirational leader. He was a manager, a project manager if you will. He coordinated astonishing numbers of people behind a single purpose — military and civilian, American and British (and Canadian, etc.), enlisted ranks and officers, those risking their lives and those supporting them, those with massive egos who thought the world revolved around them (cf. Patton and Montgomery, e.g.) and those who cared little for personal glory.

He made it all work.

And he said about it all, “Plans are useless.”

Of course, that’s not the whole quotation.

“Plans Are Useless, But Planning Is Essential”

“Plans are useless, but planning is essential.” That was how Eisenhower brilliantly summed up the work needed to make Operation Overlord a success.

It’s a key to effective project management. Live and die by your plans, become frustrated when plans don’t play out as you mapped them, and your project will probably fail. Likewise, do no planning but rather wing it, and your project will probably fail.


Do the work. Understand the ground. Know who the players are and what they really want. Get clear on the goals, especially when there are multiple, competing goals, and work to ensure everyone else is clear on those goals.

Plan well, and you’ll be prepared for what happens when things inevitably don’t go according to plan.

Plans are useless.

Planning is essential.

As we remember those who gave their lives 68 years ago, and recall countries united in a purpose that transcended day-to-day concerns, take Ike’s lesson into your projects.

Start planning. (Just don’t get wedded to the plan.)

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