When Perfect Planning is not always the Perfect Solution

My natural instinct is always to strive for perfection in everything I do. Whilst this can be admirable quality that ensures that the quality of my work is of the highest standard, it does not always help me when it comes to planning. This need for perfection means that my automatic tendency when planning a new project is to think in idealised standards. I fully expect the outcome and timeline to be exactly as I planned. Often, realty is further away from this than I find comfortable.

A good example of this was for a company product price increase. I was leading a team to change pricing master data for all the customers on our Finance system. The Go Live date was looming and as it got closer it became clear that my perfect project plan was not running so perfectly. Time scales were being cut short and the deadline was not going to flex. In the end it was only through heroic efforts and 16 hour days that my team was able to deliver on time.

If I had produced a project plan that acknowledged that things don’t go perfectly every time I would have built in contingencies and alternative plans to help if we were getting into trouble. Accountants are trained to work to utmost accuracy and work with systems that have controls and stability. It can cause real stress when projects don’t work in the expected way.

Being able to adjust to the environment and recognise new situations was a key quality looked for in Dell Computers, one of the companies I used to work for. They called this management quality Strategic Agility. It was the recognition that whilst you should always plan for excellence, you should also be adaptable to the changing environment. In the fast moving industry of computer manufacture and sales, the technology, routes to market, pricing strategies and customer base were always shifting. That ability to change commercial plans quickly and decisively in a different direction without losing momentum was vital. I liken it to running an Olympic 100m sprint final and then half way through having to change direction and start hurdling too.

So I’d like to ask you, when you reflect on how you prefer to plan, have you an instinct for perfection too? When does it help and when does it get in your way?

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