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Fail to Plan = Plan to Fail

Monthly Archives: August 2017

Fail to Plan = Plan to Fail

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Most everyone who has been in management has heard this quote. It is variously attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill, both great leaders whose advice is worth following. Yet it’s far too common for leaders to fail to plan. I’ve done it myself.

Why do leaders fail to plan?

People have many reasons for not planning:

  • “We don’t have the time.”
  • “We know what we need to do and just need to do it.”
  • “All the key stakeholders are not available at the same time to meet.”
  • “We’ve make plans and often don’t implement them, so why waste the time?”

Consider the implications and risks of each of these excuses for not planning.

We don’t have the time

I understand this. Almost everyone is too busy these days with calendars riddled with conflicting appointments. With all that doing, who has time to plan?

The most common approach to improvement in health care is Deming’s PDCA cycle – Plan-Do-Check-Adjust. (A common variant is PDSA – Plan Do Study Act.) When we DO without planning, checking, or adjusting because we don’t have time for anything but doing, it’s highly likely that we’ll be doing the wrong thing, and if we are doing the right thing we are doing it in the wrong way. Either of these options fit into the classic Lean definitions of waste.

Do you have too much to do because you are spending your time on wasteful and redundant tasks that could have been avoided by proper planning in the first place? There’s that “cycle” thing again – What goes around, Comes around.

We know what we need to do and just need to do it

Go back up and read the last paragraph. Many people in leadership positions got there because they get stuff done. It may have been the wrong stuff. If it takes a while to know if what you did made things better or worse, you may be on to the next thing before anyone knows if it helped or hurt. Planning increases the likelihood you are doing the right thing in the right way. And if you’re not, checking and adjusting will catch the error before it does too much damage.

All the key stakeholders are not available at the same time to meet

We want to include as many stakeholders as possible. We make better decisions when we include all viewpoints. Yet it’s far better to get most stakeholders at the table, make a plan, and begin to implement, than to fail to make a plan at all. One risk of planning is “analysis paralysis”, in which we never act because we try to account for every variable before taking action. One of the key roles of the Chair or Chief is to make the call when the time for planning is done and it is time to act. That’s different than failing to plan at all. You need to make the best plan you can, AND then you need to act. Without action you will never succeed.

We’ve make plans and often don’t implement them, so why waste the time?

If your organization makes plans and fails to implement them, you have another problem. It’s not failing to plan. It’s failing to include implementation and follow through in your plan. Every good plan should include specifics about how you will implement the changes you are planning. That implementation plan should include identifying what will be done, who will do it, and when it will get done. Ideally that implementation plan will be posted somewhere all key stakeholders can see it, and can easily tell if things are on track. There should be regular reviews to identify problems with implementation and provide support to get back on track. And it should include a process to track performance indicators to know your plan is achieving its expected outcome.

Do you know where you are going?

These all bring to mind the words of another leader and philosopher, Yogi Berra. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

Leaders who fail to plan put their organization at risk. Well done plans provide clarity regarding the destination, what it will take to get there, and how those activities will be implemented. Such plans:

  • enable all stakeholders to share a common understanding
  • help stakeholders to work together based on that common understanding, and
  • reduce uncertainty and the conflict that can come from uncertainty.

When you don’t plan, you put your people at risk for burnout. You increase the likelihood that your people will experience some or all of the drivers of burnout identified by Maslach and Leiter: work overload, lack of control, insufficient reward, breakdown of community, absence of fairness, or conflicting values.

When you fail to plan, when you put your people at risk for burnout, some might say you are guilty of management malpractice.

Are you committed to improvement? And doing it right?

Do you use the PDCA cycle in your improvement work? If so, do you skip one of the four steps?

If you don’t use it, why not?

If you skip steps, why do you?

These are important questions for all leaders. It’s not easy to take the time to plan and ensure the plan becomes effective action. That’s why they say that leadership is hard.

I willing to wager that you are going to plan and succeed. After all, you’re committed enough to read this whole blog post. You clearly care and want to do the right thing!


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