Project Management Planning

    Keith Willeford, PMI Houston Content Writer

    I have recently been tasked with developing a global software implementation plan for a very large corporation.  I will not write this plan alone, but the job is nonetheless daunting.  In a fit of desperation, I have found myself flipping through old military publications looking for help.  Most of my attention has been directed to Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 5 (MCDP 5), appropriately titled “Planning.”  

    What follows are some of the more interesting passages from this brief document.  Consider it a book report, if you will.  I will interject my own thoughts where I can, considering the ways military planning can be applied to project management.  First, let’s start with the military definition of planning:

    Planning is the art and science of envisioning a desired future and laying out effective ways of bringing it about… Planning involves projecting our thoughts forward in time and space to influence events before they occur rather than merely responding to events as they occur.  (MCDP 5, 3-4)

    So far so good.  We plan as project managers in order to shape events on our projects.  In the case of my current project, we are attempting to guide the software implementation efforts of several far-flung and vastly different business units.  However, there is no way I can anticipate every circumstance these businesses will encounter.  And, you may recall from a previous article the Helmuth von Moltke quote, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”  So what am I even doing?

    In that previous article, I brought up the von Moltke quote to make the case for “project manager’s intent.”  But what I now find interesting is the way the functions of planning are described by the Marine Corps.  According to MCDP 5, the key functions of planning are:

    •         Plans direct and coordinate action
    •         Planning develops a shared situational awareness
    •         Planning generates expectations
    •         Planning supports the exercise of initiative
    •         Planning shapes the thinking of planners (15-17)

    What’s interesting to me is the lack of emphasis on absolute control.  Obviously, military planners do expect to exercise control over their forces.  However, there is an explicit admission that the planning process is iterative, and the plans themselves subject to change.  Consider this passage: “…we can also think of planning as anticipatory decisionmaking – tentative decisions made before the need to act… a plan is a system of interrelated decisions subject to revision, and decisions are plans put into effect.”  (14).

    Okay, I’m starting to feel a little bit better about this whole thing.  We don’t have to have all the answers, nor control every organizational action.  We do, however, need to provide the framework for achieving our desired goals.  What will that look like?  Consider the following guidance:

    Each plan should have a desired outcome, which includes the intent (purpose) for achieving that outcome. (48)

    Every plan includes the actions intended to achieve the desired outcome. (49)

    A plan should include some control process by which we can supervise execution. (49)

    When it comes to simplicity and complexity, the needs of executors and planners may sometimes be in conflict.  Given time to plan, planners may naturally tend to develop increasingly complex plans with numerous decision points, branches, or phases… However, the needs of execution are usually better served by simplicity. (53)

    The object of planning… is to provide the maximum degree of freedom for future action. (79)

    As valuable as plans may be, the process of planning matters more because of the learning and shared understanding that result… Consequently, “planning cannot be done to or for an organization; it must be done by it. (84)

    Effective planners do not so much plan for others as they facilitate others’ planning for themselves by providing the necessary guidance, context, and resources. (84)

    Participatory planning requires open sharing of information throughout the organization.  It cannot be done in isolation. (84)

    Directives should convey the minimum amount of instruction necessary for effective execution. (89)

    If I could have re-typed all 92 pages of the book, I might have done just that.  But by now, everyone probably has sufficient food for thought.  Over the next month, I will attempt to incorporate this guidance into my own implementation plan. 

    The good news: I’m off the hook for trying to anticipate all variables and write a complex plan to address each one.  The bad news: in some ways the job is more difficult – we need to distill the plan down to the minimum instruction necessary, and still ensure project success.  Does anyone have best practices for eliminating flowery and redundant corporate speech?

    Hyperbole (The Best Thing Ever!)

    Tom Goebel, PMI Houston Director of Communications

    (WARNING: This article might cause life-changing enlightenment!)

    In John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, the title character is a small kid with a damaged voice who has to yell to be noticed. The author uses a neat trick to emphasis Owen’s yelling. He uses all caps in the dialogue to great effect. Considering the prevalence of hyperbole in modern journalism and political discourse, this might be a trick that modern media can use. After all, everyone is shouting anyway.

    I first became aware of the hyperbole epidemic in 2016. I’d just returned from an assignment outside of the country. It was early, and I was so tired when I got off the plane that I could have slept for a year. The political campaigns in the U.S. were ramping up, and each candidate was trying to outdo the other. It was at that point that I realized that elections really are often nothing more than entertainment. They exist to help us sharpen our knowledge about rhetorical skills. Think about it: during an election season we are able to learn terms like “straw man”, “bandwagon”, “corrective measure” and yes, “hyperbole”, and to use them in arguments at our local watering hole to full effect.  I tried to pay attention, but it was impossible because I had a million things to do.

    So, where and when did this avalanche of hyperbole originate? Actually, it’s been with us all along. Cicero, probably the best orator in the history of ancient Rome (if not the universe!), employed hyperbole in denouncing his enemies.  He used “Charybdis” – a mythical sea monster who eats ships whole – as a simile for the rapacious Marc Antony. Can you imagine having this charge leveled at you? What an honor!

    Campaigns in our country have been as dirty as any in history.  In 1827, John Quincy Adams’ supporters said that rival Andrew Jackson’s mother had been brought to the states as a “camp-follower” by the British Army. Jackson supporters responded in kind, calling Adams a gambler and accusing him of supplying American women to Russian diplomats.

    Such is life, and such is what we’re left to deal with. How do we cope?  Really, there are only three things the intelligent project manager can do when he or she wants to keep hyperbole from literally killing their project:

    1.       Recognize
    2.       Ignore
    3.       Laugh

    The intelligent project manager recognizes hyperbole for what it is: a deliberate attempt to overstate a case in order to sway opinion. The intelligent project manager ignores the hyperbole and its potential distraction.  Finally, the intelligent project manager, when faced with hyperbole, laughs it off, denying any satisfaction to the provocative opponent.

    So, what did I do when I last encountered hyperbole?

    I died laughing.