9th December, 2019

Planning on Failure?

We’ve all heard the expression that failing to plan is planning to fail. Most people agree with the sentiment but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly people abandon this simple and true philosophy when the going gets tough… just when they need to heed it the most.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Every individual that I’ve worked with set out with some sort of plan for their business. They can vary massively in detail from overly complicated to next-to-nothing but there is always some ‘big picture’ that will guide them from an ‘idea’ to their first £million!

So what happens to this plan? Quite simply… life!

The one thing that we can all predict with great certainty is how unpredictable life and business is. So short-term plans need to react to these changes to keep alignment with the Big Picture. Making and reviewing plans keeps you in control. Failure to do this means that external factors dictate your future. So what is the biggest obstacle to planning?


My antennae twitch whenever I hear the expression, “We haven’t got time to plan, we just need to get on with the job!”

Although perhaps counter intuitive, taking a bit of time out to plan activity could never be more important.

Planning identifies priorities, what tasks can run concurrently and what has to run consecutively? It allows for the best use of the resources that are available whether that’s materials, manpower or cash. It all boils down to Time and Money and planning effectively saves on both.

Reviewing performance against a plan also reduces stress. It’s possible to identify if a project is on time or ahead of time and on budget. It also gives early warnings that timeframes or budgets may be at risk and so allows for proactive actions while there is still time to remedy a situation.

Here’s a couple of real-life examples that I have been involved with:

I was working with a high-tech company which produced bespoke equipment for, amongst others, Formula 1 and the aerospace industry. They always produced excellent product, but their customer service was not all it could be and that was because their delivery times were so unreliable. This led to huge frustration not only with their customers but also internally, tempers were frayed, and it was not the most pleasant of working environments.

There was a belief that, due to the bespoke and pioneering nature of their product it was impossible to tell how long any new product would take from concept to delivery.

However, it was possible to break down the finished product to a number of component parts, many of which were predictable. There was always some known unknowns but this was a relatively small part of the overall process which were used as an excuse to not bother with planning any of the other tasks or the overall project in any detail. There was no attempt to put a best estimate in for these elements and therefore there was no attempt to co-ordinate all of the other activities to dovetail the project. No-one had a firm idea on a likely delivery date so when asked by customers a date would be plucked out of the air, not based on a clear production plan but based more around telling the customer what they wanted to hear… and then continually letting them down.

One project, worth £250k was on its third and, as far as the client was concerned final, revised deadline and when I asked the production manager whether he was on target to hit the new deadline he replied that he didn’t know. When I asked him how he was progressing against his own plan, was he ahead or behind? He couldn’t tell me because there was no plan.

I asked him what his three colleagues were doing because they were sitting around, as they had been for several days, waiting for instructions from him as to what they should be doing. He was going to tell them what they needed to do once his part of the build was complete and he had no idea when that would be. They were heading for another disaster and were not even aware of it.

After some protestation we took time out to develop a plan using best estimates, it allowed each member of the team to work concurrently on their elements, massively improving efficiency. There were also quick reviews twice a day to make sure everyone was on track against their estimated targets.

The project was delivered efficiently from this point, slightly ahead of the revised deadline, with greater teamwork and a hugely improved morale.

The second example – An unofficial world record

I worked for many years in the biscuit sector. In the grocery trade the typical time to launch a new product from concept to on-shelf in stores was just under two years. One Monday morning myself and a colleague were given a challenge by The Board to develop and launch a new range of biscuits and have it in-store in three months.

It seemed a pretty impossible task but one which we successfully completed in just 16 days and two hours!

The product range has enjoyed over 25 years of sales since then and I would estimate clocking up sales in that time in the region of £15million. Getting the range launched so quickly would have generated additional sales in excess of £1million.

So, what was the key to this success? Quite simply we ‘wasted’ the first day planning meticulously.

If you’d like to know how you could improve efficiencies, reduce stress or simply raise the performance of your business to world class standards then give me a call or drop me a line at Gary@flourishcoaching.co.uk, I’m always free for a coffee with people who are serious about making step-changes in their business.

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