Field Day and Field Day Planning

Something to consider as we all gear up for Field Day tomorrow. Some clubs (like mine) have done extensive planning. Well, plans are good but don’t forget these snippets of wisdom as you deploy to the field.

“No Battle Plan Survives Contact With the Enemy”

To quote German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke,  “No battle plan,” he sagely noted, “survives contact with the enemy.”

When your plan meets the real world, the real world wins. Nothing goes as planned. Errors pile up. Mistaken suppositions come back to bite you. The most brilliant plan loses touch with reality.

Or as Robert Burns put it, “The best-laid plans of mice and men go of awry” — but he was only partly right. They don’t often go awry… they invariably do. This all leads us to Planning Error #1.

Planning Error #1: Relying on Plans Leads to Failure.

Note that I did not say “plans lead to failure.” However, the reliance on plans — especially on the congruence between plan and reality — after a project begins is usually an exercise in self-delusion.

When plans meet the real world, it’s not the real world that will yield to your plan; you much adapt whatever you’re doing to the circumstances truly at hand.

Consider the hobby of racing sailboats. There is a racers’ expression, “Get you head out of the boat.” In other words, while it’s good to gather data from your instruments (wind speed, boat speed, compass direction, etc.), all of that matters only in relation to whatever else is happening on the race course — other boats, areas of lighter or heavier wind, and so on.

Being caught up in your plans is like being caught up in your instruments. They provide local information, but they do so without context.

So… if plans fail, is the time spent making those plans wasted?

“Plans Are Useless, But Planning Is Indispensable” – General Dwight David Eisenhower

One of the greatest planners in history was the guy who laid out — and got right — the incredibly complex Operation Overlord, better known as the D-Day landings during World War II. Consider Planning Error #2 in light of Planning Error #1:

Planning Error #2: Lack of planning leads to failure.

Most project managers will state loudly their agreement with this thesis… yet in the press of action, it’s amazing how many jump right to execution, either skipping planning entirely or paying it mere lip service. In fact, project managers have a phrase that encapsulates this problem. “Ready, fire, aim” is PM-speak for the failure to plan.

Sometimes, you must act before you plan. In an emergency, often you must respond immediately, in a project as well as in life. If you’ve planned for that emergency, of course, your response is likely to be easier to muster, but not even the best planning covers every contingency. However, not everything in a project is an emergency… and with a good project manager, even true emergencies won’t feel out of control to the rest of the team.

Even in emergencies, try to limit “unplanned” action to whatever is needed to stabilize the situation. Don’t let the need to act quickly on one step spread to acting-without-planning on all steps.

True emergencies are not the norm, however, although unprepared project managers can make everything seem like an emergency. As Eisenhower says, you need to get serious about planning… though remember von Moltke’s dictum about not getting locked into plans.

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