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Plans & reality are often different

A case for reality-based planning

Setting the scene:

PLAN: Written account of intended future course of action (scheme) aimed at achieving specific goal(s) or objective(s) within a specific timeframe. It explains in detail what needs to be done, when, how, and by whom, and often includes best case, expected case, and worst-case scenarios.

PLANNING: A basic management function involving formulation of one or more detailed plansto achieve optimum balance of needs or demands with the available resources. The planning process (1) identifies the goals or objectives to be achieved, (2) formulates strategies to achieve them, (3) arranges or creates the means required, and (4) implements, directs, and monitors all steps in their proper sequence.

Plan & Planning definitions from accessed 21 July 2016

REALITY: The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

Reality definition from accessed 21 July 2016

As a starting thought, how many organizations have a commonly understood and consistently applied definition of what makes a robust plan as an output from an equally robust planning process?

Making agreements first

In most organizations, the effort going in to creating the initial Change Plan and its subsequent iterations prior to the creation of an ‘agreed‘ baseline…(Please note the use of inverted commas here. They indicate pretend agreement from the involved parties)…is enormous in both the physical and psychological effort expended. It doesn’t take much understanding to see where the “let’s go with what we’ve got” mindset comes from.

On the other hand, given the almost universal acceptance that “things will change” – why put effort into creating a robust plan when this could be seen as wasted effort?

Perhaps this is a flawed interpretation of Helmut von Moltke’s famous quotation: “no plan stands first contact with the enemy.”

Von Moltke was advocating a robust planning process linked with an ability to react appropriately when the plan and reality came into contact.

How does the Change Plan deliver the expected benefits as stated in the Business Case? 

How does the Change Plan flow through to the operational realities faced by those affected by the change?

Returning to the theme of reality-based planning, how many organizations continue to play the ‘Famous Planning Game’ and expect different results?

A useful quotation attributed to Albert Einstein comes to mind: “a sign of madness is to repeat the same actions expecting different results. This quote should at least provoke a reality-check on how organizations are using their planning process.”

Let’s return to the ‘Famous Planning Game’ and some of the parts:

  • Unrealistic assumptions
  • Padded numbers (expecting cuts or changes from executive management)
  • Unrealistic timescales for work completion
  • Unrealistic benefits delivery
  • Saying the ‘positive’ while believing the ‘downside’ more likely
  • Assuming capability, capacity & competency at the required levels are available in the Change Team and those affected by the change.

So if you’re playing the Planning Game is this increasing or decreasing the chances for the effective implementation of the change(s) and expected benefits?

Top Tips:

  • Determine how robust the plan needs to be…and deliver to this
  • Challenge the commitment of the Executives & Sponsors to the change planning process and how it fits with other plans
  • Build an organization culture that supports reality-based planning
  • Use scenarios to build a desired set of outcomes from the planning process. These are likely to cause Sponsors and the Change Team to think through the impacts of change – where it can have the greatest impact at the least cost: within the ongoing planning process.

Learn more about front-end learning and other crucial elements that constitute a successful Change programme with one of our accredited Change Management training providers. 

Written by Bob Black, Learning Tree International


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