Is planning a tool only for control, or is it a good tool for managing execution?

Some views on planning:

Comments I’ve heard from people in different roles, from project managers to management positions, go something like this:

  • We do not do long-term planning in our company; it does not work because we are constantly changing
  • Plans are very difficult to prepare; they are not put into practice, it is very difficult to maintain them and we do not see the value that they bring us
  • I already know how to do it… we do not have to complicate our lives with heavy plans that are never carried out
  • We work very dynamically, we do not need a detailed plan, …everything changes very fast
  • What we put in the budget and what is finally done does is not comparable in terms of its contents.

And other phrases heard from people who have to co-exist with complex planning systems are:

  • It is heavy, tedious to register dedication to the different projects. In the end, I do this more or less as I could remember
  • I do not know what it’s for. In the end, we spend our lives re-planning. Deadlines are never met
  • If I want to do my job, I do not want to spend a lot of time reporting what I’ve done … the time I spend doing that, I would prefer to use on actual “doing”
  • What is the point of reporting; in the end, …someone ends up making adjustments when the numbers are not like the expected ones …

From all this, in a very simplistic way, we would deduce: PLANS DO NOT WORK OUT

Las planificaciones no sirven

If we look at the photograph of the Post, we can also ask: Ice cubes, do they serve? Do they refresh? Well, just like with the planning… it depends on the use that we make of it.

Let’s look at how we, ourselves, act

Let’s suppose a person who has a job with a 40-hour work week. The distribution of personal time could be expressed as something like: 365 days a year, we sleep 30%, 20-30% we work, and the other 40-50% is our time for eating, home and family care, friends, various activities, leisure, educational, weekends, vacations.

From this 40-50% of personal time, don’t we plan it? Even if we say “I’m going to this X place and I’ll see what I will do once I’m there”, we’re already planning. In a very natural way we decide where we go (objective), how many days (time), what money we have (budget), whether alone or accompanied (people), and our immediate environment usually knows what we are going to do. If we want to do it several times throughout the year, we also usually think more or less when we are going to do it.

Moving now to the company’s environment, whatever we do, we do something. It is highly recommended to plan some minimums: goals, times, budget, people and inform of what we are intending to do, which projects.

In order to ensure that the organization / group / area move in a certain way that sums up in terms of what is obtained, it is important to know what we do, what for and who is in charge. In a simple manner, but allowing us to know it.

What is also true is that depending on how we do it, instead of enabling a management in an environment of multiple people, roles, countries, projects, we could end up taking an unrealistic course of action.  One of such a dimension that generates bureaucracy, non-credible data and, in the end, of little or no relevance to the decision-making process at any level of the organization.

The key question to ask is “What for” concerning what we want to do. And with that we can find the level and model of effective planning that we need.

Why do I need a plan?

Since I was little I’ve always been told: if you want to get something, prepare a plan. And based on my experience, I strongly believe in that. But I also think a plan is created to be changed and adapted. The ultimate goal remains. The road changes.

And the key is how we walk that road.

As we getting to know how to manage the road, we will know how to reach the goal. What usually happens is that this road sometimes is not at all easy, with many obstacles, and with many uncertainties.

Our abilities as individuals, as leaders of ourselves, our ability to adapt, our resilience, knowing how to assess uncertainties and risks, all are elements that help us enormously.

And to know what organization we work for, and in what moment of the market, the environment we are in, too.

Walking that road in the company means to manage the portfolio of projects and initiatives, with the dynamism that the environment requires. And explain how we manage it. And integrate the participation of people in such management.

What level of detail of the plan?

When determining the level of planning, I always take into account the vision of the project portfolio versus strategy, and two variables: diversity and pragmatism


There are many types of companies, and to understand which one we are in is one of the key factors: the size of the organization, the countries in which they have business and/or offices, their culture and leadership style, their focus on excellence, on user experience, on innovative products. If they have a very hierarchical or flat structure, a strong matrix or not, the volume of the projects, kind of resources, private equity or not, NGOs….

What environment is it in, according to the sector, the country, the moment of business, …

With a certain level of use of technologies, a particular volume of new ideas, specific training of people, …


The definition of pragmatism in the dictionary is: Preference for everything practical or useful.

That is what I recommend to organizations, to look for everything practical and useful, which adds value with the reasonable effort, and of which we can understand what it is worth.

Understanding the particular diversity a certain company is subject to, combined with the application of pragmatism, allows us, in my opinion, to select the planning model needed in each company, area, or work group.

Very general planning                                                                                       Very detailed planning


Little effort                                                                                                             Strong effort
Little precision                                                                                                     Very detailed precision
A lot of autonomy                                                                                                Very limited autonomy

To choose at which point of the line we should be placed, we must visualize what contribution of value is the one that we need.

What elements influence this decision?

  • Self-organization and self-management versus traditional organization
  • Organizational strategy – area – group
  • Shared resources or dedicated resources
  • Size of project portfolio and its diversity
  • Need for portfolio funding
  • Confidence in the performance of the activity
  • Results measurement cycles
  • Criteria for risk, productivity, sustainability of the organization

I have highlighted some of the most relevant elements, and they have nothing to do with what is now called 2.0 management. The elements that influence have a lot to do with the portfolio and how it is organized. Then, there is the management of the particular project, which is where we apply the so-called project management concepts 2.0, 3.0 or the methodologies that are appearing to make the execution of the project faster and more effective.

The strategy outlines some objectives that we want to achieve, and some projects to be executed that support that strategy. How projects are selected, how they “compete” with or “help” each other, understanding potential dependencies and how the portfolio is managed on a recurring basis is what makes the difference.

And so, in my opinion, the planning of the portfolio, no matter how simple it is, that is the key.

Returning to the simile with the ice cubes, and their use that seems obvious and correct, I ask you:

And you, how do you plan? Have you answered your “what for”?

I encourage you to think about it and I invite you to simplify: you and your environment will be extremely grateful.

If you want to know more or talk about it, do not hesitate to ask me!