Lessons in planning from an ex-President

Abraham Lincoln famously said, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax”.

What did President Lincoln mean? I think he was talking about planning and preparation. If you don’t plan effectively, you may find yourself wasting time once you start implementation.

You probably see it regularly, projects that veer off-course because nobody thought about that one minor ‘thing’ that resulted in chaos.

You can’t plan for everything, a series of unfortunate events could culminate in a change that sends ripples your way. However, you can bring your team together and take collective responsibility for ensuring you have planned enough.

It is quite ironic, if you spend too much time planning, you may never get anything done. In contrast, not spending enough might result in the same conclusion! Finding the balance is crucial to creating an environment where your project can succeed.

One exercise that can help ensure your plan is robust, is a simple role-play. With the whole team present, start by assigning a different project stakeholder group to each team member. That member should now represent the views of that group and put themselves in the mindset of their stakeholders. The project manager should then brief the team on the project from start to finish, as though it is for the first time.

This role-play will help the team identify important risks and variables that could affect the project, but also get your team thinking about the stakeholders and how they view the project from their standpoint. You can then spend time putting in place measures to mitigate each risk and monitor progress.

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