There is an old Yiddish proverb that says “Man plans and God laughs.” (This saying works better in the original because the words tracht and lacht rhyme.) Conversely, many management books will tell you: when you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Military pundits will quote additional truths “no plan of battle survives the first shot” and “plans are worthless, but planning is priceless.”
So which is it, should we plan or not?
I like to think that we definitely should make plans, but should always be ready to bring up our plan and adjust both the plan and our immediate actions in response to new conditions. The most important part of planning and plans is that they must be written. Otherwise we can never bring them up for objective review.
(At this point an alert reader might be thinking, “Oh My God, this guy is creating yet another essay about why we need to write stuff down.” Yes, it is, but strangely, that was not my intention when I started writing. My plan went astray.)
What writing tools do you use for planning?
Please let me know if you have a super tool for writing and organizing plans. That tool should be easily available, low cost, and generally usable by a wide project team. The tool should also support modern forms of digital cooperation.
I personally like to use spreadsheet software because such a tool is reasonably friendly for making long lists with multiple fields. I find them useful for moving items from a To-Do list to a Task-Done list. Multiple fields let me note various priorities such as importance, urgency (deadlines,) cost, or to whom the task is assigned.
I have a friend who does nearly every note-taking exercise in whatever plain-text application software is currently available to him. (This is most typically Windows Notepad.) Plain text is easy to export in chunks or whole sections to any other format. Directly typing plain-text also avoids the situation where hand-written notes are captured as images and later viewers are not quite sure what the original writer wrote in poor penmanship. He can share his notes via email very quickly to keep everyone on a project informed as to the discussion and status.
Organizing and communicating a plan clearly is one of the key skills I have always required from any job interview candidate. There are many ways to ask questions that reveal if a candidate understands this fundamental. If you are looking to get hired into an organization, figure out some way to convey that you understand the importance of this skill. One way is for you to reverse the roles and ask the interviewer, “How does your company establish project plans? How do you rapidly capture brainstorming and convert that into discrete, assigned, action-items? How frequently do you review your plans to adjust to new constraints?”