Putting in more effort during the initial planning stages pays off in the long run

Confucius warned us that “a man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” 

In a previous post, we highlighted a number of challenges which are likely to arise during the course of a program.  

There are two aspects to addressing these in the context of a program, one related to planning, the other to adapting the plan to reflect the realities of the situation on the ground.

Practical experience and substantial research demonstrates that the early stages of definition of a program and its component projects have a disproportionately beneficial effect on eventual outcomes – costs, benefits, and operational effectiveness.

 The high gearing between the definition phase and its influence on final costs underscores the importance robust planning.  This is illustrated in the diagram below. 

The definition phase, which might cost only 5% of the final cost, fundamentally influences some 70% of the total.  This is the central argument for thorough planning, examination of options and risks – and objective review – before embarking on the more expensive phases of the initiative.  This is not something to skimp.

We have already discussed how a variety of challenges are guaranteed to arise.  Delayed action on addressing problems is rarely a good idea.  The impact of procrastination in solving problems is for their impact to increase and for the cost of rework to become very high. 

The “hassle graph”, below, illustrates the fundamental management choice.  In any undertaking there is a minimum amount of “hassle” (which may be measured by problems, ie risks and issues, and the management attention required to address them); there is potentially no maximum.  The only choice for management is when to take the pain – and the prudent, cost-effective response is to seek the issues out and address them early.  The challenges are out there and the earlier they are addressed, the lower their potential impact. 

An experienced program team does the “hard work” early:

  • Understanding the full scope
  • Getting issues on the table
  • Ensuring full clarity.

They are then relentless in anticipating and resolving threats to program success. 

By injecting real experience and insight into potential pitfalls, the experienced team sets the program up for success. 

Alexander Lowry

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