The Deep Occulted Secret about Planning (That I'm Totally Just Going to Explain for Free Right Now)

The only constant in this world is change. Best laid plans o' mice and men and all that. It's a near certainty that whatever plans you make are going to get shaken all to pieces by the forces of chaos and that your road is going to be a crooked one.
Yeah, this is pretty much right...
It's an open secret among project managers that plans are nearly 100% likely to go awry at some point. In the field, plan is always a verb. It's a thing you do -- an ongoing action you take -- and not a thing that you ever really finish. Many a PM has found themselves updating the final plan after the project is complete -- a record of what, in the end, finally happened.

You'd think this might drive people from the profession, the way that tech writers are discouraged by the fact that people don't actually read manuals. But in fact, it's kind of the key to project management as a career. After all, if all you needed was a single starting plan to make things come right, you wouldn't need a PM past the few couple of weeks of the project.

So why should you bother planning at all (and why do companies keep PMs on staff permanently)?

Flowcharts are impressive. And it's the boxes that matter,
you don't really need to have any actual content.
Because the act of planning help the project be successful even if the plan is, inevitably, wrong. Even when it changes. Even if you end up, as every PM has at one point or another, throwing out the plan entirely and starting again. But forget professional project management for a minute. What about your personal projects? Why does planning make a difference when the plan is inevitably going to be wrong?

Here's why planning matters (from the personal and magical perspective that we're interested in here at CircleThrice):

  • Skin in the game. Taleb knows it. When people have something on the line, they are more focused and more likely to do the right thing. Planning forces you to put something on the line -- at minimum, your time and energy. It's also a statement that you will have skin in the game. It's your statement of the sacrifice you will make to get to your goal. 
  • Intent. Making a plan is stating your will to the universe. You have a goal and it's not just a daydream. It's real. You can tell because you have a plan. Goals without plans are often just fantasies. Magically, this intent is critical. It's the starting point for action. 
  • Visibility. If you know you need to do something, then why don't you always do it? Sometimes it's simply a matter of visibility. If your ancestors are tucked away in a back bedroom or closet, they can be easily forgotten. If they are looking down at you from the dining room wall, you are a lot more likely to acknowledge them. A plan that you review acts the same way.
  • Accountability. When you share your goals with others, you are more likely to follow through. That's because the fear of public embarrassment and failure can be motivating. A plan works similarly. You are saying, "I want to do this thing and I'm hereby stating HOW I will do it." Even if you don't share the plan, the spirits hear it. 
  • Continued effort. Needing to change your plan isn't a failure, it's part of the process. You may need to adjust to meet your goal and you may even need to adjust your goal based on additional information or changing circumstances. A meticulous plan that you put in a drawer isn't done. A plan isn't ever done. Having and revisiting a plan forces you to revisit your thinking, which keeps the pressure on.
  • Manifestation. In my original PMPM planning posts, I mentioned that in magical projects, the act of planning can actually start manifesting results. This is because you apply the powers of the mage (knowledge, daring, and will) as part of the planning process. So you see things happen just from planning to make them happen. 
I think that people give up on planning because, well, things change and why bother to plan? But planning still has value when things change... it has value because things change. 


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