What companies can learn from “Back to the future” (Part III)

What companies can learn from “Back to the future” (Part III)

Making plans for the future is a waste of time!

But we can’t do without proper planning.

Close your eyes and think of the last major project that you have been involved in your organization and ask yourself:

  1. What percentage of the plans and functionalities you had determined at the beginning of that project were actually delivered?
  2. From the functionalities that have been delivered, what part of it has been realized within time and within budget?

OK, open your eyes again. Don’t stop reading because you are getting depressed. No, don’t do that! Because it is just ‘good’ that you can clearly get these kinds of projects to mind. That means that you also know what does not work in large projects and that is super valuable.

A major part of projects fails.

Many large projects fail because they are often too opportunistic. Too often projects have a much longer lead time than previously thought. We thus mirror ourselves as a false reality. Even before an approval can be given to the project in the boardroom, the basic principles on which the project plan is based are already outdated.

But okay…. the business case has now been approved, the budget has been released and we have made promises about deadlines and deliverables. So get started! Go team Go!

Projects such as these often result in a disappointment in the near future.

In most cases, the problem is not the dedication or intelligence of those who set up and implement these projects. They have thoroughly followed all the steps of the Prince2 manual. The delivery: a thick and detailed plan.

Times are changing … But our way of working does not follow step

It is therefore not due to the lack of solid preparation that these projects fail. It is the environment of companies today and the length of time that these plans relate to that no longer fit with this type of work.

The environment of a company is so volatile nowadays that it is almost impossible to accurately predict what is going to happen. In addition, the length of time that such project plans are set up to is often months if not a year.

Pay attention; I have nothing against Prince 2. I do have something against the way it is used though. To often projects are seen as a goal instead of a means. In short-term projects or in environments that hardly change, the use of Prince 2 is, in my opinion, not a problem. Even a good method to use. But it is almost 2019 …. Where do we still find an environment that hardly changes?

People are lousy predictors

It is a pity, but true …. We ‘people’ are not so good at predicting, that is basically nothing new. This is also reflected in the film Back to the Future II. In that 1989 film, the writers made a bold attempt to predict what the world would look like in 2015. In vain, the predictive gifts of this man-made film leaves much to be desired.

Nevertheless, it remains a classic and one of my favorite films. That’s why first things first. Which predictions have come true? In a number of cases, the writers were in the right direction.

For instance, we are indeed looking at a flat screen with moving images. They were also on the right track with regard to the possibilities of speech-driven interfaces such as Siri. We almost all have a personal assistant in our pocket. And this actually gives practical answers to everything. Sometimes the answers are a bit obvious, sometimes a little rebellious, but they are mostly funny and often incorrect (but let’s take that for granted) …

Unfortunately, I am still stuck in traffic jams every day (or I am standing in a subway, tram or train crammed up like a sardine). In any case, I am not on the promised hoverboard with which we could slide over the sidewalk. We also (unfortunately) still have no clothing that automatically forms itself around your body. And I also bow my shoes every day myself. In addition, according to the writers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, we still used telephone booths and faxes in 2015, although they were already overtaken by mobile phones, e-mail and scanners by then.

A ‘Big Plan up-front’ no longer works, but what does?

So, we are bad predictors and making plans for a longer term is no longer usable in 2018, but we want to keep our organizations manageable. How are we going to find a solution to this?

While stating that plans are a waste of time, I am not saying that we no longer need planning at all. In fact, we have to start planning much more often and in a more targeted way. If we want to set up a successful project, we have to be value driven.

No big thick project document full of details and expected delivery terms, but planning from a prepared vision, planning from clear final objectives.

How do we as a team contribute with our mandate to get closer to those objectives? Make the vision leading. Let’s make a guidance point of that vision. A clear goal that is on the horizon. A goal towards, each team in its own way, is working to get to. The ultimate goal, of course, is to get as close as possible to that point, to reach the finish. How the team reaches that destination is to themselves.

Be flexible

There is only one constant in life and that is change. Change requires agility. But how can you embrace that change as a team? By being flexible.

Just like we as ‘change agents’ trying to achieve on a daily basis with our customers. Working together to deliver value. Every 2,3 or 4 weeks with a multidisciplinary team producing a working product that contributes to the bright spot on the horizon. Every timeframe again we plan what we are going to achieve and predict what that delivery will look like. We inspect every day and see if we are still on schedule or that we have to adjust.

In this way, we remain flexible and agile in order to be able to adapt the products we deliver to changes in the environment. Because even though we as people are lousy predictors, it is still a lot easier to look into the future four weeks than four months.

Perhaps long-term plans have just become a bit inhuman. Of course, we can dream and fantasize, but let’s not hang on to hard promises up front and deadlines. Always plan a moment to “stop, look around and align” with your team before you start a new project. Stand still for a moment in the now and take the time to take in what is happening right under your nose. Brainstorming, throwing ideas, crazy dreaming, please do so! But dare to look together at how each project could end, what the really important parts are and what could go wrong.

Those ‘flying cars’ from Back to the Future will one day be there. But maybe not yet very soon. Maybe in a sprint planning in about a year or 5 ???


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