Project Planning sometimes a Costly Diversion

The biggest drain on momentum and brainpower in change efforts today is the obsession with the project plan.  I have seen more projects flounder and die because leaders and consultants are hammering out finely detailed project plans rather than engaging people.

Here are two reasons people spend project planning instead of engaging stakeholders:

  1. It is challenging to engage people, requiring good interpersonal skills and a willingness to repeatedly open up messy conversations. Many technical experts prefer to avoid this and instead to work solo, or with a small group of like-minded colleagues, on dependencies, resources, and timelines.
  2. People often confuse building a mental model with the real thing. They think, ‘The more we work on our plan, the more we are getting done.’ Until the rubber hits the road, you have accomplished nothing.

It’s true a project plan is useful and necessary in most situations. It’s a question of appropriate emphasis. When I am after change, I want to make things happen, get results, reap rewards. This happens through people, interactions, networks of conversations, and people working together.

Project planning is a support process. Engagement is the main event. It’s where people shift attitudes and behavior. You do not want the project planning to occur at the expense of engagement, replace conversation, delay interactions, or exclude participation.

But, the obsession with project planning is a difficult habit to break. It’s so much easier than to go out and start another conversation with someone important, someone you respect, who has never heard about what you are doing and will ask a lot of fundamental questions. Yet, that is exactly what’s needed. You need to become expert at getting people involved in co-creating the future, jumpstarting bold conversations that draw people in, and triggering professional excitement.

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