More Thoughts on Planning and Plans

Mike Tyson is quoted as saying, “Everyone has a plan, ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”

How well do your plans stand up to the punch in the mouth?

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke put it this way, in a more familiar quote, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

In our case, the enemy is the disaster or business interruption event we are planning for.

And, Arthur C. Clarke, had this observation, “All human plans [are] subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one preferred to call the powers behind the Universe.”

The point is; whatever you had in mind when developing your business continuity, emergency response or disaster recovery plans, the event you will have to respond to will be nothing like what you envisioned.  Now, I know many of you are thinking, “That is why we do not plan for particular scenarios, we plan for the impacts of scenarios!”  But, I still say, you cannot plan without certain assumptions and certain biases about how the response will take place or how the crisis will unfold – and, I suggest, it won’t happen that way.

This is why I always like to look for evidence in a plan that you have provided the framework for decision makers to get together, make changes to the plan as needed, and, have the means to communicate these decisions to those who need to know this information.

I happen to believe in what Lester Robert Bittel had to say about planning, “Good plans shape good decisions.”  But, it is important to understand that not all decisions are made ahead of the event and the good plan must lay the foundation for at-time-of-disaster decisions to be made to adjust the plan based on how the enemy is responding.

Now, I happen to make a good living from helping organizations create, document and test crisis management, emergency response, business continuity and disaster recovery plans.  So, I would not dare under-emphasize the importance of planning – but, like some of the quotes I will share below – I think the value gained is in the planning process and not so much in the plans.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said it this way, in a quote that is often repeated, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Dr. Gramme Edwards paraphrases it this way, “It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.”

Indeed!  It is in the planning process where we build out solutions, implement recovery capabilities and exercise our abilities to respond.  This is the real value and the enablers that will allow us to survive the business interruption event.  The written plan, with step-by-step instructions for how we operate, sometimes for weeks after the event – will hardly ever be referenced and certainly, not referenced after the first 24 hours.  I do believe that those decisions we made before the event that provide action steps within the first few hours of an event can be valuable – but once decision makers get together and have the luxury of a little time to figure out where we currently stand – decisions made before the event occurred will have less value.

The capabilities we have in place because of the planning process will be the key to our survival.  How we utilize those capabilities will require flexibility based on the event itself.

Winston Churchill said, “Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even thou they rarely stick to their plan.”

I think that is a much better way of saying what I mean!

I do run up against “pride of authorship” when I evaluate written plans – and I understand and completely empathize with that.  I am guilty of the same.

But, Publilius Syrus says, “It’s a bad plan that admits of no modification.”

I do believe in the power of planning.  And, I agree that planning is essential.

Although attributed to many different people, I think Tariq Siddique says it best and simplest, when he states, “If you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail.”  (This quote is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who may have said the same thing or something very similar.)

And, I couldn’t agree more with Sun Tzu in his The Art of War, when he suggests, “Plan for what is difficult while it is easy.”

This is why we must plan before the disaster.  Not only because we do not have the luxury of time to plan afterwards, but because the planning process is easier lacking the chaos and confusion that will accompany the disaster.

But, remember, it is the planning that is important and the resulting capabilities put in place during the planning process.  The plans themselves, may not be what is needed to get you through the particular crisis you are responding to.

Hillel J. Einhorn states, “In complex situations, we may rely too heavily on planning and forecasting and underestimate the importance of random factors in the environment. That reliance can also lead to delusions of control.”

I think our plans need to allow for the flexibility to respond to these random factors.  And, yes, I do think some of us have “delusions of control” when it comes to assessing our state of readiness.

I want to end with two more thoughts on planning.  I have witnessed so many programs lacking progress because of their desire to create the perfect plan.

George Patton is quoted as saying, “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

I agree.

And, lastly, when exercising our plans and our recovery capabilities, I so often find planners who like to assign pass/fail grades to the tasks.  I like to rely on what Thomas Edison had to say about failures, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

There, I think I have reached my quota of quotes.  If you made it all the way to the end of this blog – I applaud you.  Thanks.

If you have a favorite quote to share with us, please do so by adding a comment.

Thank you for your input.