“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower[i]
At this point, you should have done all of the necessary strategic work you need to move forward. Now you need to think in terms of planning to get you where you want to go. In this section, we will discuss the planning process and focus on two significant tools for planning—the PERT chart and the Gantt chart.
Why do we plan in the first place? In 1957, speaking to the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference, President Dwight Eisenhower, said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Here is the quote in context:
Some years ago, there was a group in the staff College of which some of you may have heard, Leavenworth Staff College. This was before our entry into World War One, and in that course it was necessary to use a number of maps and the maps available to the coursework of the Alsace-Lorraine area and the Champagne in France. But a group of “young Turks” came along who wanted to reform Leavenworth. They pointed out it was perfectly silly for the American army to be using such maps which could after all be duplicated in other areas without too much cost—they would get some area maps where the American army just might fight a battle. So they got, among other things, maps of the area of Leavenworth and of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and in succeeding years all the problems have been worked out on those maps. The point is, only about two years after that happened, we were fighting in Alsace-Lorraine and in the Champagne.
I tell the story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.
So, the first thing you do is take all the plans off the top shelf and throw them out the window and start once more. But if you haven’t in planning you can’t start to work, intelligently at least.
That is the reason it is so important to plan, to keep yourselves steeped in the character of the problem that you may one day be called upon to solve.[ii]
According to Eisenhower, planning is transferable. If you can do it in one context, you can do it in another. It is not important that you have a perfect plan because what you will face in the future is unpredictable. What you must do, however, is engage in the planning process so that when the future arrives, you are ready to face the new challenge.
Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, commander of the German army during World War I expressed a similar sentiment. Moltke is often misquoted as saying, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” What he actually wrote was more nuanced. As you read his words, consider how his thinking applies to strategic decisions in business:
The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. In this sense one should understand Napoleon’s saying: “I have never had a plan of operations.”
Therefore no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force. Only the layman thinks that he can see in the course of the campaign the consequent execution of an original idea with all details thought out in advance and adhere to until the very end.
Of course the commander in chief will always keep his main objective in mind and will not be swayed by the changeability of events. Nevertheless, the way in which he hopes to attain that objective cannot be laid out long in advance with any degree of certainty. (Emphasis added).[iii]
Let’s translate his statement and apply it to business. Plans are good but market realities will cause you to change your initial plans. When you created the plan, you didn’t know everything you need to know. Continue to follow the strategy, but change tactics when necessary to achieve that strategy.
Types of Plans
Plans can be broken down into strategic plans, tactical plans, and operational plans. We use these terms interchangeably but they have specific meanings.
Strategic plans are long-term plans but as Moltke pointed out, the longer the term, the less accurate the plans will be. “For example, a twenty-year plan in 1990 could not have factored in the Internet, a post-9/11 world, digital music on iPods, or the recession of 2008-2009.”[iv] The strategy may still be sound, but new plans will be required to accommodate new information.
Tactical plans are mid-range plans that move us toward the execution of the strategic plan. For example, a tactical plan may cover a year to three years. Operational plans cover the shortest period of time. These plans may be useful for a week or a year. They tell you what you must do in the near term to achieve tactical and strategic goals.[v]
Drucker talked in terms of strategy and objectives. He explained that objectives must flow from strategy and they “must be operational.”[vi] He continued: “If objectives are only good intentions they are worthless. They must degenerate into work.”[vii]
Two Tools for Planning
Planning, then, requires strategic goals, objectives that help you achieve your strategic goals, and a certain degree of flexibility when implementing those plans in order to deal with reality. The two planning tools below will help you as you turn your strategy into objectives so that they can “degenerate into work.”
PERT stands for Program Evaluation and Review Technique. The power in the PERT chart is how it shows that multiple processes must happen simultaneously in any large project. Most projects are not purely sequential. In my student textbook, I explained:
Planners use PERT charts to see what has to happen in relation to other events. For example, moving company headquarters from New York to Atlanta involves a number of steps. A simplified list may include selling the previous building in New York, erecting or purchasing the new building in Atlanta, organizing the move from New York, and getting everyone settled into their new offices. Each step has many sub-components and it is not a linear process. Many events may be happening simultaneously. Because large projects may have many moving parts, PERT charts help us see the big picture clearly.
A standard PERT chart will include tasks, milestones, and a critical path. Tasks are activities that have to take place. Milestones show the completion of major components of the project. A critical path is the primary focus because it represents the least amount of time necessary to complete the project. Other events must go on, but the critical path is the core process….
Finally, it is helpful to present a) an optimistic time frame b) a pessimistic time frame and c) the expected time frame [viii]
In class, I illustrate this by asking who is not married. I pick on a male student (preferably an athlete) and I ask him if one day he plans to get married.
Most the time he says he plans to get married and I begin to ask him questions to walk the class through a chart like the one you see below. In my PowerPoint, the chart unfolds one box of the time from left to right. The purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate multiple processes that must occur simultaneously to achieve the objective.
Before I review the chart, I tell the students my story. I proposed to my wife on the top of the Empire State building. It was the night before my friend Ken’s wedding in New Jersey. I had talked to him in advance about proposing, but I wanted to surprise her. He agreed to be my confederate.
On the night before his wedding, in front of my girlfriend, I asked him what he would like to do on this last night before he was married. I would take him wherever he wanted to go and I would pay for it. He knew to respond, “Let’s go into the city.” So the three of us went to Manhattan. Shortly after we arrived, I asked where he wanted to eat. He chose the place. After we ate, I asked what he would like to do. He knew to respond, “Let’s go see the Empire State Building.” When we got to the top of the Empire State Building, we took in the view. I got down on one knee and asked Nicole to marry me. Because it was all planned out in advance, and Ken’s responses seemed spur of the moment, the surprise worked.
This will help you make sense of the bottom row of boxes: “Find friends to help with a surprise,” “Set a plan. Rehearse and review,” and “Travel to the asking location.” You will also note that the critical path—the primary focus—is the middle row of boxes.
The topic is well received in class and it illustrates the main point of the PERT chart—the simultaneous rather than linear nature of events. You can, however, use the same information in a different format to generate additional perspective.
The Gantt chart is the parent or predecessor of the PERT Chart. The Gantt chart is named for Henry Gantt. Gantt charts “were originally developed to facilitate rifle production while he worked as a consultant for the US Army.” They take the same information and lay it out over time so that with beginning dates and end dates so that the planner can see the effects of time.
Gantt charts graphically show beginning and end dates to various components of projects. This makes them a handy tool for project planners. The same information from the PERT Chart is on the Gantt Chart. What additional information can you glean from the layout of the Gantt Chart?
These tools help you plan, but remember that planning is only the starting point. Be sure that your plans change as you deal with new realities and be sure that the plans “devolve into work.”
What different information do you get from a PERT chart as opposed to a Gantt Chart?
Based on what you have read, what do you need to do differently as you make plans for the future?
[i] Eisenhower, D. (1957). Public papers of the presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower. Washington, D.C: Office of the Federal Register.
[ii] Eisenhower, D. (1957). Public papers of the presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower. Washington, D.C: Office of the Federal Register.
[iii] Moltke, H., & Hughes, D. J. (1993). Moltke on the art of war: Selected writings. Novato, CA: Presidio Press.
[iv] Gerdes, D. L. (2011). The bottom line: Lessons in leadership and management. Lynchburg, VA: Bright Images. (p. 54).
[v] Gerdes, D. L. (2011). The bottom line: Lessons in leadership and management. Lynchburg, VA: Bright Images. (p. 54).
[vi] Drucker, P. F. (1974). Management: Tasks, responsibilities, practices. New York: Harper & Row. (p. 99).
[vii] Drucker, P. F. (1974). Management: Tasks, responsibilities, practices. New York: Harper & Row. (p. 101).
[viii] Gerdes, D. L. (2011). The bottom line: Lessons in leadership and management. Lynchburg, VA: Bright Images. (pp. 56-57).