18.1.11

Project Prognosis

Busy, busy, busy. There seems to be a natural tendency to be busy, and to like to see others busy too. But the key question is whether that is ‘right busy’ or ‘wrong busy’?
‘Right busy’ is doing the right things in the right way. ‘Wrong busy’ is anything else. The difference between right busy and wrong busy is mostly planning. Exemplified by the longstanding quote….”failure to plan is planning to fail” as used by Winston Churchill.


So this is about sufficient planning to improve the chances of doing the right thing in the right way. Doing the right thing is effectiveness. Doing it in the right way is efficiency.
Doing the right thing in the right way is about smart use of resources (of people, time and money) to achieve purpose. So herewith the two key tests with some simple ‘treasure’ and ‘travel’ examples.

Q1. Are we doing the right thing?

In short this is about the “What”. Defining what we are trying to achieve. Led by a specific purpose or objective and seeking a specific outcome. This is effectiveness.

Treasure: If the purpose is to find the treasure, this is knowing where to dig the hole. (Dug a whole in the wrong place? Now there are potentially two jobs, fill in the wrong whole and dig another).

Travel: If the purpose is to get to Newcastle from London, it’s about going in the right direction, in this case north.

Q2. Are we doing it the right way?

This is about the “How”. How we go about achieving the “what”. This might be thought about as doing it right first time or quickly. More broadly about the right tools, skills, experience, resources, time, and processes that get brought to bear. This is efficiency.

Treasure: This is about knowing how best to dig the whole. Digger, spade or spoon?

Travel: This is about using the right mode of transport. London to Newcastle by train for speed, rather than cycle.

So if we leave this to luck and toss a coin to decide on the answer to each of these questions, we end up with four possible outcomes…..

A. Right thing, right way… efficient success

Treasure: Digging the whole in the right place with the right tools and techniques. First to find the treasure!

Travel: From London, heading north to Newcastle by train.

B. Right thing, wrong way... inefficient success

Treasure: Digging the whole in the right place but with the wrong tools and techniques. Might find the treasure eventually with time, perseverance and plenty of spoons.

Travel: Heading to Newcastle by cycle.

C. Wrong thing, right way… efficient failure

Treasure: Digging the hole in the wrong place really well. We build a good hole, really quickly, but in the wrong place. No treasure, but at least we find out soon.

Travel: From London heading to Plymouth (south) by train.

D. Wrong thing, wrong way... inefficient failure

Treasure: Digging the whole in the wrong place with the wrong approach.

Travel: From London, heading to Plymouth (south) by cycle.

So three out of four (75%) of these outcomes lead to some degree of failure. So leaving this to luck, the prognosis for a project at the start is only 25% success, at best 50% of we’re happy to waste time, energy and money by being inefficient. So at the very least this means wasted time and effort, at the worst going in entirely the wrong direction. So a sensible degree of planning on the what an the how is the mitigation.
Good to keep a watchful eye out the use of “efficient and effective” as a glibly used double act, and especially in that order too. Should at least be effective before efficient, after all it’s probably preferable to go in the right direction slowly than the wrong direction quickly….

It’s not all bad news. Perhaps best exemplified by Poper’s “Theory of Falsification”. In short to find out that something is definitely not true is better than not knowing either way. We now know it’s a blind alley, rather than not being sure….the treasure is definitely not at the bottom of this hole. That is still some progress.

There are more up sides to lack of planning of course, “The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.” (Sir John Harvey-Jones). And of course the educational benefits….“mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom” (Phyllis Therous). And that points to applying that experience and wisdom to achieve just the right amount of planning.


So step boldly forward with a plan.  Be ever so slightly curious about the fate of previous bold ventures.....