32 Reasons Why People Don’t Plan Projects

The concept of planning has a very intuitive appeal, irrespective of the type and size of endeavor. Who wouldn’t want to undertake an activity without a little bit of upfront planning? Will you take your car and just head out for the next family weekend in the neighboring town – without first checking if your car is roadworthy for the long drive, has enough gas, or needs a visit to the garage before the long drive? Will you buy a house without first checking your cash flows and other commitments for the next couple of years? Will you get your kids admitted to the nearest school you come across, or you will do little bit of investigation and plan is based on your specific needs and child’s comfort?

Still then, it comes as a great surprise when many among us disregard the benefits of planning things upfront. While they might still succeed in a trivial pursuit, for it might present very predictable outcome, require relatively risk-free approach, is generally easy to recover from a bad position, have virtually all resources at one’s disposal, etc. While such trivial ‘projects’ might not demand a rigorous planning, we should also note that often such planning is a very intuitive process, one that happens very effortlessly and unconsciously in our minds. Such planning, or several of its elements, have been executed so many times that one doesn’t have to think of anything else – it just happens. To an untrained eye, it might appear like a careless approach where nothing is being planned, and yet the actors seem to be in supreme control – it is nothing short of magic! However, let the vision not get the better of logic.

However, for any non-trivial problem, or a trivial problem with a few key changes, or some last-minute unpleasant surprises, the life is not that easy. They transform into wild beasts that don’t obey their masters anymore, they behave randomly (or at least unpredictably), and unless you address them proactively, they are only more likely to make things increasingly difficult for you. What follows then is the endless loop of firefighting (often leading to ‘immortal projects’ that I conceptualised in my earlier blog post “From Project Immortality to Project Moksha“). So, why is it that some people refuse to plan their projects, choosing instead to clean up their mess over long evenings and frustrating weekends over the next several months? Here are some of the reasons that I have come across:  

  1. Our project is too large to plan
  2. Our project is too small to plan
  3. Planning is waste of time and effort – I’d rather be coding right now!
  4. Planning commits me to something that I must stick to at all times, even when the world around me has changed.
  5. Publishing the plan will expose buffers in the plan to our customers
  6. Publishing the plan will expose buffers in the plan to project team members
  7. If we publish our plan, customer will question our productivity being low
  8. The project is evolving and the situation is changing on a daily basis
  9. We are too deep fire-fighting the project – have no time to plan at this point
  10. Why plan things that are too simple, and as for things that are too complex – well, you anyway can’t manage them, so why plan?
  11. We believe in adaptive processes rather than a predictive planning
  12. Planning involves tracking which means supervision of a person’s time. We think that creates mistrust in the team.
  13. We do burn-down chart which is better for projecting the delivery date
  14. The sub-contractor is responsible for project plan
  15. This is just a simple porting work
  16. Next 2-3 months we will be doing real research. There is no way I can manage that effort to a plan!
  17. Plans are for the weak-hearted, the brave hearts face the tornado head-on
  18. We typically estimate and pad it by 30% to make it a realistic plan
  19. We can’t estimate number of bugs we will get in the testing phase, and hence can’t plan for those phases
  20. Someone or other is always leaving our team or the company. No use building plans around them.
  21. All real work happens in nights and over weekends. Plans have always failed us.
  22. Our customer only cares for working software
  23. Requirements are always changing
  24. Customer has given us fixed end-date, so our plan doesn’t count
  25. My management will always underprovision team resources
  26. Doing estimation won’t speed up the project – it will take the same time even without an estimation
  27. We do Agile
  28. We do Scrum
  29. Plans are anyway changing all the time
  30. I have the project plan – here it is in the gantt chart
  31. Our project is diferent – planning will stifle the innovation and creativity
  32. Any version 1.0 product will be like that only!

You might have seen variations of these, or brand-new excuses. Feel free to share them here. We need to deglamorize these lame excuses for they serve no one’s interests. At best, they handcuff us into existing methodology, and at worst, they ensure project immortality (discussed above). Both are fatal for your project’s success.

What’s your excuse not to plan your project ?

20 thoughts on “32 Reasons Why People Don’t Plan Projects

  1. Pingback: Why Don’t We Plan? | propaganda3 blog

  2. Amy

    I utterly enjoyed reading about 32 Reasons Why People Don’t Plan Projects | manage well and thought it was well worth the read. The only other site I found on Google wasnt as good as this one, thanks.

  3. Desh

    Agree.In my previous post , i was trying to mention one of they key reasons(ambiguity) that i have come across , which could lead to one of 32 excuse for not planning :).Indeed, dealing with ambiguity is no one man job.
    In my recent past 2 year experience while we were entering to Agility , we faced many challenges.Primarliy towards transforming our engineering methods and the mindset of people.
    Big upfront design to incremental evolving design ,Upfront tight phase planning ,meaningful iterative shorter duration releases.
    After a few initial days of thought , I realised exactly the same thing.But I knew one thing for sure,involving all and getting buy-in a short time is not so easy.start with 5 , make it to 15 and then all 15 make it 50.Now while rolling out the next version plan ,I felt it was coming stright from the team.Actually my job was reduced to 50%.
    I see a lot of estimation problems getting reduced.Risks identification is from all sides.
    I only request through you to all readers to use common sense in planning,judge local conditions , do understand the people we have.Self manage team is not one day job ,may take months ,year(or two) some times.

  4. Desh

    Greetings to You.I had been a silent follower of your blogs for a long time.

    I have come across a situation when items look too difficult to plan.The approach that has worked for me was to feed the team with a clear/important tasks that shall keep the things going for a few days. while the Project manager works on dealing with the ambiguity and work out a plan that works.

    1. TV Post author

      @Desh: Thanks for sharing your experiences. Clearly, we need some mechanism to prioritize the more critical tasks, and make sure that the team stays focused during the initial days when scope of work seems very fuzzy. Just one concern: in some cases, it might be even better to involve the team in figuring out the ambiguity, as that might not only get more ideas, but even build a better buy-in from the team members. Some team members might not want to deal with it and might prefer a cut-and-dry task, but I think the current thought is to engage the teams and remove any distinction between management and workers (putting in very crude Taylorian terms). Agile puts a very strong argument in its favor by treating everyone equal (and even removing the role of a project manager). What is your view on this – do you think it might help in certain situations, or actuallly make things worse?

  5. Deshbandhu Sinha

    I fully share the your view Point.There is absolutely no excuse for not planning the project.I do remember your qoute “You plan to fail when you fail to plan”

    1. TV Post author

      @Desh: Good to hear from you, hope you are doing great. I think most people only look at the plan and one of two of the things happen: either become so strongly married to their plans that they don’t want to adapt to a rapidly changing externally world, or simply give up because the original plan becomes obsolete due to all the changes around it! What is important is to realize that changes will happen and plans will need to adapt to those changes, but still we should undertake the process of planning because that is more important than plans! While sticking to the original plan irrespective of what the current gound situation might be is sheer foolishness, abandoning it altogether is even more fatal.

  6. Marouan Benabdellah Chaouni

    The smaller is a single task in a work breakdown the more accurate is the plan, but it takes more time to keep it up to date during the project. An effective and efficient planning is a balance between accuracy, granularity and creation/maintenance effort.

    1. TV Post author

      @Marouan: You bring a very important point. Long back, I read of the 4-40 golden rule of scheduling that says no task should be less than 4 hours or more than 40 hours. So, while many schedules are bad enough because their task runs into weeks without any reasonable way of knowing the in-process status (and hence highly risky of an overrun), there are other equally bad tasks that have been broken down to under a few hours, making it a nightmare to track their status, update on the project gantt chart, and report on every single task. As you say, a right balance between the needs of the project is a must and is indeed the most pragmatic approach.

  7. Vakil C. Arora

    These lame excuses can not be a substitute for a good plan. I would say one can not achieve his/her target without planning for it. If its difficult to forecast everything in begining, rolling wave could be a nice approach.

    1. TV Post author

      @Vakil: Your point is correct. We all know that things are very hazy in the initial phases, but that is not a good enough reason to completely abandon the planning process. Rolling wave is definitely a good approach, but it should not be done to only focus on getting the current phases right but losing track of the overall plan. That would be like ‘penny wise, pound foolish’! You simply can’t ignore one at the cost of the other.

    1. TV Post author

      @Andrew: Absolutely. While no one advocates a heavyweight planning all the time (and there are times when that might really be required), it neertheless needs to be done – a good way is to undertake planning exercise commensurate to the size, criticality and impact of the project’s desired outcome. That way, we will never onverinvest disproportionately.

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