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When NOT to Plan
By Demian Entrekin

The assumptions around planning for technical projects keeps changing, especially when it comes to software projects. More and more the approach seems to be that we should just go build something, put it in the customers hands, and learn from what happens.

I’m a big fan of taking action. I think it’s crucial to get out there and do something and then adjust and learn and adjust and learn.

But in some cases, we still need to stop and think and ask ourselves what are we really trying to do here? There are times when the notion of “just get out there and do something” becomes an excuse for not thinking.

We still need to spend some upfront time on things like “who are our customers?” and “what problem are we trying to solve?”

And so now the question becomes “what is the right amount of planning and what is the right amount of action?”

I’m not sure that there is a formula for this. I will have to think about it some more, but I can say one thing for sure: too much planning without action is very likely to be a sign of some form of confusion or fear, and too much action without planning is likely to be a sign of short term narrow minded thinking.

There is another option here as well. You can choose right up front to “learn by doing.” This means that you are going in with open eyes and you are going to try things, and you know that the things you try are likely to fail. The key here is to be honest with yourself and everyone else and to recognize failure early.

“Fail fast” has become a popular mantra these days, but there’s usually a bit more to it than that. Sometimes, 8 hours of planning will save you 8 months of pain.

Demian is the CTO of Innotas. As founder and CEO, Entrekin oversaw marketing, product development, sales and services for the company. Today, he focuses on strategic product direction. Prior to Innotas, Entrekin co-founded Convoy Corporation and was Chief Architect of its initial products. In that role, Entrekin helped the company lead the middleware market with an annual growth rate of 670 percent and played an instrumental role in Convoy’s subsequent acquisition by New Era Networks in 1999. A recognized thought leader in Project Portfolio Management, Entrekin has published numerous papers on PPM and his blog (PPM Today) explores current issues related to successful PPM implementation. During his 18 year career, Demian has assumed leadership roles as a consultant and as an entrepreneur, delivering commercial and corporate database applications. Demian holds a B.A. in English from UCLA and an M.A. in English from San Francisco State University.

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