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It’s not a bad plan…


I was working with a group recently and I asked why it is that some work or task starts as not being urgent but eventually becomes urgent because it’s left; the answer they gave me, as groups often do, is that bad planning caused it. Now, bad planning can be the cause of many problems in business – and in life generally – but planning is not the panacea it is often thought to be. There is much more to achieving a goal than just having a plan.

Think of a city, separated from lush farmland by a deep chasm.The inhabitants of the city gaze across the chasm and begin to ask themselves what it would be like to be able to use that farmland – to grow more food, perhaps different food. They get excited about the prospect of being able to expand out, even beyond the farmland and so they commission the city’s architect to design a bridge and when the design is complete they task the city’s builder with constructing it. Soon, the bridge is finished and the inhabitants of the city are crossing back and forth, happily using the produce of the new farmland to enhance their lives.

In a nutshell, this story describes the four stages of goal achievement – and the broader process of project management.After all, what is a goal if not a mini project?


The first phase is to have the vision of what you want to achieve – in this case, spanning the chasm and using the farmland that’s currently just out of reach. In projects, this is where you get very clear about your end result, about what your stakeholders and key stakeholders want, about your criteria for success.


Having decided where you want to go, you have to work out how to get there – the architect’s blueprint for the bridge. In projects, this is where you set out clearly and logically how you will get from where you are now to the vision outlined in the Initiate phase. The plan can be for a beautiful and ornate bridge or a strict, utilitarian bridge – whatever your key stakeholders define for you as part of their vision.


However, having a vision and a plan are vital but insufficient. You can have a great plan but it will be worthless if you don’t do anything with it. This stage is where we take action. We execute the plan – either building the bridge or working through our project plan, responding to events, reviewing our progress, adjusting where necessary, sticking with it


The hallmark of a project is that it must finish; goals are there to be achieved – at some point, you complete the bridge, you reach the end of the plan, the other side of the chasm. Here is where we learn the lessons from our project and assess the benefits of having completed it – did achieving the vision bring us all we hoped it would, what’s our vision for the future, how do we apply the lessons to our next project?

All four parts are essential to make up the project or the goal – failing to carry out any one of them will dramatically lessen your chances of success, now and in the future. Planning is important but it’s not enough: without a vision, a plan is vague and unfocussed; without action, a plan is just a useless piece of paper; without completion, we’re doomed to repeat the mistakes of our previous plans.

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