“Plans are Useless but Planning is Indispensable”. This quote is attributed by many to Dwight Eisenhower who led the Allied forces in World War II and also to Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister.

Think of any battlefield situation. The surgical strikes carried out by the Indian Army last year in response to the Uri attack or the American mission to take out Osama Bin Laden from his safe haven. Can you even think about going into battle without proper planning?

Study the location, the position of the enemy, the scope of the conflict, the capabilities of our own troops, the timing, risks, etc. Without an adequate level of attention to planning, it would be suicidal to head into battle. However, the plan is useful only as a starter guide. Once the troops land on ground zero, they have to be prepared to adjust. What if the analysis of the enemy position was incorrect? What if the weather plays truant? What if weapons do not perform to specifications? There are any number of reasons why no plan will ever be perfect.

Here, it is critical that the troops on the ground have the assistance of the WAR room – so that they do not have to take hasty or ad-hoc decisions, but are guided systematically. In other words, the change control system is also put in place during planning itself. You have to anticipate change – it would be foolhardy to assume that there will be no change.

Sounds pretty logical? Yet, in the corporate world, this common sense is so hard to find. Plans are assumed to be cast in stone. Once you have “baselined” the plan, nobody will accept a deviation. The team, as well as the stakeholders, want to stick to the “original” plan knowing full well that it is not working.

Emotions cloud judgment. We spent so much time in planning, so the plan MUST be correct. We don’t know what will happen if we change now. There are safety and comfort in the planned route. You can come up with any number of reasons why human beings will resist change.

So what to do?

Maintain an outlook of the long-term vision, but do not plan too far ahead. The vision should be sufficiently abstract that minor changes will not destroy it. At the same time, plan in detail only for the next few steps.

All management frameworks support this. The PMBOK Guide ® from the Project Management Institute calls this “rolling wave planning”. The PRINCE2 ® framework calls use the ideas of Manage by Stages and Checkpoint reporting. Agile methodologies advocate Sprint and Iteration planning along with product roadmap and release level planning.

While drawing a parallel from Indian mythology, Devdutt Pattanaik explains this as a combination of Garuda Drishti (eagle vision) and Sarpa Drishti (serpent vision). Keep an eye on the big picture, but be prepared to adjust to ground realities.

The essence of being a manager is being able to strike the right balance in all things.

One of the important skills you need to develop is that of being able to balance the need to plan against the perils of rigidity in planning.