When a plan doesn’t come together

“Following a plan is good for progress, but opportunity usually exists off the plan.”

Simon Sinak

The London Olympics provide daily reminders that our plans don’t always “come together” as hoped. Recent examples include empty seats in sold out venues, the collapse of the US men’s gymnastic team, and Michael Phelps failure to capture any medal in the 400 IM. In every case, those “failures” created opportunities, if only for someone else, like the British soldiers who get to occupy preemo seats when they are off duty. Those opportunities come along for us as well. The trick is to be attentive and flexible enough to seize them.

When we create rigid, highly detailed plans we leave no “wiggle room” when things don’t go as anticipated. We experience this with every project during construction administration. This may be one reason we are so reluctant to produce detailed plans for our business development activities. Knowing intuitively that the universe of possibilities is unknowable, we just wing it. To use another analogy from the Olympics, we aim at no discernible target and hit it every time.

A workable alternative is a statement of intent. A clear, written description of why, how, when and what we intend to accomplish, even when we cannot predict each and every step.

In the armed forces the commander’s intent succinctly describes what constitutes success for the operation. It includes the operation’s purpose (the why) and the conditions that define the end state (the what). It links the mission, concept of operations, and tasks to be completed by subordinate units (the how). And it must be understandable “two echelons down” so that the people who will actually carry out the plan understand it when the “how” has to change to deal with unknown or unanticipated events.

Next time you embark on an effort to produce a business development plan, spend your best time developing your intent statement. When the stuff hits the fan, refer to the intent statement, and adjust accordingly.