Do You Believe in the Planning Fairy?

Little children believe in many things that adults don’t. You don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. What about the Planning Fairy?

Sometimes, what we do and what we say don’t quite match up. Chris Argyris called that the difference between the “theory espoused” and the “theory in use.” Sure, you may say you don’t believe in the Planning Fairy, but your behavior might say something different.

You might believe in the planning fairy without even knowing it. Let’s find out. With homage to Jeff Foxworthy, here are ways to tell if you might believe in the planning fairy.

You might believe in the planning fairy if you believe planning should take as long as necessary to get all the facts. You never get all the facts. Never. When you try to get all the facts you develop a case of Analysis Paralysis. You talk and research and talk and research some more, but you do nothing.

You might believe in the planning fairy if you believe great planning starts with facts. Wrong again. We don’t start with facts, we start with opinions. Those opinions determine what facts we look for. Psychologists call it “confirmation bias.” We trot out our opinions when we argue about which facts are relevant. Psychologists don’t call that anything, but it’s not helpful.

You might believe in the planning fairy if you believe planning should come up with the best solution. In real life, you come up with a bunch of solutions that look good. Then you argue about which is best and choose the solution advocated by the best arguer. Don’t worry about picking the best solution. Pick the one that looks good and is easiest to implement. Then try it.

You might believe in the planning fairy if you believe it’s possible to create a perfect plan that works right out of the chute. Human beings are imperfect and plans we make are imperfect. The plans we think are perfect come apart when they slam into real people and the real world. Pick a plan to try but be ready to make changes when your plan hits reality.

You certainly believe in the planning fairy if you believe once you complete your perfect plan, you brief the operations people, then dust off your hands and go home. Planning and implementation aren’t two different things, they’re two parts of the same thing. The cycle goes on forever. Pick what looks like the best solution you can implement easily. Try it. Observe what happens. Then start the cycle again.

You might believe in the Planning Fairy if you believe there’s a magic way to get it right the first time. There’s not. Planning is a human, bias-riddled, and error-strewn process. If planning involves people, you’ll never come up with the perfect plan. Even if you could come up with a plan that works, it won’t work for long. Customers are fickle. Competitors act. Situations change.

The best you can do is to move quickly to try things that could work. Then analyze and adjust.