Whether you’re managing a commercial software development, leading a consultancy project or building an IKEA table a game plan is absolutely key to successful delivery. In the latter example IKEA recognises the importance of prescriptive guidance and supplies an instruction leaflet in the box. This however covers only one dimension of successful delivery, the ‘What’ (i.e. what you need to do) – the ‘Who’, the ‘How’ and the ‘When’ are left up to you. In the case of an IKEA table this is acceptable as the resource is probably you (who will likely build the table in your own way regardless of advice received) and the timeline may not be critical. Moving away from this tenuous example, in non-trivial situations all the dimensions of successful delivery are equally significant and must combine cohesively to achieve the defined objective. This calm, controlled, empowering and productive state is precisely what planning is intended to achieve. This success delivery-state is rarely the norm, for various reasons; inexperience, over-optimism, command and control culture, inadequate expertise, process rigidity, poor communication etc. The net effect of such factors being a distress delivery-state where productivity is low and the sense of team is diminished in terms of empowerment, trust and accountability.
Like many people I often find myself misquoting Leo Tolstoy, who didn’t say that failing projects fail for a variety of reasons but succeeding projects succeed for the same reason. He did say this however – “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karina) – where the interpretation comes from. I definitely read this somewhere, apologies if this was your book or blog.
So the idea is that all successful projects succeed for the same reason – that reason being in my view that the project was able to achieve a success delivery-state, i.e. the plan encompassed all the requisite dimensions and maintained the agility to react and adapt during flight. In this context it matters little which project process, methodology, framework etc. you employ what matters is that you have a well conceived plan from the outset, or game plan as I like to call it, and execute on that plan in a disciplined manner.
A game plan can take many forms (spreadsheet, picture, diagram, A3 sheet pinned to the wall etc.) whichever way you go the end result should be an engaging, high-level fusion of vision and planning and be tuned for effective communication to your specific audience.
The game plan should influence the detailed planning, but is a higher level concern that outlines the fundaments of how the project will succeed, covering the essential aspects only. My preference in the past has been an annotated timeline diagram, showing clearly the basis upon which I’m confident of success – this can be highly effective in terms of establishing confidence within the delivery team and across stakeholders. I don’t believe this is possible with a Gantt chart or spreadsheet, even where progression metrics are added.
By way of illustration the following sections outline an example Game Plan related to a fictitious Salesforce implementation project.
In summary, the game plan concept applied to project delivery can be a powerful tool. It matters little how the game plan is presented or what it contains, simply having one in any form can make a big difference in terms of confidence, focus and communication.