Plan flex

For project management class this week, we had to do a small group online simulation of setting up a mining project—a stakeholder management exercise. It was all about understanding how the different people who we had to work with—activists, officials, shareholders, etc.—felt about the project, how they felt about each other, how they felt about their treatment, etc. There was a total sim time of a few weeks, and a day went by every 90 seconds or so. So whatever plan you went in with was probably the one that you were going to execute once the click started ticktocking away.

Unexpectedly, our group came out with the top score, which was mostly some mixture of stakeholder opinions—meaning you could come out of the thing with the most profits, but not the highest score. I was surprised by the outcome because I know there are some smart people in the class. I wouldn't have bet my money on me. In the debrief in this evening's class, some of the other people explained their plans, and they sounded like well-reasoned plans that I felt were better than ours—at least until I saw the outcome.

I didn't really understand how we did it until one of my teammates said something that made sense to me. His explanation: we were flexible and willing to change the plan when we discovered things were working or not working in our favor.

That is easily the most obvious thing to do—and if you've worked for anyone else or yourself you know that it is something that is not done often enough. But you can't just hear that explanation and believe it. We—whoever we is here, I'm not sure, just go with it—believe in things like "stay the course" or "plan the work, work the plan" and deviation from the plan is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Deviation from a plan can be a weakness if it's done flippantly. If you just don't want to do whatever work is up next, and you don't, well... good luck. But if your plan leads you straight into something that your instincts tell you is wrong, that your experience tells you is wrong, that your advisors tell you is wrong... your plan might be wrong—if not fully wrong, then partially wrong, and you should have the courage to adjust your plan and meet the challenge on better footing.

Lack of flexibility is a weakness, not a strength.

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