When Strategic Planning Goes Awry

Valued Contributor

1 copy.pngWe all begin the implementation of our plan with the best of intentions. However, that glimmer of hope in our eyes for the first few days can sometimes turn cloudy as unforeseen events unfold, making our once bright-and-shiny plan seem unrealistic and unattainable.

What’s a strategic planner to do?

As our optimism and hope fade, we lose sight of the fact that a core tenet of strategic planning is agility—our ability to pivot and adapt to our changing environments. It’s easy to fall prey to fighting the current by continuing to implement your plan even though you’re swimming upstream.

In some cases, it’s both easier and more strategic to accept that plans have failed and quickly move to plan B (after all, there are 26 letters in the English alphabet—plenty of room for mistakes and subsequent adaptations).

If you’re not sure how to deviate from your initial course of action and pivot to the next one, you can find inspiration in an unlikely place: let's use the art of the disaster movie to see how it’s done.

The Planner and the Pivot

I love disaster movies, whether big-budget blockbusters or made-for-TV. Some might even call me obsessed (Netflix suggestion algorithms, I’m looking at you). While there is much to love about disaster movies, my favorite parts are the unveiling of the strategic plan—and when it all falls apart.

I’m not saying this as a cynic; I do hope for the best, and I love a good strategic planning movie just as much as the next Anaplanner. But what I love even more are the pivot moments. I think it is fascinating to watch how characters adapt their plans to move them forward.

In every disaster movie, there is a planner. A mild-mannered, average person (unless it’s the decidedly-not-average Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) who happens to hold the perfect strategic plan for getting the newly thrown-together group through the disaster at hand. While the planner has good intentions to follow through with their scripted scheme, things often go awry. Whether it be a volcano erupting a few days early or half of California falling into the Pacific Ocean, our planner's original plan is no longer viable.

To survive, our hero must pivot. For example, in San Andreas while driving to northern California they run into a bit of an obstacle; how will they cross, and where? Then, what’s the new plan to get to northern California? If they didn’t pivot, the movie would end without the classic “everything is better now” ending that we all look forward to in disaster movies.

Unexpected Events: Disaster or Opportunity?

While your plans for your next big campaign, project, or process might not have such high stakes, there are still important elements to consider. Who suffers if you’re unable to pivot your project to stay on course? You and your team do! Adapting to unforeseen events can seem more stressful at first than staying the course, but keep in mind the first pivot is always the hardest. After altering your plans and experiencing the success of that change, subsequent changes are less stressful. There’s less pressure to stick with a plan once you realize an alternate plan is just another route to take.

When using your GPS navigation, do you always stay the course it recommends? I sure don’t! If I see a better option with clearer roads, I’m happy to switch. Sometimes traffic pops up, and you need to pivot to make it to your destination on time. Project plans are the same way.

The Turning Point

The big question: how do you adapt if you’re not adaption-friendly?

The old adage “practice makes perfect” applies here. It’s not always easy to throw out your first plan (the one that you so carefully thought through), but sometimes you have to for the sake of everyone involved.

When I’m feeling uncertain about whether to pivot or not, I find it’s best to make a list answering the following questions:

  1. What happens if we stay on this course?
  2. What obstacles have come up or could potentially arise?
  3. How much could these obstacles delay our final delivery date?

On the flip side, it can also help to consider answering questions around possible ways you could slightly adjust your plan without straying too far from your pre-plotted course. This will hopefully help give you peace of mind that one small turn doesn’t have to mean unraveling your entire plan:

  1. Is the obstacle only affecting one area?
  2. How could you navigate around it without changing other parts of your plan?
  3. What happens to your timeline if you pivot?
  4. What happens if you don’t?

While altering your course of action can seem scary at first, it’s often for the best. And with the proper platform in place, quick pivots are effortless. Who knows, your altered course could end up being even better than your original plan!

We want to hear from you: what pivot tips do you have?

 

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1 Comment
Occasional Contributor

Love this article! Thank you for a reminder applicable to both life & work.