Plans vs. Planning

Stephen DeAngelis

May 17, 2006

While perusing Art Hutchinson’s blog site (Mapping Strategy), I came across a wonderful quote from the late President and 5-star General, Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”     – Dwight D. Eisenhower, from Dr. Mardy’s Quotes of the Week

Too often people can’t see the difference between plans and planning. In my mind, the first reflects rigidity while the latter epitomizes flexibility and adaptability. As Tom Barnett and I continue to beat the Development-in-a-Box drum, we stress that Development-in-a-Box™ is not a formal program, a rigid process, or a carved-in-stone blueprint for “shrinking the Gap” — in other words, it is not a plan. DIB is a standards-based framework; but standards (more often than not) facilitate flexibility and adaptability rather than discourage them. Everytime I drive to Washington, DC, for example, I face its infamous traffic. I remind myself that things could be worse. If it wasn’t for traffic laws (the standards “most” drivers use), the highways and byways would be complete chaos (and even more deadly). Getting from point A to point B would be nearly impossible. Without those laws, it would be impossible to discuss “traffic flows” and, hence, difficult to map out one’s options and alternative routes. As a society we have signed up to traffic standards, and, as a result, we manage to move hundreds of thousands of commuters into and out of our major cities each day via roads.

I recognize that standards, once adopted, are difficult to change. Look at Great Britain (and many of its former colonies) which still drives on the left side of the street when the rest of Europe (and most of the rest of the world) drives on the right. The “left side” standard hails back hundreds of years and was established because most people are right-handed. By riding on the left, weapons could be at the ready to repel any attack from oncoming traffic! Now that is what I call rigidity. Another example, supposedly an urban legend (but a good one), is the history of railroad gauges.

(See http://www.snopes.com/history/american/gauge.htm)

By stressing a “best practices” approach for DIB, we hope to foster a development culture that embraces change when something better comes along. Enterprise Resilience Management faces this same conundrum (the tension between standards and flexibility), by building on a service-oriented architecture and using a standard language (BPEL), Enterra Solutions believes its offerings have achieved a pretty good balance. As a result, we’re finding that our approach is applicable across a broad range of commercial and government enterprises.

In the blog that Tom posted yesterday, he wrote about fostering a development culture that embraces change by referencing a Wall Street Journal article on micro-financing:

Vikram Akula, 37-year-old founder of the SKS Microfinance, is the star of the article, [he] already has plans to (gasp!) start peddling health and crop insurance similarly, plus “use Visa’s card technology to make microloans as simple and inexpensive as getting cash from an ATM.”

This is all we’re talking about–Steve and I–with Development-in-a-Box: cherry-picking the best stuff that’s already out there, marrying it up with the soft and hardware that’s readily available, and preloading it into templates that DiB simply hands over to the locals, along with the training.

Yes, yes, it’ll never be as easy as we make it sound, but it also will never be as hard as your preconceptions of the Gap make it seem. One thing is sure: we make it hard now by the approaches we use, and there’s so much more we can do to improve our efforts.

Locals may very well (in fact, probably will) find innovative ways to apply standards and templates that development practitioners never thought of — that is the flexibility and adaptability we are hoping to achieve. Since I began this post with an Eisenhower quote, let me end it with one as well:

“You don’t lead by hitting people over the head–
that’s assault, not leadership.”