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Balance Struggle: Planning vs. Action [in an agile+lean world]

Intermediate Level
Written by Luke Summerfield
    Monday, 04 March 2013
Balance Struggle: Planning vs. Action [in an agile+lean world]
There’s a good chance that you've found yourself within this struggle; how much planning should I do before I take action on a project. This is the struggle everyone goes through, not just marketers, when launching a new project. In this blog we are going to take a critical look at how to approach this grey area in order to help you keep moving forward and avoid paralysis.

So you have this awesome new idea that you think will make a huge impact in your market. Because it's such a big deal, you want to make sure that it's perfect so that everyone will love it. You have a ton of really great features planned that you think everyone will love. So you schedule it out to dedicate a great deal of time to planning everything out down to the smallest detail is calculated and exact.

So you get started with your planning and everything is going great. Little do you know it but something horrible is slowly creeping up on your project right under your nose. This "something" is an infection that holds the possibility of completely de-railing your project and costing you greatly in time, money and energy. For the success of your project it's completely critical that you don't get attacked by this "something" ... but, what is this "something"? What I am talking about is Project Planning Paralysis.

Project Planning Paralysis occurs when an individual (or team) gets "sucked" into countless hours of planning and re-planning.

Paralysis very common in two scenarios:

The first scenario is when you try to tackle too many features for your initial version of the product. In the spirit of LEAN management, your goal for the first launch is to simply create a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). A minimum viable product is one that only includes the essential features for users to find value. It should not include every feature you have thought of.

Make a global map of all the features you'd love to include and then prioritize them based on user needs. Then take just the top features and focus on those. This way you are not wasting time on features that aren't as important and might not even be desired by users. After all, you can hypothesis what people want based on research, but you truly won't know until you launch and perform scientific validated learning to confirm, evolve or pivot.

The second scenario where paralysis commonly occurs when project managers feel they need to plan out every single aspect of the product down to the smallest, minute detail. Then get all of these planned approved by the higher ups. In this scenario the paralysis can happen in both the "over-planning" phase and also in the approval process where higher level management can stall and take forever to review and grant approvals.

Managers need to empower their employees to make authoritative decisions when it comes to some of the more trivial and basic pieces of the project. Now with that being said, these employees still need to be able to explain their thought process behind why they took the course of action they did. However, by giving them the freedom and power to make decisions, it's not only going to speed up the project, protect from paralysis but also motivate the employee and give them a sense of ownership in the project.

One of the key drivers of success in agile and lean methodology is biasing on action with the intentions of adapting and evolving on the fly based on feedback. That's not to say to skip the planning entirely, however, there is a huge potential for validated learning to be done once a product is in the hands of the user, it's critical to take action and get the product out there so you can start running tests. Then be agile and ready to quickly collect test data, interpret and adapt on the fly. You can do all the planning in the world but ultimately you really won't know exactly how users will use your product and what features are important until you can perform validated learning experiments with your users.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please post in the comments and let's get a discussion going.

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Luke Summerfield

Luke Summerfield

Greetings! My name is Luke, Inbound Marketing Specialist here at Savvy Panda. I love helping businesses supercharge their growth via Inbound. When i'm not working, I'm training Jiu Jitsu, Judo and Crossfit.

You can learn more about me on our team page.
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Website: LukeSummerfield.com
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