Why Plans Fail & How to Drastically Improve the Odds

Over the last 20 years in working with executives from hundreds of corporations and non-profits I have seen a wide range of plans and methods of executing them. And there are as many reasons for failure and success as there are executives driving them.


But there are some themes to both successes and failures, and here, I would like to address one of them and that is the planning horizon itself.


When we initiate work with a strategic planning client, one of the first issues we address is whether they have a particular inflection point for themselves or their company that is driving their planning horizon. Typically it is an exit plan, retirement, doing an acquisition, a major expansion, a financing event, etc.


One of the most frequent contributors to planning failures we find, is that given long time horizons, organizations and executives leading them get lulled into believing that they have plenty of time to pull all the elements together to a successful conclusion. Reality is more often that the project is over budget for time and expense, things do not work out as envisioned, corrections are not implemented and opportunities are wasted.


When we get to a deep dive analysis of what it takes to accomplish what they are planning for, we typically find is that if initiated with a fast start and focused energy, the plan can be accomplished in substantially less time than originally envisioned.


Our standard Accelerated Planning Horizon Strategy™ recommendation to CEO’s is to take whatever their original planning horizon is and cut it in half. If they and or their company is ready in half the time, the 2nd half represents the ability to counteract an unforeseen threat or event or take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself. And not having that time, could be crippling to the execution of the plan, if not to the executive or organization itself.  Just stop and think about each of those type occurrences in your personal situation and industry.


Now to increase the probability that the plan will be ready in half of the original planning time horizon, we recommend cutting it in half AGAIN, and use that as our new planning horizon! The usual reaction is one of shock and disbelief accompanied by dismissal of the idea as unrealistic. But here is the reasoning and why they eventually accept the premise: if we use the 25% mark as the planning horizon, we know that in almost every case, there will be unforeseen events or circumstances that will cause delays or drive changes in the plan. In the vernacular “**it happens”. The extra time, the 2nd 25% of the original gives the plan some ‘breathing room.”


The odds of hitting the 50% horizon improve dramatically. And the ability to capitalize on unforeseen opportunities rises dramatically.


The success of the Accelerated Planning Horizon Strategy™ has proven itself repeatedly over the years. We have yet to have a single executive say to us that they regretting implementing that process.  But we have heard far too many times the disappointed voice of executives who did not implement it to their pain of loss.


Ever heard of a student getting their homework done ahead of time? As opposed to the procrastinator who knocks it out the night before and takes a hit on the grade for turning in work that was less than they were capable of? Curiously, having taught thousands of students in the college classroom, I sometimes think that the student mentality occupies many in the executive suite.


Perhaps ‘eating the ugly frog first’ mentality that productivity experts recommend and then doing the easier tasks later is part of the issue as well. Trying to stay comfortable too long instead of getting out of the comfort zone quickly hinders the initiative to build momentum as well.


Whatever the reason, take the time to apply the Accelerated Planning Horizon Strategy™ to your next project or plan. Use a simple project to start and examine the results.


We think you will find yourself pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

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