One of the biggest challenges of a high-tech career is planning when
you cannot plan. You spend your days trying to predict the future without
enough budget, enough time or enough information. This doesn’t
mean you can’t plan, though. It means you have to plan in new
The key to high-tech planning is realizing that everything can, and
probably will, change before a project is completed. This is true
of any endeavor that involves more than 2 people. Software and
products come and go. People join your team, leave your team and
sometimes rejoin it. Budget is approved, then cut, then changed.
Flexibility is the key to high-tech planning success. Instead of
writing your project plans in stone, consider making them no more
than the scribblings on a white board. I can guarantee that each
and every day you will be erasing some entries and adding new ones.
is simply the nature of the beast.
Trying to plan any project can be an exercise in frustration if you
try to control issues over which you have no power. Instead of planning
for specifics -- specific hardware, specific software, specific networks – start
thinking in scenarios. Scenarios are the heart of high-tech planning
and force you to focus on the big picture instead of the individual
While you might have a project plan that calls for a specific piece
of equipment, you want to think about what might happen should that
equipment not be available. For example, you decide to base your network
on Cisco equipment. Some thought should be given to what might happen
if Cisco goes bankrupt during the course of your project. What other
companies have similar equipment at similar prices? How would it integrate
with existing equipment? This would be your “Cisco Fails” scenario.
Perhaps a new technology is on the horizon. Wireless networking is
one particular area where this is happening as I write. Perhaps your
project calls for the installation of 802.11b wireless networking equipment.
What happens if the new, higher speed 802.11g equipment becomes finalized
and available during your project? Shouldn’t you have a “High-Speed” scenario
that allows you to incorporate this new technology if the conditions
Scenarios = Flexibility
Developing project scenarios allows you to remain flexible in the
face of even the most daunting changes. If you create alternative
up-front, you are much less likely to be thrown into a turmoil when
the inevitable changes occur. You have already done the thinking
necessary to deal with the changes. You simply, pick up Scenario
# 395, apply
any additional tweaks that might be necessary and you have a new
Of course, this then means you need to develop additional scenarios
dealing with this new project plan. It might sound like a lot of
extra work, but you are really just formalizing a process you probably
do internally. I know that when I recommend a product for one of
my clients, I always keep the thought of a replacement or substitute
the back of my mind. Scenario planning takes this natural process
and expands on it.
Even better, all these additional scenarios can often be developed
into their own projects. The act of brainstorming new scenarios gets
you thinking about new projects, new ideas and new solutions. This
constant flow of new ideas and new plans is a great way to stay on
top of the technology wave no matter how rough it might become.
Instead of trying to ignore the complexities of high-tech planning,
embrace this complexity and make it work for you. Go into your projects
with the knowledge that much may change before the project is complete.
Use this complexity as a spur to develop multiple scenarios for each
project, and each part of a project. When you have alternatives,
you are much less likely to cling to out-dated project plans. Scenarios
can give you a sense of control over the vagaries of life, dramatically
enhance your effectiveness and bring a new level of value to your
If you would like to learn a bit more about
Scenario Planning, here are a few books to start you on your way.
The Art of Strategic Conversation by Kees van der Heijden
Art of the Long View: Paths to Strategic Insight for Yourself
and Your Company by Peter Schwartz
Planning : Managing for the Future by Gill Ringland.
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