According to Dwight D. Eisenhower, “…plans are useless but planning is indispensable”. How can the production of something “useless” be “indispensable?”
The answer can be found on a banner recently immortalized on Bulldozer00’s blog: “React Less…PLAN MORE!” Unpacking this is simple — the essence of planning is to decide on responses to events that have yet to occur without the stress of a time crunch. Gaining time to analyze a response and reducing the emotional aspects should lead to better decisions than ones made on the fly and under pressure. The problem we run into, however, is that reality fails to coincide with our plans for very long.
As Colin Powell observed, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Detailed, long-term plans can quickly become swamped by complexity as the tree of options branches out. Making assumptions about expected outcomes can prune the number of branches, but each assumption becomes a risk that an unexpected event invalidates the plan. The key is to find a middle ground between operating completely ad hoc on the one hand and having to be Nostradamus on the other.
Planning at the proper scope is one tool to help avoid problems. As noted above, plans with deep detail and long durations are brittle due to complexity and/or the difficulty in making predictions. Like any other view, plans should be more detailed in the foreground and fuzzier in the distance — much more than a general path to your desired destination will likely turn out to be wasted effort. Only planning that promotes success is needed. There’s no magic inherent in planning that justifies a belief in “more equals better.” Fitness for purpose should be the metric rather than pure quantity of detail.
Another benefit to avoiding useless detail is that it makes it easier to abandon a plan when it no longer makes sense. Humans tend to value that which they’ve invested time in. In execution, commitment is a virtue right up until the point it ceases to be. Hanging on to a plan past that point can be expensive. Having the flexibility to pivot to a new plan can make the difference between success and failure.