On today’s show we’re talking about a single word. The problem with this single word is that it’s ambiguous.

We often think that we know the language and what it means. But the truth is unless you’re really clear on exactly what you mean, very simple words can lead you down a dead end path.

Today’s show is focused on a simple word that has four letters.

When projects run into difficulty, the culprit is often a failure in the plan.

This year, in the year 2020 with all of the global dislocations that have  befallen our economies most business leaders would bristle at the notion that the plan was to blame for the difficulties being experienced. We’ve had a global pandemic. We’ve had government mandated shutdowns. We’ve been ordered by our governments not to conduct business. How can you sit on you high horse and say that the plan was to blame? I heard a business leader tell me in the past week, he said “We had a plan, and the plan couldn’t be executed.”

The Project Management Institute is the globally recognized leader in project management certification. If you’re going to be a professional project manager, you’re going to take a bunch of courses and at the end take a lengthy exam. Finally you’re a professional project manager.

The PMI has a lengthy publication called the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This document breaks down project management into 5 distinct process groups, 10 knowledge areas, and 49 distinct processes. The project plan itself has an outline of 10 chapters.

According to PMI, a plan is a formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. 

A plan is a deliverable. It’s a document which you can point to. It’s a noun.

Therein lies the problem. When you have a plan, then the work to produce the plan is done.

When you think that the plan is a noun, you completely miss the fact that the word plan is also a verb.

A verb is an action word in most languages. You can conjugate the verb.

When you think of the plan as a noun, it often has a finite end-point. The plan is complete, it’s done. We now have a plan. We obviously don’t want to do an incomplete job of planning, no more than we want to do an incomplete job of anything. In order to achieve excellence, things need to be taken to completion.

But plans are different. Plans, despite our ideals are never done. They’re continually being pushed off track by forces. I may have a plan to sail the ship from New York to Gibraltar. I plot the course based on the direction I need to go. But there’s wind, there is current, there are local waves that can instantaneously turn the ship so that from one second to the next it’s not facing the intended direction. You have to always be adjusting course. In fact, you are almost always off course.  There are a few miniscule instants in time when the ship is actually on course. The rest of the time it’s off course, trying to get back on course.  Once you get out on the water, the weather you thought was going to be part of your journey changes. You may have to take a detour of 1,000 miles in order to avoid that hurricane that changed direction.

You see, in order to be useful in the real world, the word plan is a verb first and a noun second. The folks at PMI are great. But they’re academic. They’ve studied project management about as deeply as it is possible to do so.

We see a verb being more empowering than the noun.