Planning is dealing with uncertainty


To understand how much uncertainty will always impact your plans, you need to understand the work. If you don’t, you’re toast.

If we know everything that is going to happen, exactly which steps to take, all the illnesses and unexpected changes that will occur, all the ways the outside world will change our situation and in minute detail how we need to build whatever we want to build, planning is easy.

Planning is easy, if everything is known in advance

This is a fairly uncommon situation, though. It can break down for me even when I’m just trying to make a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. And I do that fairly often. But I will find out I’m out of bread, but luckily there’s some in the freezer which I can thaw. That only takes a minute extra. But the ham might be off? The date is yesterday. It seems OK. Oh, and I need to get some cheese from the pantry, because someone finished the last one yesterday and didn’t replace it. Then, I can’t find the cheese slicer. Ah, it’s in the dishwasher. Let’s wash it by hand. Then, the table grill is not where I expect it to be, likely because one of the kids put it away in the wrong cupboard. One of the heat plates is missing. I revert to just using a frying pan. After I wash it, I have one, but now I need some butter. And a knife for the butter. Once I have all this settled, I can finally start making the sandwich.

I slice the cheese. I smell once more, but the ham really does seem fine. I put the pan on the heat, and let the butter melt. I assemble the bread, cheese and ham while the butter melts, and put the sandwich in the pan. I can’t walk away from this process, as I could’ve done if I’d been able to use the grill, so I spend a few minutes moving the toastie around in the pan, and turning it over until it’s nice and ready. The cheese is not quite as well melted as it would have been if I’d used the grill, but all-in-all it’s a pretty good lunch. It took me 20 minutes to make it, instead of 3 minutes preparing it and doing something else for the 6 minutes it would’ve needed to be in the grill. On the other hand, even though it’s a little more fatty, the butter toasted bread does taste a little better.

Then again, if I’d been in a hurry I would have probably just made a peanut butter sandwich. Three minutes to make and eat.

Everything is so much better if you’re not in a hurry

Things are hard to predict. Especially if you also have to deal with other people doing things in the same area, and maybe using the same resources. If you feel like things should be planned in detail and done according to plan, you probably will be disappointed.

This was another excerpt of “The Product Owner’s Guide To Escaping Legacy”, my upcoming book.