by Leon Rosenshein

Charting A Path

It's a sea chart, not a road map. Map out the destination (strategic goals) and the hazzards, but the route depends on the wind. "Road map" is not a useful metaphor.

    -- Allen Holub

Sometimes you run across a phrase that really resonates. This is one of those cases. I’ve talked about roadmaps before, but it took me a few paragraphs and 6 questions to say what Allen said in 3 sentences.

Know where you want to go and what you need to avoid, but the actual path isn’t known until you can look back and see what it was. That’s pretty profound. Because metaphors are important. They provide context, and context is important. And that’s why a roadmap might not be the best metaphor. A roadmap is prescriptive about both path and time. Because it describes a journey over a well-known, static landscape. And development is often not a known, static landscape.

But it doesn’t mean don’t plan and don’t pick a direction. What it does mean is that you need to be both proactive and reactive at the same time. Either one alone won’t get you there. And you need to balance them.

You need to be proactive in that you need to keep the goal, the “landscape”, and hazards in mind. Where possible you want to take advantage of the situation you are in. Going with the wind, as it were. You also need to plan to avoid the hazards, he rocks and shoals along the way.

And you need to be reactive as you go. The situation is not static. The goal moves as you learn more about it. The wind might be stronger or weaker than expected. The cross-wind will be different than planned. Staying on heading X for Y hours won’t put you where you planned, so you need to react to where you are and re-plan.

So don’t skip the planning. If you don’t know where you want to go you’ll never get there, and there’s a good chance all you’ll do is go around in circles. But don’t slavishly follow the plan. Assuming nothing will change along the way will ensure you never get where you want to be just as certainly as not knowing where you’re going.