by Leon Rosenshein

Planning and Time Sinks

Paraphrasing Eisenhower and von Moltke, planning is important, plans, not so much. The biggest reason for that is that no matter how much or how well you plan, things don’t always go the way you expect. Some things go faster, some go slower, and some just don’t work. Which leads to Hofstadter’s Law. Of course, Hofstadter’s Law is self-referential, so you can’t just plan it away.

What you can do, though, is understand why things take longer. There are lots of specific reasons, but generally they break down into 5 time thieves. They are:

  • Too much WIP: Context switching and always being busy makes you slower
  • Unknown Dependencies: It’s the unknown unknowns that you find later that slow you down
  • Unplanned Work: It’s hard to prevent the next fire while you’re fighting the current one
  • Conflicting Priorities: Not knowing what to do first/next. Changing focus (or even goals) leaves you with lost time (and potentially wasted effort)
  • Neglected Work: The tech debt that slows you down. All the things that make it harder to get things done

Their all related. Unplanned work is usually because of Conflicting Priorities. Something comes up that is suddenly higher priority than what you’re doing. Unknown Dependencies are often caused by Neglected work. A dependency pops up because you haven’t done the work to define or update your domains or context boundaries when things changed. And anything that has you switching tasks before their done leads to Too much WIP.

Together, all those things mean that your plans shouldn’t be written in stone. Things will change, and you need to be adaptable. But thinking ahead will help you know the things that might happen and lets you prepare for them. And being prepared lets you minimize their impact. You can’t eliminate the impact, but you can make reduce it.

Which brings us full circle. As Eisenhower said,

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.