Author’s Note: Is this change something new that you are in the process of planning? You may want to read “How to plan to do something you’ve never done before” before this one if you haven’t already.
If you’ve ever managed a project with a long timeframe or been responsible for implementing a major change, then you know that, well, things change. Inevitably, you’ll discover something that hadn’t been accounted for or that wasn’t as clear at the beginning, or perhaps, something in your context will have changed. Maybe there’s a new opportunity you’ll want to be able to seize.
You may have even identified some potential risks and come up with plans to mitigate them. It is, however, impossible to know everything that could possibly happen or change or that needs to be accounted for when you’re initially planning a project. One of the best ways to plan for the unexpected is to plan for change, to build in a margin for it. That’s why it’s helpful to save for an emergency fund, and why you build extra time and contingency into a project budget.
You can also plan to make changes, even if you don’t know what the changes will be. Worse comes to worse, your plan works out.
Many people plan regular times to check in and evaluate progress on a project, especially a change management project, but even better is to regularly ask the question of what changes need to be made and evaluate the plan itself.
Plan to change your plan
Here’s how to prepare for course adjustments before you start really diving in:
- Schedule check-in meetings and put them on the calendar along with an agenda. How many and how often depends on the scope of what you’re doing and the timeframe. Perhaps you might split it into thirds or around key milestones or phases. If this is more of a continuous thing than a discrete project, then figure out a timeframe when enough will have happened to answer some key questions, but not so much time that it will be hard to change course.
- Determine how it will be decided whether to adjust course and how. This could be by consensus, by the project lead having final say, or some type of measure (e.g., as long as our revenue is on track within 5%, we stick to the plan)—or some combination.
- When planning out the work, plan the first third in the most detail, the second third with some detail, and leave the last third at a high-level. This will make it easier to make changes since you’ll have left some planning (e.g., who is doing what specific tasks during which week or month) until after the check-in point.
If this is a change management project (e.g., implementing a new system and new processes), having scheduled check-ins to review and adjust the plan can also support your cause. One thing people worry about during a big change is that it will be terrible, it will make things worse, and they will be stuck with it. (That can happen, of course!) However, transparency about how changes will be made and opportunities to provide feedback or request adjustments (e.g., including some time to work out the new time tracking process before the summer staff join) can alleviate some concerns. You can engage them as beta testers and partners in working out any issues before the full rollout.
Considerations for course adjustments
Here’s are some things you might want to discuss at the start of the project and then during check-ins:
- What is the desired outcome at the end of this scope of work/part of the project?
- What assumptions was this planned work based upon? Have things changed? You will likely need to change your plan if an assumption no longer holds. If it was a constraint, then maybe you don’t need to change anything but this opens up other opportunities. Note:Assuming that the plan will lead towards the desired outcome is an assumption.
- Does it look like we’re making progress towards the desired outcome? This is really about whether it is working for the team/organization or not.
- What changes do we need to make to our plan? This can be adding things, subtracting things, or modifying how you go about them (e.g., method, strategy, timing, who does what).
- Do we need to change how we evaluate the need for course adjustments at our next check-in?
When the only constant is change, might as well plan for it!