Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 27;   July 7, 2021:

Time to Let Go of Plan A

by

We had a plan. It was a good one. Our plan seemed to work for a while. But then troubles began. And now things look very bleak. But people can't let go of the plan. For some teams in this situation, there isn't a Plan B. For others, Plan B is a secret.
A hang glider pilot taking off

A hang glider pilot taking off. The runway is actually a "run" way.

Some teams encounter insurmountable obstacles as they try to execute their plans. They nevertheless persist. When teams have difficulty abandoning — or even revising — their original plans, a natural question arises. Why can they not let go of Plan A? One possible reason why people might be reluctant to let go of Plan A is that there is no Plan B. The question then becomes, "Why is there no Plan B?"

Some people are averse to creating a Plan B, on principle. They cite a saying often attributed to hang glider pilots, "Don't look where you don't want to land." Presumably this applies mostly to hang glider landing maneuvers. In the context of projects, several interpretations are possible. Example #1: "Pay attention to where you want to land. Time you spend looking elsewhere is time you can't get back." To me, that seems like wisdom.

But another interpretation I've heard, which I regard as more questionable in value, is Example #2: "Looking at backup landing sites reduces the chances of landing where you want to land." Maybe that makes sense for hang gliding. For project planning, it seems like the opposite of wisdom.

Still, There are those who believe
that making backup plans is
tantamount to self-sabotage
there are those who believe that making backup plans is tantamount to self-sabotage. They argue that making backup plans takes time and resources. That time and those resources would have been available for Plan A, if we hadn't allocated them to developing Plan B. Taking them away from Plan A makes Plan A more likely to fail.

The problem with this argument is that it's a general statement. It suggests that all risk management enhances the probability of the managed risks materializing. That seems to me to be false on its face. So for me, having a Plan B doesn't make Plan A more likely to fail.

Another possible explanation for the apparent absence of a Plan B is that there actually is a Plan B, but it's a secret. There are those who believe that if the people who do the work of Plan A knew about Plan B, they might not work as energetically or creatively as needed for Plan A to succeed. Or they might not be willing to make the sacrifices necessary for Plan A to succeed. The advocates of this approach would likely agree with Samuel Johnson, who is credited with the insight that nothing so focuses the mind as the prospect of being hanged in a fortnight. These advocates conclude that keeping Plan B secret is necessary for the success of Plan A.

Sometimes, advocates of secrecy go a bit further. They argue for letting it be known — falsely — that a task force worked long and hard to put together a Plan B. And they failed. The task force found that no Plan B was possible. These advocates of Plan B secrecy believe that this false story will truly "focus the minds" of the Plan A teams.

So these are two reasons why a Plan B might not be available or might not be widely known. But why do people continue to advocate Plan A after it has already encountered serious obstacles, even when a Plan B is available? That's the topic for next time.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Time to Go to Plan B  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Three-legged racing teamDevious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?
ApplesCurrying Favor
The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though — it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: II
Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor. They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (1865-1937) was a German general and politicianBackstabbing
Much of what we call backstabbing is actually just straightforward attack — nasty, unethical, even evil, but not backstabbing. What is backstabbing?
The Jolly RogerDealing with Credit Appropriation
Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation.

See also Workplace Politics and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Handling Q&A after a presentation, a situation in which formulaic utterances occur with elevated frequencyComing September 22: Formulaic Utterances: I
With all due respect is an example of a category of linguistic forms known as formulaic utterances. They differ across languages and cultures, but I speculate that their functions are near universal. In the workplace, using them can be constructive — or not. Available here and by RSS on September 22.
A collection of identical boltsAnd on September 29: Formulaic Utterances: II
Formulaic utterances are things we say that follow a pre-formed template. They're familiar to all, and have standard uses. "For example" is an example. In the workplace, some of them can be useful for establishing or maintaining dominance and credibility. Available here and by RSS on September 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.