Pinnacle Strategies

Mark Woeppel on Management and Execution Why "Good Planning" Often Leads to Failed Projects

Mark Woeppel on Management and Execution Why “Good Planning” Often Leads to Failed Projects


Plano, TX -- (SBWIRE) -- 02/26/2013 -- Mark Woeppel is a Theory of Constraint expert and a master of organizational transformation with a lengthy track record of successful turnarounds. He is the leader at Pinnacle Strategies. Pinnacle Strategies ( is an international management consulting firm delivering operations management excellence. Pinnacle Strategies increases shareholder value by developing high-performance business processes that significantly enhance productivity, reduce costs and time to market, improving profitability and accelerating sustainable growth.

According to Woeppel, in engineering offices and construction trailers all over the world, promising projects suffer delays, cost overruns and missed output projections. In response, the collective finger of blame points to everyone’s favorite excuse: “bad planning.” If bad planning is responsible for failure, it stands to reason that “good planning” should be the savior. And by “good planning,” conventional wisdom means “more planning”: more pages of tasks, more lines of specifications, and many, many more details.

Woeppel insists most planning is based on an earned value systems model of work breakdown structures that make it relatively easy to assess cumulative costs. But the granular level of detail that’s good for accounting is not so good for project managers. By nature, work breakdown structures are linear, hierarchical – they do not reveal (or account for) the dependencies or “hand-offs” among plan elements, the things that must be done before subsequent steps can be fulfilled. While “good” planning does define the work, it doesn’t define the relationships or – just as perniciously – it attempts to define all of them.

But relationships are precisely what a project manager manages. Excessive detail creates a needle-in-the-haystack situation that inhibits corrective action by obscuring the truly relevant. The more details in the plan, the more difficult it is for people on the ground – project managers and their teams – to make the on-the-fly adjustments that are absolutely necessary for successful implementations.

In reality, project problems are not a possibility, but an inevitability. Things go wrong, and the more “things” there are in a plan, the greater the likelihood that small failures will lead to larger ones. That’s why more planning, in itself, can never lead to timely and efficient project completion. Burdened with details, large plans become boa constrictors that squeeze the air out of any given process, suffocating hopes for success.

The path to success, therefore, is not more planning, but a focus on effective execution that anticipates problems and has the flexibility necessary for addressing them. Consider football: no amount of planning can dictate success on the field; in fact, excessive adherence to a plan would constrain a coach, not help him. What the coach needs is the ability to implement plays – intelligent execution – appropriate to the immediate situation on the ground in front of him.

Woeppel asserts, in order to execute intelligently, the coach needs:

A clear view of the situation: What is core to the status of the project? Good coaches/managers make the work and the obstacles to progress visible. When the project flow is clear to the team, they are able to direct resource time and effort to that smaller subset of activities that make a meaningful contribution to the project goal.

Common goals: There is no room for players trying to pad their “stats” when you’re trying to win the game. Success means perfect alignment among all team members. In a project, there is no such thing as a “balanced” scorecard. Replacing tactical metrics (productivity by discrete tasks) with one metric concentrated on the overall output aligns everyone’s work with the ultimate project objective.

Collaboration: The team must agree on the general strategy of action and their role in it. Instead of pursuing individual agendas, the team cooperates toward the common goals through transparent communication of the project’s status, and the necessary next steps for moving the project forward.

To read more of Woeppel’s thoughts and learn more about Pinnacle Strategies go to:

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Annette Hamilton, Director of Marketing