Yeah, I know. The “just do it” mantra is thrown at us constantly. I was just at a conference where this was the header of a slide in a presentation. I get it, having a bias for action is good, but in my experience “just do it” is typically followed by “do it again” because the first try was a failure. I’m a much bigger fan of the saying “do it right the first time”. In his book The Critical Chain Implementation Handbook, David Updegrove stated something very profound that stuck with me. He wrote “The fastest way to do anything is to do it right the first time, no matter how long it takes. Likewise, the cheapest way to do anything is to do it right the first time, no matter how much it costs.” He attributed this gem of wisdom to an unnamed engineer at Boeing. Isn’t everyone in every business interested in cheapest and fastest? Is “just doing it” the way to accomplish this? Nope. You need a plan. Gather a little data. Do some research. Perhaps even a root cause analysis is in order if this is a problem-solving undertaking. Then make a plan. Lincoln is credited with saying about task planning: “If I had an hour to cut down a tree, I would spend 45 minutes sharpening my axe”. Einstein said something similar about planning for problem solving: “If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes on the solution”. The idea in both cases is that preparation or planning is critical to getting a good outcome. This is especially important if you only have one chance, even if you aren’t technically saving the world.
I will concede that after plans are made and the execution phase begins, reality sets in and the plan will likely need adjustment. That’s OK. It is expected. That doesn’t mean there was not value in planning. In fact, good plans include risk analysis with predetermined countermeasures against the expected problems or known unknowns. It’s the unknown unknowns that you can’t specifically plan for and that can cause the greatest disruption. These just must be dealt with if they occur. That’s what project managers are paid for. Churchill is reported to have said: “Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential”. Contingency planning is especially important and can save an enormous amount of time and effort.
All that being said, there is still a chance that your efforts fail outright or fall short of expectations. This is certainly going to happen occasionally, but your odds of success improve greatly with proper planning, and I argue that this will also allow you to learn more from your failures.
Don’t just do it,