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Ding Dong the PLAN is dead - Forecast instead!

It is a well known statistic that 60%-90% organizations fail to execute their strategies successfully. Delivery failure at enterprises is now so common that we are numb to it, and we are not at all surprised by it. Strategic execution is hard, but there has to be a better model for success. It is time to shake planning up and do something different, lets stop taking the same approach to planning, even though it has being proven to not yield results.

Where does planning go wrong?

  • There are too unknown unknowns upfront

  • The plan is created when the least amount is known

  • A plan creates a false sense of security.

  • A plan is just a set of un-validated assumptions


  • Organizations stick with the original plan, even when it is known the original assumptions are flawed

  • Judgement bias and poor decision making mean people ignore their current trajectory

A step change is required, where we acknowledge and accept that the current project methodologies do not yield success. Again this a known fact, yet there is still an enterprise inability to do take a different approach.

We need to change mindsets. Language can have a powerful impact on mindsets. The word PLAN has become too loaded and heavy with the assumption that is accurate, solid and reassuring. FORECAST is a more accurate word as it is not laden with the responsibility of 100% accuracy. It is also a scientific, data driven approach that makes predications on something in the future. Everyone has an implicit knowledge that a forecast is not guaranteed and that it frequently changes based on new information, also it is scientific using data driven approach. Forecasts are more accurate the closer in time they are and less accurate further out, but there are trends and patterns that can give you useful insight on the future without locking it in as a guaranteed outcome. A delivery forecast sounds much more suited to the digital age, a data driven approach which is adaptive

Lets use an analogy that everyone will understand and is familiar with - the weather forecast. The weather forecast is a systematic model which predicts what the weather will be like on a daily basis. Everyone knows that there are multiple variables and that it is impossible to accurately guess what the weather will be like each day and no one has this expectation that it should be 100% predictable. We prepare for multiple options, it is sunny, but we bring a jacket. With the weather, we can only make a set of predications based on trends and key inputs into the model providing us with percentage predictability for each day. It would be a fools errant to attempt to predict the temperature weeks, months, years in advance. If only organizations where to realize that when they want a plan, a way to predict the future, what they can get at best, is a forecast, a way to predict the future using historical data, trends and observations of key variable elements. What if we could reframe organizations think and approach strategic execution? Maybe this will the gamechanger we need to bring success back to strategic execution?

The history of the weather forecast scientific method is fascinating! Admiral Robert Fitzroy was Charles Darwin's captain on the HMS Beagle, during the famous circumnavigation in the 1830s. He also invented the weather forecast and founded the British Met Office in the 1860s amid much mockery and scorn! Before this, there was no such thing as a weather forecast, the concept of weather wisdom prevailed. Fishermen, farmers and others who worked in the open leveraged tactics such as the appearance of clouds or the behavior of animals - to tell them what weather coming. A frog in a jar was a common approach to predicting the weather.

The belief persisted amount many of the time that weather was not predictable and was completely chaotic. When one MP suggested in the Commons in 1854 that recent advances in scientific theory might soon allow then to know the weather in London, '24 hours beforehand', the entire House erupted with laughter and said impossible! However, soon Fitzroy started predicting storms a few days out and saved many sailor lives that people started to pay attention to weather science.

The introduction of a data driven, scientific forecasting to planning would help organizations to help it navigate the path forward using real time modelling, forecasting and trends and pattern analysis. In the era of agile, devops, systems thinking, it makes you think, why do we still want to hold onto old-fashioned, biased, opinion based planning instead of embracing a scientific forecast approach. Lets give our teams the right data to make the right decisions quickly. Let's bring the scientific rigour required for execution success.

So, lets retire the word PLAN, it no longer has a place in the digital and data driven age and move to FORECAST. Its 2021, its time to get scientific about strategic execution.

Next week lets deep dive into FORECASTING as a concept.


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