Plans are useless - planning is priceless

"Planning is priceless, but plans are useless." This statement, made by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower during the Second World War, sounds completely contrary at first sight - time to take a closer look.


This statement by Eisenhower also applies to companies. They always plan a lot - from project management plans to strategic plans and meeting schedules. There are countless plans. This is not a bad thing, either. If you didn't create plans, a particular structure would be missing. But what does it mean now that plans are useless?

The emergency plan - suddenly planless

A tangible example is the emergency plan. Every company has emergency plans, even if it is only for the hopefully not occurring fire. But the problem of an emergency is already in the definition. It is not planned - an emergency always occurs suddenly. Of course, it is still good to be prepared for such cases, but at the same time, it means that the way it happens is not recorded in any plan. The fire department will be happy to confirm this. It is nevertheless vital to be prepared for an emergency and determine what should happen. In a fire, a relatively short plan is sufficient, as there is little time to read through pages of documents. For projects that run over several years, everything is meticulously prepared initially, just like in emergencies - but it never happens as planned. 

Better planning through agility

You can, of course, use your experience and knowledge of what needs to be taken into account at various points and include this in the project plan. But of course, there are unexpected things in every project that you have never done before. If this situation occurs, the plan you originally made for it is worthless. Then it would help if you become more agile. But even agility doesn't just happen. It follows a specific plan and a particular structure. Depending on which model it is based on, there are different approaches and methods within the agile way of working.

Useless plans - essential planning

When Eisenhower made his statement, he also had a concrete example in mind. It was about a mission in France. There, plans were drawn up to place the soldiers accordingly and know how to move through the terrain, how, and how to proceed there. At short notice, it was then decided not to do this at that location. You could say now, better you have a plan and don't need it afterward than you need a plan and don't have one. However, with time, it turned out that the Americans had to be deployed in France at this point, after all. They remembered the plan they had drawn up at that time, but it had become outdated, which made it useless - hence the statement: "Planning is essential, but plans are useless. Whenever a plan becomes too old, you can't do anything with it anymore. Still, the basic planning is necessary, and it doesn't matter in which area: whether in human resources, production, warehousing, etc. Everywhere planning is essential, and it is possible not to rely on the plans you have created because they may be outdated and no longer fit the current situation.

Have you planned well?

It is always good to have clear key points that everyone can read quickly. In other words, a kind of stick. If you are currently at one end and have to go to another, it is useful to determine specific steps and a particular direction. This is not a detailed list, but a rough route, which is the route's guideline. In the context of agility, you can move from track to track, and so planning without a too detailed plan can be very helpful, especially for situations like an emergency or a project.

"Plans are useless - planning is everything". Only if you have planned, if you have prepared for a situation, then you have a chance to get through it. If, on the other hand, you only have one plan, which may have been in the drawer for several months or years, it is useless in practice.

If you would like to know more about plans and planning, please write to me at You can also call me or make an appointment.  

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André Daus Red Teaming
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