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You're Not Lost Until You Run Out of Gas

 

Why Plan B – and the means to execute it – matter

The zipper was invented to fasten shoes. Columbus left Spain looking for the Far East. Apple spent a fortune on the Newton. Sometimes good ideas do not work out exactly the way we expect they will. Decades after the first patent, the zipper became a hit. Columbus’s failure to reach the Orient turned out well rather well for Spain and the Europeans. Apple went on to put the lessons from the Newton to rather good use.

What we do when things do not go exactly to plan matters.

A big IT-portal project I once worked on sank a small fortune into development without once showing the concept to the users for which it was intended. Better yet, the entire budget was scheduled to be used before the launch with just a small amount set aside to fix eventual glitches. No prizes for guessing the user feedback – or the tone of the subsequent discussions among all the parties involved in its development. It was not pretty.

The alternative was obvious to many of us working on the project. Involving the user would have been a good idea, clearly, but even more important was the need for a budget to pay for changes. All the customer research in the world cannot predict the future with complete accuracy; it is how the future works.

Business plans are plans – and plans never go exactly the way you think it will.

Carl von Clausewitz said that no plan survives first contact with actual events, and if one the smartest guys to every write about how to plan things said so, it ought to be enough for anyone. You can plan all you want, buy the best market analysis ever conducted, but the odds of everything going exactly as planned are, well, ask Steve Jobs.

The smart automaker in late 1990′s America was making big SUVs as quickly as possible. Who cared about fuel economy? But even if one accepted this, did it mean that every single designer at GM had to work on SUVs? What if the future was not the SUV? Why place all your eggs in one basket?

So you can’t afford a Plan B?

The answer is the opposite. You cannot afford not to have a Plan B. It does not have to be as expensive as the original plan, but it does take some thought – and usually some money. What will you do if your intended customers are not interested in your new product? Will you develop a new product or find different customers? Can you make adjustments that will solve the problem?

What if everything goes right?

Congratulate yourselves and count your blessings. Odds are it will not happen exactly the same way next time. Put aside some of what you make now for when the next plan goes awry. Call it a reserve, they come in ever so handy when the unexpected happens.

What is your Plan B – and do you have the means to execute it?

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