Planning and progress

Tesla has been building factories, and building them fast. Whenever we see a process speeding up, our natural inclination is to believe that it has to do with a change in technology – but in a recent interesting analysis professor Lars Stehn (in Swedish) suggests that there is no such technology at work here. What instead is driving the acceleration, he suggests, is really thorough planning and leadership.

If this holds up, and it seems likely, it is a stark reminder that processes are driven not just by the speeds of the technologies underpinning them – but equally by what is sometimes thought of as softer factors like planning and leadership.

Detailed planning is undervalued.

It is easy to see how this can be true. As everyone ever involved in a home renovation project knows, the key to completition is that all of the involved parties deliver on what they are supposed to deliver and when they are supposed to do so. Renovating a kitchen can be a nightmare of individual delays compounding and worsening the pace to a point where it feels like a neverending story. If all of those delays can be eliminated, the project might well be finished way ahead of time.

But the planning we are discussing here is different from how we usually think about planning. It is not the strategic planning we engage in when we seek to figure out how to deal with an uncertain future, but the tactical planning required to drive projects to completition.

This skill, to plan projects well and to lead them, is likely to be a key skill in a society that is trending towards more and more complexity – and yet still we do not value it enough and what nascent progress was made in fields like operations research is today thrown out as not ”agile” enough.

Here is a question:

Could it be the case that our stubborn declaration of the death of planning and our disdain for gantt charts and careful planning, in favor of new forms of project management like Scrum is creating faster subprojects, but leave us powerless to deal with delays stemming from the connection between these projects into a larger plan?

Nothing is as unfashionable today as meticulous planning – yet, when it is applied it seems to yield significant progress – in companies like Amazon and here with Tesla (and arguably as a part of some of the industrial speed shown by countries like China).

Maybe the decline of detailed and meticulous planning is closely related to the increased complanceny of Western economies?

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