I was travelling South to deliver an MSP course one early Spring morning on the train, enjoying a cup of East Midlands Trains tea, gazing out at the passing countryside and squinting against the glare of the bright sunshine – the sun is low in early Spring time and seems far brighter than in the Summer months.

As I sat squinting, I noted the young couple across the aisle pulling up their hoodies to keep the sun out of their eyes, whilst they ‘snuggled down’ against each other_ the rhythmic beat of the train against the tracks clearly having a hypnotic affect on them as they quickly became motionless in their slumber.

When the train pulled into my station (Nottingham) and I got up to leave, I noticed that both young people had a Nottingham-Trent University badge on their sweatshirts, so I gave them a nudge as I made my way down the aisle to disembark. Yes, I know it was a ‘risky action’ as I could have just invited verbal abuse, a bloodied nose or even worse – but instead, I was chased off the train by two panicky, half-asleep young people; clinging onto coats and bags as they had almost missed their stop.

Later that same evening, I reflected upon the train journey as I thought about how the class had discussed the Planning and Control Theme of MSP and recognized that what the young people did was very similar to what many Programme Managers have been guilty of doing _ taking their eye off the ball.

Plans don’t monitor and control – people do!

The preparation of the programme plan involves processing large amounts of information, extensive consultation and building the plan; which during its early iterations; will have many unknowns.

Planning, as an activity should not be underestimated and neither should the need to re-plan.

I think it is the sheer size of the task that leads us not to do a good job on it and to keep doing a good job. When drawing up plans myself, I have always advocated the ‘Carpenters Mantra’ – ‘measure twice, cut once’

Whether it is for this reason that we don’t thoroughly plan / re-plan or for another reason – perhaps John Harvey-Jones’s quote hits the nail on the head – planning isn’t fun!

‘Planning is an unnatural process; it is much more fun to do something. The nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.’

Whatever we think about planning, we cannot argue against the common sense of Abraham Lincoln – ‘A goal properly set; is halfway reached’ – a plan is what we use to show the journey we must make and equally to set the direction of the programme and expectations of our stakeholders.

It is important that not only do we create a plan but recognize that it is not and will not ever be perfect – even Mary Poppins was only ‘practically perfect’.

Thus Programme Managers, like their counterparts at project level, need to recognize the ‘three worlds’ in which they will operate.

The ‘A OK World’ reflects a perfect, on plan situation – perhaps we will have that at the beginning but it rarely lasts more than a few days at best.

The ‘OOPS World’ reflects the vast majority of our situation – things aren’t going strictly to plan, estimates weren’t accurate, resources weren’t available when we expected them to be, dependencies were missed, along with milestones slipping. Hence a need to ‘take corrective actions’ – and of course; learn from those experiences.

The ‘OMG World’ is one that we may possibly find ourselves in but with sufficient time, a robust method of approach and realism from the outset, including setting of ‘sensible boundaries’; is one we can keep out of.

In considering all of our worlds, we should remember ‘Parkinson’s Law’ – ‘Work expands to fill time available for its completion’ – hence, we need to have a structured approach to planning. One that involves stakeholder buy-in and involvement, perhaps a simple template for such a facilitated workshop is all we need to get started!

Programmes don’t run themselves, no matter how well you think you have planned them _ just because you have a schedule, there’s no excuse for ‘closing your eyes’ – schedules need continuous attention, adjustment and alertness to prevent things going astray – we can’t just bury our heads in the sand … or ‘our hoodies’. And be lulled into slumber.

One final thought, taken from H V Adolt; – ‘we are all manufacturers. Making good, making trouble or making excuses.’