Planning vs. Putting Out Fires

"In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable", Dwight David Eisenhower

Planning a Project

There are two ways to plan an architectural project. Proactively and reactively. Proactively means creating a plan and following it. Reactively means doing things on an ad-hoc basis, as the necessity arises. The necessity usually arises from a request or demand from an outside source, not self-generated.

Each method requires elements of the other. Even if you plan proactively, you must often respond to immediate and unanticipated needs. And even the most ad-hoc plan requires some proactive up-front planning, otherwise nothing would get done at all. In any real project plan, there are both proactive and reactive elements involved.

Putting Out Fires

We characterize reactive planning as "putting out fires" because (1) tasks are not anticipated, (2) we have to respond to an outside source, (3) we have to respond immediately. We view unanticipated tasks as disruptive -- disruptive to our normal work flow.

We also view unanticipated tasks as budget busters. If a project runs over budget, it's usually because of unanticipated tasks, not because of inaccurate estimates.

Planning in XPM

In XPM, we try to maximize the proactive and minimize the disruptive elements. We believe it's important to be proactive; to follow a plan -- a flexible plan.

To reduce the need to put out fires, we plan on several levels, re-plan often, and supplement our planning with other practices.

Unanticipated Tasks

Even with this level of planning, unanticipated tasks pop up. In XPM, we incorporate them into the process, in an effort to minimize their disruptive effects.

When an unanticipated need arises, say as a result of an outside request, the person receiving the request makes a task card. The task card serves as a reminder that something must be done. It won't be forgotten. The task may have to be done now or later, but it won't be forgotten.

If satisfying that request need not be done immediately; need not be done in the current iteration, the card writer puts the card in the "new cards" deck, for selection later. The task card will be reviewed, along with other remaining task cards, prioritized, and selected during a subsequent weekly planning meeting. There is virtually no disruption to XPM processes.

If something must be done immediately, the person who wrote the task card announces the task in an ad-hoc or regular stand-up meeting. Team members discuss the task, deadlines, and related issues, and post the task card on the task board, ready for the next available team member to select and complete the task, in the normal XPM fashion. Disruption to the team, again, is minimal.

In XPM, we identify these disruptive tasks and track them each week, to see if there are patterns we can identify. We actively try minimize unanticipated tasks on an ongoing basis.


Compared to reactive planning methods, XPM planning and related practices provide:

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