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Small deeds vs. big plans

A local church regularly posts insightful aphorisms on it’s street front sign. They usually catch my attention as I drive by. Last week the sign read: “No matter how tall you get, you can always look up to your father”. How true.

This week’s aphorism also caught my eye and inspired me, though maybe not in the way the church may have intended. I had to stop, take a picture and share, as it’s so applicable to the work we do.

Now, the immediate association for many people may be something related to Agile principles, — in fact it’s worded like the principles in the Agile Manifesto — i.e. both deeds and plans are good, but one is better – but it’s actually much deeper than that.

I try to instill this exact sentiment in my children. That even at their young age, they can make a difference. That actions build on one another. That thinking big and getting frustrated at the enormity of the effort is definitely not a route to success.

And yet, I find myself forgetting these very words as I go about my routine, setting long term goals that seem daunting yet sound “achievable”.

At work, we’re in midst of a mid-year review on our products. We are taking our plans — defined and agreed to just over 6 months ago — and assessing how well we’ve achieved against them, and detailing what worked, what didn’t work, what plans changed, why etc. This includes sales, marketing, and of course product. What’s amazing is how many things we planned on doing only 6 months ago, that were not achieved, and the reasons why. Also amazing are all the new things we did complete that were not on the original plan, and the reasons why.

In most cases, circumstances beyond our control forced us to changed our plans. And what we did – in the face of those constraints – was define and execute tasks (none of them grandiose)  that were almost wholly within our control.

This, in a nutshell, is the conundrum of planning. Plans are great, but they will almost never be able to take into account those external forces that are beyond our control. And we are always forced to react and alter plans to adjust, while keeping our overall goals in mind — which in my case at work is largely focused on working with other teams to drive revenue, this year and next.

It’s an amazing balancing act to be honest — and whether it’s related to product management, innovation, planning an event or a vacation, or simply teaching life lessons to  our children, it’s an important rule to keep in mind.

Like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, slow and steady can win the race.


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