Why planning is more important than plans


Advances in Project Management

By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

United Kingdom

Project management is intimately associated with the production of detailed plans, charts and schedules, constantly re-affirming Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s belief that “a goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Planning is generally considered to be a higher-level process concerned with ‘how to initiate and execute the set of objectives’. Plans provide simulated maps of the unfolding future which act as baselines against which reality is assessed and expectations and achievements are monitored. Plans thus provide mechanisms for reasoning about actions independently of implementation.

Projects rely on static plans to overcome the inherent uncertainty and novelty associated with completing a task, with the underlying assumption that if planning can be done ‘properly’, the rest of the project will be easier to manage. Plans are therefore used to anticipate and predict circumstances allowing an organised deployment of resources.

The sixth edition of the APM Body of Knowledge positions planning as a key area under integrative management, explaining that “planning determines what is to be delivered, how much it will cost, when it will be delivered, how it will be delivered and who will carry it out”.

The APM Body of Knowledge clarifies that following approval from senior management, the detailed documentation, referred to as the project plan, is prepared during the definition phase. This detailed documentation provides comprehensive answers to the following questions related to the delivery of the project: Why? What? How? Who? When? How much? Where?

The agreed management plan incorporating answers to the full set of questions provides the baseline, thereby forming the basis for gate reviews designed to assess the continuing validity of the work.

So, what is wrong with detailed plans?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a plan as (devising) a method of proceeding thought out in advance.

The underlying assumptions in conventional plans, are that: circumstances are frozen, change is limited, preferences cannot and do not alter, and expectations remain at the same level.

Brian Loasby (1967) notes that the term plan is overloaded and used in many confusing ways. He further asserts that the justification of planning as a way of improving communication is the reverse of the truth.

Given that planning implies gazing into the future, Loasby identifies three reasons that justify such an effort.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower in the UK. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM. Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. Information about the Gower series can be found at



About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK



Darren Dalcher
, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London. Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.

Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond. He is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board.

Prof Dalcher is an academic editorial advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.