Plan B: One strategy, different trajectories Premium

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Ever have a great idea for a project, only to see it fail due to unforeseen complications? Ever been the manager without the resources to accomplish a plan handed down from on high? Feel like the company has lots of good ideas but no time to implement them? Adaptive management is designed to overcome such obstacles, keeping plans on track through every bend in the road by revising plan As into even better plan Bs.

Victory isn’t always about a foolproof plan. Sometimes we have to break things apart, take inventory of the pieces, and then put them back together again to start anew.

– David Kord Murray

Even the careful estimates of the world’s top rocket scientists can go wrong… It is impossible to see foresee every eventuality, so be prepared to adapt to the unexpected. How can you design the kind of plan As that avoid failure by evolving into plan Bs?

1. Flexible planning:
Imagine a strategy that puts its hypothesis to the test during implementation in order to reveal different evolutionary possibilities. “This approach allows us to revise plans in real time… when the forecast is wrong,” notes David Murray. Adopting a scientific method where strategic planning takes on a trial-and-error structure creates a dynamic bent on improvement versus conformity to the dictates of the original plan. Once the strategy has been defined, clearly explain the mission and its metrics to managers on the ground, so they can accurately evaluate the successes and failures of the plan during execution.

2. Create a culture of adaptive management: To increase agility, encourage a culture of learning and open communication. In other words, abandon authoritarian and hierarchical methods! Adaptive management rests on 11 principles:
1. The principle of problems
2. The principle of solutions
3. The principle of force
4. The principle of concurrent thinking
5. The principle of cascading objectives
6. The principle of multiple futures
7. The principle of paper plans
8. The principle of doubt
9. The principle of correlation and causation
10. The principle of alterations
11. The principle of strategic debate

3. Learn to accept defeat: It is hard to let go and admit defeat when a plan is not working, because, especially in the corporate world, there is a sense that perseverance and positive thinking lead to success. But sometimes giving up in order to find a better solution is exactly what is required. The concept of adaptive management balances this paradoxical need for perseverance and realism, outlining how to build flexibility, adaptability, and resilience into every plan!

Expert advice
For Paul Jacxsens, Director of Large Line of Business at Kaiser Permanente, adaptive management is about recognizing when a plan is not working and then fixing it, so as to create a culture of progress!

Read our dossier
Plan B: One strategy, different trajectories

Business Digest no. 221, December 2011 – January 2012.

Based on Plan B: How to Hatch a Second Plan That’s Always Better Than Your First, by David Kord Murray, Free Press, September 2011.