The Art Of Planning
Written by Shawn Everett
I've been lucky over the years. I've seen first hand the value of a good plan and at the same time the total chaos that results when you decide planning is a waste of time.
Any good Information Systems textbook will attempt to teach you a planning technique. This may be an ERD if you're designing a database or Pseudo code of you're writing a program. Whatever branch of computing you're in, rest assured that proper procedure requires a plan.
This article is not designed to explain how to plan or even what to plan. All I really want to do is to explain that planning is a good thing.
When I was a co-op student I had a great boss. He first showed me the value of planning. We worked together to upgrade two critical servers. He would usually stand in front of the white board and write out all the steps required in the upgrade. This approach worked quite well because we could easily look at the steps and decide what if any problems needed to be addressed.
I've worked with people who were more concerned with getting the job done than planning to get it done right. This usually resulted in down-time, stress and upset customers. In the worst cases it meant projects that took years to finish instead of months.
I've made my share of mistakes and bad assumptions. Simple trivial projects become a nightmare just because you assume something someone told you was true, or worse, became over confident in your ability. This is where my number one planning rule comes from.
Verify all facts. Ask yourself honestly, "What's the worst that could happen?". How would you deal with it? If the answer to to these questions, especially the last is "I don't know.", then stop. Knowing what to do allows you to flesh in your plan. Not knowing is where you have a problem. Ask colleagues, mentors, or find a mailing list and ask on there.
Once you know what you want to do, what can go wrong and how to deal with it, you have your plan. Document it. Write it down on paper, email it to someone. Once you've done that you can examine the plan with a more critical eye. Did you miss a step? Did you need more information? Does shutting down that service in Step 6 effect another service you didn't realize?
Planning is the secret to success. A plan properly executed is seamless to your customers, and makes you look brilliant. Failure to plan makes you look like a fool.