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Which is More Difficult in Project Management: Planning or Execution?

There is no disputing the fact that both planning and execution are equally important in project management. But is one more difficult than the other?

The answer is – it depends. There are two schools of thought. I will describe both points of view here. One fact that is consistent through out the project – both during execution and planning is that the project’s environment is in constant flux. The project has to be continuously adapting to the changes in the environment. This includes both external and internal changes.

The school of thought that says planning is more difficult:

Planning well early saves a lot of time and money later on in the project. Planning well takes a lot of effort, insight, and critical thinking. We have to look at all possible angles that we can afford to look at. If this is done well, execution will be just following the plan.

Good planning has to consider a variety of possibilities that might occur during execution. It needs to come up with alternative solutions for various contingencies whether or not they occur. And this has to be based on the experiences of the SMEs at hand during the planning. Execution on the other hand only has to deal with the situation at hand, and can quiet successfully influence the next steps and consequences.

Another factor making planning more difficult is the tendency of executives to change the project during planning. This can be caused by market forces, financial constraints, or just new thinking. Changes to projects midway is a major challenge that can derail good planning activities unless they are based on a solid foundation of good communication.

The school of thought that says execution is more difficult:

While it is a commonly held belief that any plan is better than no plan, the truth is – only a good plan can be better than no plan. A bad plan that can take you in the wrong direction is actually worse than having no plan when you execute. If execution is poor, any well planned project can fail.

Planning for risks is easier than actually encountering the risks. Execution has to deal with them. Risks when they occur bring residual risks along with them, adding a wrench in the cogs of the execution engine.

A plan is only a road map. The executor must follow the plan when it makes sense, and then improvise when the rubber hits the road. Many things can go wrong during execution – you may lose resources to other projects or sickness, you may run into technical blocks, encounter incorrect assumptions, etc.

So what is the truth?

The truth is that every organization and it’s culture is different. Every project is unique and therefore the planning or execution or both could be difficult depending on various factors. Each of these factors are inherent to the project at hand.

A good plan is half the battle. A good execution is the other half.

Look here for some of my simple projects and how I approached some of them with simple solutions.

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