In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable'.
Dwight D Eisenhower
A large source of frustration that I see with frontline leaders and their teams is the perceived imposed friction that is generated through the plan constantly changing. Planners, engineers, superintendents and managers (often referred to as ‘they’) seemingly come to work everyday with one mission - Create confusion so that the safety and efficiency of the frontline teams is reduced through the constant changing of the plan and target. This is clearly not the case, but what can be done to defeat the chaos of a changing plan?
Set the conditions – Adopt the default mindset that the plan is going to change and be proactive in ensuring that you and your team are ready to adapt. Do this by constantly reinforcing the Vision and Mission, and continue to build context and purpose at every opportunity. Every Pre-Start meeting, ToolBox meeting and weather delay is an opportunity to friction proof the team. When allocating tasks, brief what actions the team should be prepared to conduct in the event of a change to the plan. Utilise all means of communication throughout the shift to keep the team updated on external events that may trigger a change to the plan.
Plan the change and give clear guidance – Once it is identified that there is a change to the plan, plan how that change is going to occur. The new plan should be delivered face to face where possible and ideally, all of the frontline leaders that are effected by the change should be in attendance. Once again, reinforce the Mission and the Vision and build context by giving background as to why the plan is changing. Remove the phrase 'they now want us to do this', from your vocabulary. There is zero chance of the team owning the plan if you give them the easy out by placing all of the responsibility onto the faceless and nameless person of 'they'.
One of the main takeaways I had after reading Alfred Lansing’s book, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, was Shackleton’s ability to clearly articulate what the new plan was, what the new groupings and tasks were, what did mission success look like, and what were the control measures, triggers, and actions on.
Place yourself in a position to monitor Friction, Failure and Transition– Good frontline leaders identify gaps and lead into them in order to exploit local opportunities. They also identify gaps that need to be closed and act as the conduit between flanking teams. Whatever type of gap it is, you need to be in a position to observe through either physically being there, or having a sensor that can report and act. For example, a crew step-up Supervisor or leading hand.
Capture lessons learnt– Being able to rapidly adapt to a changing situation is a skill, and lessons learnt should be captured, discussed and documented.
Recommended Reading - Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage