The Best Plan is the One That’s Happening

I have a fair amount of experience in the world of agency and client work. One thing that always struck me as interesting about both worlds is the need for a perfect plan.

A majority of the system is built around carefully crafted and detailed plans and, equally as, if not more important, the sale of those plans to the client. To some extent, this is understandable: Why would you give someone money if you didn’t know exactly what they were going to do with it?

More often than not, though, the level of detail required by both clients and the RFPs1 that they issue moves far past good planning and demands minute levels of detail—detail that is in many cases completely speculative on the part of the agency/contractor. This can cause a plethora of painful issues and can be blamed on a variety of culprits, all of which may be entirely valid. Regardless, the result is the same: Disparity between speculation and reality. (If you have been spared from this exercise, you are blessed. If not, then there’s no need to explain.)

Even the best strategists cannot form a perfect plan using high levels of speculation. In fact, I would argue that the best strategists build plans that intentionally include mechanisms for constant feedback so that the plan can necessarily change when they see what is actually working and what is not.

My challenge is that I tend to be a perfectionist, so the over-planning is attractive on some level. Simply put, I like to be prepared. This well-intentioned characteristic has been tested over the past several months as my team and I have built and rolled out marketing plans across 4 cities, all in different states, all on extremely tight deadlines. Over-planning wasn’t on the table. In one case, we started marketing only four weeks before launch, which was a bit unnerving, but we hit all of our goals.

In fact, we exceeded our goals by a significant margin.

Our success wasn’t due to a perfect plan. It was due to a good plan that wasted absolutely no time. It was also due to keeping a close eye on what worked and pouring all of our time and budget into those things. Try, measure, repeat—as quickly as humanly possible. It was like a good middle school science project—not the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s turned in on time, displays the principle with clarity, and gets an “A”.

Careful planning is healthy as long as it motivates you to execute and learn. The best plan is the one that’s happening.

(Thank you to Roy Schmidt and John Saddington for editing this post. It’s turned out much better than the version I originally sent you.)


1. Request(s) for Proposal are solicitations of service from multiple companies that often require (and some would argue, encourage) unhealthy and highly subjective speculative work from agencies or contractors.