Planning is a useful tool but it can become an excuse to delay execution. You don’t need a detailed plan, what you need is to get to work.

A close friend of mine is a master of coming up with plans. Starting a blog, writing a movie script, launching a podcast, opening a restaurant — you name it, he’s planned it. Yet, he’s not exactly a poster child for execution. He reminds me of people I’ve worked with, who can think hundreds of ideas per minute, yet crash and burn when it comes to executing them.

Ideas are only multipliers of execution. A mediocre idea could become something great if it’s executed properly. On the other hand, the most ingenious idea is worth nothing with a poor execution. That’s the reason behind the success of Lean and Agile methodologies, both emphasize the importance of execution. It doesn’t matter how great the ideas are if you can’t deliver something real to your customers.

Brain is a genius, but his plans to conquer the world always fail.

Planning is a useful tool but it can become an excuse to delay progress. It’s a mistake to assume that you need a detailed plan to achieve success. This mindset results in projects with meticulously outlined timelines that never play out as planned.

When you plan, you are just putting ideas in a timeline and ideas are abstractions, not real things. Tangible outputs trump great ideas printed on a roadmap.

Planning is fiction

Planning is amazing. Everything works perfectly in the planning stage. It all appears crystal clear, a promising path to success. The problem is that everything you see is a mirage.

“Plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow.” — Fred Brooks

Research indicates that people generally take three times longer to complete a task than their initial predictions. This is called the planning fallacy. Our optimism leads us to underestimate the time and effort a project needs. We fail to see unexpected events that could derail our plans.

You can ask Wile E. Coyote how he feels about planning.

In the 15 years I’ve been creating digital products, I’ve yet to see a roadmap that develops exactly as planned. You can create the most detailed plan, but the moment you begin the real work, reality smacks you in the face.

The farther ahead you plan, the blurrier it gets. An hour’s plan? Success is almost guaranteed. Extend it to a day, still manageable. But a week? The clarity diminishes. A month? Even less so. And as for a year? Well, that’s how big companies usually plan their product strategies — they are basically writing a fiction story.

The problem gets worse with bureaucracy. If we fail with planning at an individual level, we fail even worse at the organizational level. Stakeholders and managers are drawn to roadmaps because they need visibility and assurance. However, you can achieve this with a clear product vision and an understanding of critical dates. There is no need for details if the team knows what the goal is. You should commit to outcomes, not to deliverables.

The problem lies not in plans but in obsessively detailed, long-term plans. Viewing roadmaps as a reliable view of the future sets the stage for a crash landing.

I’m not disregarding planning entirely. I love to plan. I even schedule in a calendar my weekend leisure activities. I’m not saying you should dive into a project without planning, my problem is with mistaking a roadmap for an oracle. The beginning of any project is full of uncertainties, and detailed long-term plans are useless at this stage.

In a long roadmap packed with milestones, you’re betting on variables beyond your control. A product vision is all you need to start moving. Plan with broad strokes and use Agile methods to produce something quickly, get feedback, and iterate the product with those learnings.

Dream big and begin small

People delay action by creating false requirements. Take my friend, the one with the hundred plans and zero executions. He wanted to launch a travel blog but hesitated, believing he needed to create a brand first. So, guess what? He spent months planning a launch that never happened.

The truth is, you don’t need to open a restaurant to become a chef, start by catering. Selling your hand-crafted candles doesn’t require a website, use social media. Start small and be patient.

Small iterations compound. You’re not going to make the product perfect with one stroke. Good things take time. You don’t get from 0 to 100 in one day, that only happens in fiction. Think about the Rocky training scene, it is like 2 minutes in the movie, but it can take 10 years of hard work in real life.

Movies like Rocky makes us think that a 2 minutes training session is enough to master a skill.

When creating digital products, we obsess with finding from the get-go the million-dollar idea, the new Spotify, the new Netflix, or the new Amazon. Yet, none of these companies reached their peak with their first release. It took years of product enhancement to reach their current status.

Sure, you might get lucky and hit the jackpot on your first try, but consistency beats luck. The person who gets one shot needs everything to go right, but the person who gets 1000 shots is going to score at some point. Find a way to play the game that ensures you get a lot of shots. That’s the magic of small iterations.

The person who gets one shot needs everything to go right, but the person who gets 1000 shots is going to score at some point.

Think big, have a vision. Start small, execute one iteration at a time. What can you achieve in a month? In a week? A day? Even an hour? It’s easier to optimize a modest start than to begin with a perfect one.

Instead of researching an idea for months, try a Design Sprint, testing the idea with users in just a week.

Don’t aim for a perfect product; create an MVP and validate it using the Lean Startup approach.

Rather than planning for a big product release, break it into manageable chunks as Agile suggests, and build it one sprint at a time.

Don’t let excuses delay action

Don’t be like George Constanza, the master of excuses.

Don’t let bureaucracy delay action

Managers often become gatekeepers to action. To bypass bureaucracy present an idea as an experiment, something small that requires minimal time and resources. Think of it as a one-day hackathon or a one-week Design Sprint. Once you have something tangible, it’s easier to get support from stakeholders to turn the experiment into a bigger project.

Don’t let complexity delay action

We often hold back from starting until we have a comprehensive understanding of the challenge. That’s the wrong approach. Things look complex in the abstract, yet as you initiate the building process, you get clarity. You learn and get a better understanding of the problem. The way to reduce uncertainty is precisely through action.

Don’t let procrastination delay action

Drop the notion of needing the “right time” to start a project. People believe perfect conditions are necessary to start to work when the act of starting is the ideal condition. Action creates momentum, building something is energizing, it’s an antidote to procrastination.

Don’t let fear delay action

“I need to do more research” often disguises fear of facing a challenge as productive work. You’ll learn more by testing a prototype than by conducting an exhaustive industry benchmark. Extensive research and benchmarking might seem like progress but don’t fool yourself, you are procrastinating.

Stop complaining and just do the thing

Planning the product isn’t building it. Neither is scheduling endless meetings or creating elaborate roadmaps. Promises to stakeholders won’t build the product. Researching the competition isn’t building the product. Whining about the challenges and debating about details isn’t building the product either. The only thing that builds the product is building the product.

Mark Watney had no time to craft a meticulous plan when he found himself stranded on Mars.

Remember the age-old saying, “Done is better than perfect.” Initiate and complete something. Anything. Face the challenge. Stop endlessly preparing to work, and just do the work.

Your first attempt doesn’t need be a million-dollar idea. It’s about proving the ability to execute something effectively.

Don’t allow bureaucracy to stall action. Experiment with small steps, most ideas can be prototyped and validated within a week.

Fight complexity by taking action. Avoid falling prey to analysis paralysis by endlessly refining plans.

Overcome fear by taking action. View possible failures as learning opportunities.

Beat procrastination by taking action. The more you act, the easier it gets to keep moving forward.

Stop planning and just do the damned thing.

Planning is procrastination, just do the thing was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.