If you are serious about achieving your goals, you need a plan. Better still, create a plan that is well mapped out with timelines and milestones. One way to accomplish this is PERT planning which has been used by NASA and the U.S. defence forces since the 1950s. That may be a little over the top for most of us and let’s consider the alternatives… When you don’t plan, or manage the steps in a plan you leave yourself open to a kind of domino effect when things go wrong. The domino effect is a knock-on effect whereby delays occur and begin to spread and have far-reaching consequences and repercussions.

You either have reasons or you have results

If you have reasons, you probably have a really good story as to why your results are what they are. If you have results, you may indeed have the same or similar challenges, the difference is you don’t give up your power to the story surrounding the circumstances. Moreover, you probably also have a system that supports you in what you are out to achieve. Without a system and a plan with clear milestones, you leave yourself open to circumstance; that’s when story creeps in. When something goes pear-shaped, it tends to have a domino effect! So, it makes sense to plan for contingencies as well.

The bigger the game, the more structure is required

I love the metaphor of a game for achieving something. For a start, if you treat your goal as a game, it’s harder to get overly serious and still have fun in the process. It doesn’t mean the game isn’t high stakes; it can be. Treating your goals as a game will allow for more freedom, more creativity and potentially better outcomes as a result. If you play a big game and have some big goals you want to kick, you absolutely need structure. Without a structure to support you in fulfiling your goals, they will remain as hopes and dreams. It’s the structure that turns dreams into reality. It’s the structure that brings about the inevitability of it happening.

When you establish a destination by defining what you want, then take physical action by making choices that move you towards that destination, the possibility for success is limitless and arrival at the destination is inevitable.

Steve Maraboli

Begin with the end in mind

So, that begs the question. What kind of structure works? If you know what you want, you’re halfway there. If you are clear about your desired outcome and what it looks like then you can work backwards in increments of time. This will also unearth the milestones for your goal and give you a structure to follow. Again, this is known as PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique), a way to visualise the timeline and which allows for slippage in time frames; you have a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. This is crucial for avoiding the domino effect and blowing out on time frames and also cost. As far as costs go, there are monetary costs which are fairly easy to calculate. There are also opportunity costs. Any time you make a choice to spend time on one project, you are necessarily not spending time on another.

Define it

Clearly defining what you want is crucial to its eventuality. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you begin. Factor in contingencies; build in some wiggle room.  Having it all figured out leaves no room for flexibility or for the possibility of building on what you want and creating something better and having clarity works. To work out the scale of what needs doing begin writing down everything you can think of that you are either currently working on or need to do in the future. You may end up with a laundry list of to do’s and to be effective narrow the list down to what is really important and that is where you begin regarding what needs doing. If possible, reduce the list of to-dos’ to one page or a mind map. It’s a really great way to stay focused on what matters.

Plan like a NASA ninja

So what exactly is PERT planning? It takes into account pretty much everything outlined above. To summarize, you begin by crystalising the objective and work backwards from there. By working backwards, or planning backwards all of the steps and milestones become evident. All of the tasks fall out of that process and so do the risks. Once all of those factors have been identified plans for contingencies can also be made, once the risks and pitfalls have been highlighted, potential work-rounds can be created.

Build-in accountability to avoid the domino effect

The two most powerful words you can ask anyone when you are planning something is “by when?”  Asking those two words creates accountability and removes expectations and replaces them with agreements. Expectations, especially if unspoken lead to a host of problems. Even if expectations are spoken, you have a different set of issues: Disappointment is created when the expectations are unmet and even if they are met the best you can hope for is “so what”. After all, that is the expectation. It tends not to leave people feeling validated and appreciated. If on the other hand, you align, now you have an agreement, and an agreement will trump expectations any day of the week. Of course, if you don’t follow up on your agreements, you are back to the domino effect. There will always be delays and, it is unrealistic to think that everything will go to plan. Life just isn’t like that. Without a high degree of accountability and the appropriate structures in place to manage the process or project, you leave yourself open to all manner of issues that could potentially be avoided or at least minimised.