Make a Plan, Stick to the Plan, Always Deliver!

Mark Upton
Nov 1, 2016

In yesterday’s post I started to layout the differences in work/tasks in the industrial era compared with that required for team sport performance, and the implications for organising, managing, leading, coaching, educating. Again, any feedback or thoughts would be really useful (or even a blog post of your own to continue on the conversation, if you dare!)

I’m considering the 3 graphics below to use in my presentation to help people make sense of this. Probably the easiest to digest as a starting point is Amy Edmondson’s Process Knowledge Spectrum…(I’ve used this in some recent workshops to anchor player/coach development as “complex” and consider the implications of this)


Harold Jarche’s thinking is next… (I particularly like Harold’s saying that “learning is the work, and the work is learning”)


Finally Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework, with the loops reflecting the dynamics


(some of our earlier posts cover the distinction between complicated and complex domains – Navigating the Complexity of Learning & Performance in Sport, a complex cup, Helping People Be Their Best is Complex (not Complicated!))

Long-term development of players, coaches and the more immediate performance of a team (inclusive of players and the off-field support staff) is generally situated in the complex middle ground with deliberate or serendipidous forays into “chaos” sometimes revealing creative and novel solutions (but equally can see people sacked!).

The mismatch is when we organise, manage, lead, coach, educate as though we are working with routine procedures where “best practice” exists universally (as was/is the case in much factory work). If the best way to do something is not immediately obvious we often believe in-depth analysis and planning will make everything right. This reflects many modern forms of management that have evolved from Scientific Management.

(Management by Objectives, Operations Research, CSFs and KPIs and Balanced Scorecard, Just-in-time and Lean Manufacturing, Total Quality Management, Six Sigma and Business Process Reengineering.)

Taken to excess, there is an unhelpful emphasis on planning, measurement and/or (a perception of) centralised control.

Some approaches demand detailed planning from the outset and try to fix as much as possible during the planning process. Implementation is assumed to follow these initial plans rigidly and monitoring is used to control compliance with planned activities or outputs. However, a clearer picture of how intervention modalities will work is only possible once they have been tried in the specific context, and sometimes the correct path can only be chosen in the aftermath of major unforeseen developments or events.
This means that an intervention misses key opportunities, ignores lessons emerging from the ground or becomes irrelevant altogether. Inhibiting learning can degrade performance, deter individuals from trying alternative methods and stifle creativity or flexibility in implementation.

(Hummelbrunner, Richard, and Harry Jones. “A guide for planning and strategy development in the face of complexity.” Background Note, Overseas Development Institute, London (2013).)

The above is well-rooted in some governing bodies of sport. A recent job advert for a senior position in coach development placed a high requirement on “delivery of the national strategy” (infering a fixed plan as an entity that will not change) and “contribution to the development of plans and targets”. The language alone is quite interesting and can reveal underlying assumptions and paradigms that people and organisations operate from.

The Sport NZ document that I referenced in yesterday’s post includes “action learning” cycles as an alternative..


(A previous post on self-organisation provides another possible approach with similarities to the above)

Planning has its place, but not at the expense of adapting to a changing context (whether that be players, coaches, support staff, educators or governing body senior management). Anything that stifles or deters people “on the ground” from sensing and adapting to these changes (and working collaboratively across units/teams/disciplines where necessary) is poor practice.

Finally, I thought this video might provide a lighthearted moment for the presentation. I saw the Storks movie with my son last week (yes, my cinematic experiences consist almost entirely of animated films in the last 5 years) and couldn’t help thinking the greatest truths are often revealed in jest…

Make a plan, stick to the plan, always deliver…hmmmm