Posted by: kevinliebl | March 29, 2010

The Secret to Success? Simple – A Great Plan…

Jigsaw SuccessI purchased a new software application this week.  It was a very simple task management tool.  However, it is already dramatically improving my productivity.  The product takes all of your activities, organizes them by categories and then schedules them for you.  Each day it helps you focus on your key deliverables so that you don’t miss your deadlines.

As I used the tool this week, it reminded me the value of planning.  I probably have 50-60 tasks plugged into my new task-management application already.  This is far more than I can keep organized in my head.  However, now I have a strategy and a plan to complete each one of them.  Regardless of your goal, the key to success is in the plan.  Whether you are trying to lose weight, train for a marathon, find a new job, prepare for retirement, launch a new product line or write a blog – the most important step is the planning process.

The extent of the plan will vary, but you need one for each activity.  When I write a blog, I simply take note of the due date, the topic, and the suggested research necessary – typically less than a page.  You could argue that this isn’t much of a plan.  However, it covers the necessary actions.  For me, any more of an extensive plan would be overkill.  However, if I am building a trade show plan, the details could be significant (e.g., sponsorship details, booth rentals, signage, sales collateral, booth duty schedules, shipping, airline flights, hotels, meetings, press briefings, budgets, etc.).  A typical trade show plan could be 50 pages long.  Both of these plans are equally important and equally effective.

My grandfather first explained the planning process to me when I was about 7 years old.  Grandpa Joe was a great fisherman from Minnesota and as a young lad, I found him larger than life.  We were planning to go fishing and he asked me if I was prepared.  With all the enthusiasm in the world, I said, “Sure!  I have my rod and tackle box.  Let’s go!”  He then proceeded to ask me a series of well thought out questions.  “What type of fish are we going after?  Are we lake fishing or river fishing? What time of day are we fishing?  What is the weather like?”  He explained to me that without a plan, we will have the wrong tackle, bait, clothes, and will certainly come home without any fish.  He taught me a valuable lesson and started the wheels turning in a 7-year-old boy.  He was a wise old man and taught me many life-lessons.

I have worked with many people who do not believe in plans.  For some people this works fine.  For others they fail miserably.  I fall into the second category.  I need to document the goals, objectives, strategy and tactics.  I have found this valuable for many reasons, including:

  • The process of creating the plan will organize your thoughts and help you determine whether the goal is achievable or not.
  • Proper plans will focus your energy on the goals, rather than on distracting activities.
  • Plans can be used to set proper expectations within an organization.  Everyone will understand resource requirements, schedules, budgets – and not be surprised halfway into the process.
  • Documented plans will communicate a clear strategy to the larger team and focus them in the right direction.
  • Plans can be reused.  Next year when you attend the same trade show, you can dust off the plan and save yourself a lot of work.  You will also remember what worked and – more importantly – what didn’t work.

Throughout my career, I have created many plans and have then turned many of them into templates that I reuse each time I need to implement a similar process.  I surprise people sometimes when we agree to begin a project and I show up with a complete plan an hour later.  There is no great secret to the process.  I simply pull up a prior plan or template and update it with the appropriate data.

Never underestimate the value of planning.  Great achievements can be accomplished with less effort than you think if you establish clear goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.

What is it that you want to achieve?


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  1. Timely piece … especially since I’m trying to get my 13 year to at least consider planning his goals and activities. He’s a tough nut to crack. You referred to a new task management tool you just started using – what is it?

    • Randall,

      I intentionally didn’t mention the application because I didn’t want to be a commercial. However since you asked, it is a product for the Mac called “Things”. If you are a PC user, I don’t think that there is a version for Windows. Great product though if you are a Mac user and need a task management tool.

      Good luck with your son. I have a 12 year old and am having similar issues. If you find a solution, let me know.

      Best Regards,


  2. Interesting!

    The key for me is that tracking tasks using a software package has to take less time than Outlook and/or paper. This looks good.

    And there is a version for the iPhone as well ($9.99).

  3. Thanks for the suggestion Kevin. Being a Mac user I will definitely have a look at that. I have given both MindJet and FreeMind a try, both are very helpful for a major project, especially for a group brainstorming session and followup. But I need something for all “the rest of the story” in life, and it sounds like you may have found it.

  4. Hi Kevin,
    Great piece! I knew I had a reason that I needed to purchase a mac!!! I have been managing multiple projects lately and although the to do lists help, I think something like this would be much more effective.
    I can’t agree more with your point. I love to take on new challenges, but sometimes have wished I had taken more time to plan each step before I fell flat on my face! Great story about your grandfather, we can all only hope to be as wise to our children one day!

  5. Kevin:
    I love this topic and enjoyed your post. We live in a “ready, shoot, aim” society where many, many talented and gifted people sabotage their careers or endevors from the beginning.
    It’s the inverse of engineering quality into a product. One can engineer failure into an endevor without a plan.

  6. Kevin,

    I love your articles, especially this one on planning. I agree with you 110% and believe in planning and the written word. I too learned planning from my dad who used to say “Plan your work and work your plan”. He often used to ask me to re-visit the plan after the project was completed and hence I would learn few good lessons … I am trying to do the same to my 16 and 18 year son, and have used few time management text books … I think software may be a good way to go with my 16 year old.

    I find myself reminding my team to focus on problem statement, focus on objectives, goals, strategy and tactics all the time. I am sure there are consultants that would bring these techniques as habits … good article.

  7. Kevin
    Grampa Joe taught us all many great insights on life, and that was certainly a valuable one. He also taught us the importance of anticipating the unexpected…which he loved to throw at us when we were lulled into thinking all was good with the world. Contingency plans are part of the process.

    Without these planning disciplines, I don’t think we would be as far along with our business launch as we are. There are so many small tasks that can be overlooked and deadlines missed if we don’t have our thoughts, visions and expectations clearly detailed and prioritized. Thanks for the great article.

  8. Thanks Kevin,
    Great article and very timely. I was just sitting at my desk thinking about all the things that were distracting me versus the two or three things I really need to do. My conclusion was to focus on those and stucture the others in a priority list with the last probably fated to never get done just because they were distractions anyway. Looking for you next posts!

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