Planning as learning

6 Aug 2010 Sandeep Mehta

Here is a a very influential HBR article from Arie deGeus from back in 1988 (it has been cited over 1,200 times).  The key message is this:

Benefits accruing from planning are not just the objectives and strategies that emerge, but the learning that occurs during the planning process

Planning as learning is very important in R&D management as well.  It is not just the planning at senior management level – it is the institutional learning from distributed planning.

… they depend on company’s senior manager to absorb what is going on in the business environment and to act on the information with appropriate business moves.  In other words, they depend on learning.  Or, more precisely, on institutional learning, which is the process by management teams change their shared mental models of their company, their markets, and their competitors.  For this reason, we think of planning a learning and of corporate planning a institutional learning.

deGeus is talking about corporate strategy which can be planned by a select few.  R&D, however, requires knowledge a lot of people to come together. Most managers I know depend on their various technologists to bring forward plans.  More importantly, to get a product to market requires knowledge of many different technologists and planning is extremely critical to get all the pieces moving in synchrony.

Even so, planning is not as formalized in R&D as in corporate strategy / finance.  One reason for this might be that R&D planning is much more complicated and full of jargon.  There are few who can understand jargons of two or at best three disciplines (e.g., structures, life and CFD).  Plans for each discipline are filled with discipline specific jargon, and it is often difficult to combine them.  Unfortunately, it takes many more disciplines to get a product to market.  That does not mean we should not try though.  The software I am developing is proposing a new framework to do just that…

While I am on the subject, here is another HBR article that talks about planning as learning…

Aire deGeus, Planning as Learning, Harvard Business Review Vol 66 (2), pages 70-74.

Leave a Reply