Integration planning: Over-preparation can be as dangerous as under-preparation

Integration planning: Over-preparation can be as dangerous as under-preparation

Over-preparation, which usually manifests itself in extremely detailed, all-encompassing, grand plans, is a hazard that can arise particularly where integration leaders have previously burnt their fingers from  ‘being taken by surprise’ by unexpected events. Understandably, they attribute this to having been previously under-prepared, and instead of taking a balanced view of their painful experience, seek comfort in planting themselves at the other extreme of the preparation spectrum. They place faith in extensive no-stone-unturned preparation which, they believe, will give almost guaranteed certainty that events will never again take them by surprise.
However, far from giving such certainty, over-preparation generates subtle, dangerous side effects that can seriously impair the health of integrations. These include:

  • Inflexibility of grand plans when faced with a need to adapt to events. A highly detailed grand plan, however reassuring in respect of its depth and granularity, only encompasses what is known. However, the exhaustive effort that went into developing such a plan can result in an unconscious denial of its blind spots. While several variables only become known once the integration gets going, the labour intensive nature and complexity of detailed grand plans mean they cannot practically be updated at relevant pace to keep up with events.
  • Psychological rigidity towards ‘in-flight’ course corrections. When substantial resource and emotion has been invested in developing a detailed grand plan, it is nerve-wracking for an integration team and the wider organisation to veer away from what seemed a comfortingly detailed map at the start of the journey. This psychological rigidity can prevent or delay essential ‘in-flight’ course corrections required to deal with significant variables that become known en route.
  • Abdication of decision making responsibility. Finely detailed grand plans can result in a major point being missed about the nature of integrations, namely that integrations are inherently fluid, much more fluid than what most people experience in their day-to-day operating environments. Missing that point can result in over-detailed planning / decision making frameworks that inadvertently put the integration into a command and control straight-jacket, one that is not supportive to the fluid, responsive, decision making critically needed throughout an integration. And when integrations are perceived as straight-jacketed, people naturally abdicate responsibility for responsive decision making.

While high quality planning is vital to delivering successful integrations, this should be done with mindful attention that planning and preparation, taken to an extreme, can inadvertently divert an integration away from a potentially successful path and towards one that feels like a march through a swamp.

– Siva Shankar, BTD Advisory Board Member