Smart planning with the P Quadrant

Emergn - Smart Planning with P-Quadrant - person looking at creative board

Let me start this article by saying I don’t know where to start. The idea of doing what we need to do vs. what we want to do vs. what we believe we can do is an ongoing saga for us as people, teams and companies. We are all engaged constantly on something we believe is important to do now yet we are equally looking for ways to improve, get to the next step or phase and ultimately reach a goal of doing something we believe is possible but perhaps not achievable at the moment.

Do you see my dilemma with this topic? It is quite broad and applies to so many areas of life and work. The irony of the topic is that I’m overwhelmed by it’s complexity and size and yet need to communicate how we focus on the now, the things that add the most value today and in the near term; all without losing the vision for the future.

For project teams, where both business and IT people are engaged, this means not only learning and applying the best principles for managing WIP and/or Queues (maximize the value of the project now instead of trying to push all the work through a bandwidth constrained funnel that just loses the ability to deliver qualitative output) but also understanding the why, how and now without taking their eyes off of what’s next.

For business development and sales teams this means being more intelligent around account management strategies by leveraging the low hanging fruit and helping their customer’s situations and conditions improve incrementally instead of trying to solve every problem at the same time. You’ve heard this challenge before when people use phrases such as “don’t boil the ocean” or “one size fits all”.

For companies this means understanding their market, listening to the voice of their customer and then balancing that with ideas for improving their products and services, innovating towards a possible future but without losing focus on what serves the company and the customer best today. A classic mistake is here is when companies try to offer so many services or product variances that the customer doesn’t quite know where to start or how to best leverage what’s offered.

These are not difficult concepts and we talk about them each day. We develop droves of PowerPoint slides to tell the world (customers, shareholders, investors, analysts) how we will solve the problem, meet the challenge, grow the business, and fix the budget, etc. The looming question is what can we do today that matters most and then how we work towards what is possible and then towards what is preferred.

There is another question we need to be asking more frequently as well; “What don’t we need to do?” – this is one that takes thought and consideration since the temptation is often to believe that we need to do everything possible to achieve a result vs. only doing one thing or a small set of things really well.


The quadrant above represents a model I’ve used to box and visualize how we might focus our planning in a simple manner that can spur good dialogue and help us get to a faster understanding of tackling our respective challenge or opportunity.

Let’s consider the example of a company. This can be a line of business, new business or any kind of organization that is looking to grow its business and establish a market leading position.

Notice that in addition to each quadrant there is a lifecycle that is designed to visualize and represent the growth from each phase but also communicate the risks often associated with growing a business or client relationship. This risk I’m referring to is represented in the middle of the quadrant (3) and shows that it is here where we can often experience a plateau or a “steady state” that we can get too comfortable with.

Knowing what else we need to do after we’ve done what we’ve set out to do is critical to renewing growth and to avoid getting stuck somewhere or even passed by our competition.

It is also worth pointing out that some of the items in Possible are too often attempted in Pragmatic, long before we’ve defined our plan and have established buy-in. While all this seems logical and straightforward, it is precisely the simplicity of this thinking that gets us into trouble because we always think we need to do more and be more complex and sophisticated in our approach.

Success is a planned event.