Abraham Lincoln famously said:
“Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first 4 sharpening the axe”
I’m a big fan of this quote, and I’ve used it over and over during my career – especially when planning large and complex initiatives. In essence, the quote refers to how much time you should spend planning versus executing a project. According to Lincoln, you should spend two-thirds of the time you have sharpening the axe (planning your project), and the remaining one-third of it chopping the tree (executing the project). While the optimal ratio of planning to executing obviously depends on multiple factors, Lincoln’s basic point holds true: you need to spend more time planning a project than you probably think.
I believe this becomes even more crucial when leading teams in a virtual environment. In most of the troubled projects I had assessed at Fortune 500 companies, a big portion of them failed because the project manager either:
- Spent way too much planning the project – losing valuable time before executing it.
- Spent very little time (if any) planning, and started executing immediately – resulting in a hefty price down the line.
- Spent all the time going back and forth between planning and executing – wasting valuable time due to a high switching cost.
The following visuals show the four types of managers I’ve encountered , and how each of them uses those six hours:
When I first started managing big projects, I was more of an obsessive-compulsive sharpener (like #1 above) – trying to think of every what-if scenario and trying to “perfect” my plans. However, only after taking Lincoln’s advice to heart did I realize that I was being counterproductive and pushed myself to start chopping early (with great results).
How about you? Which type of management style do you relate to? Let me know in the comments below!