Everybody’s got a plan…

…until they get punched in the face.

Mike Tyson and Jake Paul in my feed has my favorite quote at top of mind.

True in a fight, also true when developing and manufacturing hardware. Sharing a few lessons from punches I’ve taken that can help you bob and weave.

You need a plan, but DON’T PLAN IN A SILO

It’s tempting to see a goal, build the plan, and then tell your team to do it.

That’s a great way to get punched really, really, hard. It’s better to do the following:

  • Clarify the requirements, eliminating anything not required. There’s nothing worse than having to fix something that didn’t matter in the first place.
  • Bring the team together, and ask “What has to be true for this to happen?”
  • Hash it out until you figure out a plan that the team can commit to as possible (even if not inevitable).

Planning this way helps avoid the haymakers. A team can anticipate problems better than an individual, and they will respond better and faster when something goes wrong if they had a part in the plan. Nobody likes to have an impossible task imposed upon them from on high, and while it sounds cheesy, a team can do amazing things if they are brought into the process.

You can’t avoid all the punches, but you can be prepared to respond

Everyone wants their plan to simply succeed without a hitch. Unfortunately it won’t, for at least 2 reasons:

  1. In manufacturing, everything has to stay in-sync for it to work – small issues can stop everything. They can’t all be anticipated and avoided, because launch and scale-up require significant change to a complex, expanding system.
  2. You’re building something new and newness brings uncertainty, which means some part of the plan/product/manufacturing will likely fail. That’s really the point though – to find those things and fix them as fast as possible.

Rather than thinking your plan is so great that you can’t get punched, it’s better to accept that it’s not, even if you’re not sure when the punch is coming or from where.

Eisenhower famously said “When preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is essentialI”. Things will not go to plan, you will get punched, and it will hurt. However, the act of planning with this in mind means you will be less likely to overcommit to a rigid plan, more likely to build in flexible options, and better equipped to quickly respond when things go wrong – especially early on when you are learning and changing the most.

Ask yourself “What has to be true for ‘X’ to happen?” Then go do that thing.

If you’re not just reading the headlines, yes this is in here twice. I learned this from a leader at Tesla, and while it’s so simple it seems like it should be a given, that’s what makes it powerful. It’s often hard to know what to do, but asking this of yourself and your team is a very simple way to slice through the noise and focus on what has to happen to make something really difficult happen – and then do it.


Following the above won’t mean you’ll never get punched again, but they can help you better prepare. You can also take solace in the fact that when it does happen, at least you aren’t getting hit by Iron Mike. Good luck Jake.

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