The 1/3 – 2/3 rule of planning simply says that leaders should take a third of the time until a deadline to make a plan, and then provide their subordinates with the remaining time to develop their own plan and execute it. It is a simple rule of thumb that prevents senior leaders from monopolizing all the time available and pushing their teams into a crisis mode.
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This rule is used in the military where missions are typically on a short timeline. It is easy for leaders to get carried away with trying to make the perfect plan, and leave their teams little time to prepare. The 1/3 – 2/3 rule is most applicable to the civilian world for projects on a short, fixed deadline, as these situations most closely mimic military planning.
With deadlines that are out towards the horizon, or those that have a flexible timeline, leaders should take a greater portion of the time before implementing. There is a great value in formulating a well-thought out plan with a thorough understanding of the situation at hand. The caveat to this, though, is that if a leader exceeds 1/3 of the available time, he or she should be sure it is not because the project is sitting on a desk waiting to be worked on. That shows a tremendous lack of respect for people. A leader’s bandwidth limitations should not create an avoidable crisis for his team. Regardless of the percentage of time that is left for implementation, though, the expectations on the subordinate leaders and their teams should be reasonable.