When to Change Your Research Plan

Four responses to things changing in research:

  1. Turn around and go home – Essential forget the goal for now.
  2. Wait it out – Do nothing.
  3. Take a different path – See if someone can help fill the gaps.
  4. Adjust your goal and therefore your route – Change approach.


Good day there, bakers, writers, and rock stars. Richard Huysmans here talking again about plans and planning. Research plan and more to the point when should you change your plan. So, last time we talked about raising your project management game. Having plans to suit different time frames, and therefore you don’t need to update the entire plan. This week we’re talking about how, and when you might update your plan.

So firstly, plans are good until they aren’t. That obviously makes sense if things change then your plan needs to change too. Like I said in the other vlog, often researchers make a plan and then don’t update it when things change. Or they make a plan and never refer back to it, and obviously it’s useless if you never refer back to it. It’s either useless because you didn’t look at it or you looked at it and decided it was wrong and didn’t want to go ahead and change it. Now if you plan at different levels, then what you’ll find is that you can change one plan without it having a massive knock-on effect for everything else. Whereas, if you have a big Gantt chart that maps out 3 years and everything’s connected to everything else, if you change one thing then everything has to change. So, go and have a read of that blog and see how I plan at different levels for how that you should be setting things out. And then when it comes to individual plans and when things change, what could your responses be and what would that look like?

So, if we use an example here of driving to the shop as our plan or our project, our goal, and then you on the way to the shop there’s an accident which means that traffic is much much slower than you expected. So, what are the options. Option one is to turn around and go home. That might be the equivalent of say, abandoning the project for now at least. Option two is wait in the traffic and pursue the same route. So, that essentially is to doggedly follow the course regardless of what’s happening around you. That might be okay too. The next is to choose a different route to get to the shops. So, that might be considered to adapt, overcome, and respond. Or you might choose a different shop altogether. And so therefore, you have a different route. And again, that’s another example of adapt, overcoming, and responding. So, how does this look if we apply that to a project management setting. So, if we think about this, you’re designing an experiment. You’re conducting or you’re planning to conduct an experiment, and then for some reason your path towards that experiment is blocked. So, there’s lots of reasons why it could be blocked. It could be you don’t have access to equipment. You don’t have access to reagents. You don’t have access to samples. You don’t have access to people. So, turning around and going home, that’s equivalent this is saying, “I can’t do this now. I’ll do it later.” or “I won’t do it at all.” Depending on how urgent or necessary the task is, doing it later is perfectly fine. And what happens to the plan, well in some cases you might be lucky enough to bring non-dependent tasks forward. So, you can defer this activity to later with zero impact on the overall outcome. In other cases, you might be able to bring other tasks forward, but delaying this task delays your entire project. All answers are okay. These are the just different options.

So, if you were to wait in traffic, so that’s the equivalent of just hanging around, and potentially doing nothing. I think that’s the least favorable of all of the responses, but you might not have that as an option to you. So, then the alternative of starting something else might be what you need to do. If you are stuck in a situation where you have to wait, writing is potentially one of the best things that you could fall back to. Otherwise, you might decide that it’s a good time to take and you’ll leave. That might be the only thing you can do, and again you might have to add time to your project overall. If you decide to choose a different route, so that looks like perhaps, if you don’t have access to a reagent, seeing if someone else can lend you some of theirs. If you don’t have access to people, seeing if someone can refer you to someone who can now give you access to people. If you don’t have access to equipment, can you swap time or place with someone else. If you don’t have access to your supervisor, can someone else provide you the answer or the help that you need. So, those are the like that’s the different route option.

And then finally, there’s the different destination and therefore a different route. So, that might be an example of you were originally going to do a thousand surveys but now you only have access to 100 people. So, you might refine the survey that might have a knock-on effect of needing to refine the ethics. That might have a knock-on effect of needing to refine the budget. But I would go ahead and do all of those things so that your plan reflects as close as possible your reality. In all of this, don’t goal seek. So, what does goal seek mean? Goal seek means you’ve got the end in mind. So, as a PhD student, you might goal seek the end of your PhD. So, you might say, “Oh yeah! I’ll get everything done, and I’ll reduce the times of everything down.” Rather than being realistic, I’ll set them as shorter so that I can save you know, say on paper, my PhD will be finished in 3 years. Instead put realistic times and see what happens to your time frame in terms of making things go longer. And then as you get closer, you can reduce what you need to do so that you can get your PhD done on time.

So, there are some ideas on how and when to change your research plan. If you’ve got any questions, put them below. Send me an email, send me an SMS, and I will answer them.

Take care.