The plan quickly deteriorates as someone has screwed up, an outside force has reacted unpredictably, or maybe fate just hates you. Despite that, thanks to either grace, improvisation, or just plain fast thinking, the end goal is accomplished. Sometimes characters will count on this happening. Doesn't count if they cook up a new plan or at any time go back to the drawing board (though if that new plan isn't known to the audience...)
Compare with: Plethora of Mistakes, and contrast with Unspoken Plan Guarantee. For times when the plan deteriorates beyond recovery, see A Simple Plan. For times when the initial plan has to be switched for a new one, see Time for Plan B.
- One Naruto story has Naruto and Sasuke come up with a plan to get the bells from Kakashi, but they don't incorporate (or inform) Sakura. When Sakura manages to get the bells herself and Kakashi congratulates them on their teamwork, Sasuke is quick to remind Naruto of the "Unspoken Rule of Shinobi Combat #6": Whatever happens, it's all according to plan.
- Just about everything in Armageddon goes wrong, but they somehow manage to destroy the asteroid anyway. Put briefly, the Russian Space Station explodes because of old, shoddy piping and wiring just after they refuel, one shuttle is destroyed by debris and crashes (but Ben Affleck survives), the other crashes on an almost undrillable section of the asteroid, Steve Buscemi has a mental breakdown and starts shooting at everybody, the President decides to detonate the nuke prematurely and then doesn't, the asteroid kills more people with geysers when they do reach the right depth, but the transmitter on the nuke is damaged, forcing Bruce Willis to make a Heroic Sacrifice.
- Marty McFly concocts a plan to get Lorraine to fall for George McFly in Back to the Future. Biff unexpectedly intervenes, shattering the plan for George to pretend to deck Marty and rescue Lorraine. Fortunately, George manages to deck Biff and rescue Lorraine for real. Ironically, Biff's intervention saves The Plan from becoming A Simple Plan with its ensuing hilarity. In concocting the plan, Marty didn't quite get how his own conduct had seriously attracted Lorraine.
- In Guardians of the Galaxy, at one point, the heroes are incarcerated in the Kyln, a high-security prison. Rocket has a plan to get them out, requiring (among other things) a power source nearby. He explains thoroughly that once the source was taken out, all hell would break loose, so they needed to get it last. Cue Groot, who'd heard that they needed it and not much more, ripping the source out just as Rocket finishes explaining.
Rocket: Or we could just get it first and improvise.
- Inglourious Basterds: Subverted, and gloriously so. While there are some bumps along the way (three quarters of the Basterds dying before the plan is even underway, for example), it's very satisfying seeing all three plans to kill Hitler succeed. Subverted in another way as well, since the main one was only in danger of failing because they got involved.
- In the live action Scooby-Doo movie, the gang's plan to to stop the villain does work but not at all like how they wanted.
- Pretty much the MO of Lawence Block's accidental secret agent Evan Tanner. Faced with a ridiculous surfeit of problems (uncover a Soviet plot at the Toronto World's Fair, avoid the Canadian authorities, rescue his adopted daughter, foil an assassination attempt on the Queen of England, dispose of a quantity of heroin) he works them out on the fly with little more than connections, friends and quick thinking.
- Happens frequently in the Harry Potter series, particularly in the last book, where the trio spend roughly a month planning the break-in of the Ministry of Magic, and then another month planning the break-in of Gringotts. In both cases, they focused on getting in, and overlooked things that might happen while they were inside, and in both cases this trope ensues. Lampshaded in the film version, with regard to the upcoming infiltration of Hogwarts, which they didn't have time to plan for anyway.
Harry: Hermione, when have any of our plans ever actually worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose!
- The breaking into Godwin Arms and Armaments in the Science Fiction novel Profiteer by S Andrew Swann. The Heroes have been betrayed, so the enemy knows they are coming, but they somehow pull it off anyway.
- The A-Team! Nothing Hannibal ever planned ever went the way he planned it, but the good guys won every time. I love it when a plan comes together!
Hannibal's plans never work right. They just work.
- Farscape is very self-aware about the fact that every single plan in the series works this way.
John: I got a plan.
Aeryn: Don't tell me you have a plan!
John: (insulted) Why not?
Aeryn: They never work!
- As quoted by Leonard Snart/Captain Cold in The Flash (2014):
"Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go Off the Rails. [Beat)] Throw away the plan."
- Firefly: Every single plan in the series goes like this, and the characters are quite aware of it.
Zoe: Captain'll come up with a plan.
Kaylee: That's good, right?
Zoe: It's possible you're not remembering some of his previous plans.
- Quite a few of the tests in MythBusters go wrong in ways that don't produce valid results, forcing the team to work around the issue or reconstruct the test until they finally get a valid result, either in favor of or against the myth.
- The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang" involved an Ocean's Eleven-style casino heist where nothing went as planned, but everyone bounced back in time to pull it off.
- They actually show us what the perfectly-performed plan looks like, too, and even mislead us a little into thinking it's the actual performance of the plan, with the characters narrating/explaining their parts. This makes the blunder-filled version that much more hilarious. And exciting. (Of course, this is the common inversion of the Unspoken Plan Guarantee: since we hear the plan, you know it won't go that smoothly in practice.)
- Stargate SG-1, with appropriate Lampshade Hanging:
Worrel: Do things always go according to plan in your world, Dr. Jackson?
Jackson: [beat] No. Not usually, no.
- Cyrano de Bergerac: Some of the plans in this farce work out... and given it is also a tragedy, some of them will Go Horribly Right.
- Many missions in the Grand Theft Auto series don't go as planned. Bank robberies and drug deals are particularly prone to failure. The more straightforward the mission seems, the more likely someone will botch it up or betray you and leave you running for your life.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda: Liam's Loyalty Mission is this, which is all the more impressive given the initial plan is to put it bluntly, terrible. Namely, sneak into an unknown enemy ship, with no idea how many people are waiting for them, or how armed they are, and just hope they don't get killed. The plan goes merrily to hell in minutes, but in the end they do get the bad guys and rescue some friends of Liam's.
- Every chapter in the Sly Cooper series ends with an Operation: [Blank] that usually doesn't go entirely to plan, but still ends with the protagonists getting what they want and setting up the Arc Villain to be arrested by the Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist. For example, in the first of these operations, "Operation: Peacock Drop", the plan goes off mostly well aside from Sly having to defend a truck from Dimitris men and then running into Dimitri in the printing press room and getting into a fight with him.
- Subverted in Double Homework. Though the protagonist and the girls plan meticulously to break into Denniss apartment, Dennis is carrying the storage device they were looking for in his pocket the whole time. However, as the protagonist points out, they probably couldnt have actually taken it from him anywhere else.
- Critical Role has the plans of its main characters almost never work out as they planned, but they usually manage to achieve their objectives anyway. This is lampshaded in the second campaign — the Mighty Nein manage to have four separate plans to go into the Big Bad's lair, get an item they need, rescue a hostage, and escape. Despite bad dice rolls and a few major mistakes, the Mighty Nein still manage to do all of what they came to do, albeit by the skin of their teeth and with several cuts and bruises to show for it.
- Done on the PBS children's show Clifford the Big Red Dog, when Clifford tries to catch Vaz's attention away from the latter's TV binge by hopping around outside. Instead, Clifford wrecks the satellite dish by accident, causing Vaz to go investigate. However, he sees Clifford outside, so Clifford successfully gains his attention despite the failure of his original plan.
- Done frequently in The Dreamstone. A lot of times, Rufus and Amberley's attempts to stop the Urpneys fell short or led to their capture. They always ended up with the Dreamstone back however, given the Urpneys were perfectly able at screwing up their plans on their own
- The Iron Man: Armored Adventures episode "Field Trip", where Tony, Pepper and Rhodey's plan to get the armour back without Stane noticing only comes off at all thanks to interference from Gene, Happy and Stane's daughter.
Pepper: Well, that went perfectly. Apart from everything.
- Scooby-Doo embodies this trope so often, it would be easier to note when it doesn't.
- Star Wars Rebels, "Steps Into Shadow": The Imperials start incinerating the Y-Wings to keep them from falling into Rebel hands, leading to Ezra deciding to change it into a full-on retrieval mission. Hondo manages to convince the Ugnaught workers to stop the incineration in exchange for safe passage off the station, and Ezra lets the station fall while everyone else fuels up and grabs a Y-Wing. It works . . . but it results in the loss of the Phantom, and if Kanan hadn't come in the last second, Ezra would've been trapped and died.
- The assassination of Franz Ferdinand. To wit, all the assassins were supposed to throw grenades, fire pistols, then drink cyanide and drown themselves in the river. Instead, all but one of them froze up or had their gun jam, and the one who acted missed with both bullets and grenades and wasn't even successful in killing himself. (The cyanide had lost its potency and the river was too low to quickly drown in he was arrested with a broken ankle and vomiting his guts out.) Later that day, the last member of the group who didn't get a chance to shoot was walking out of a sandwich shop probably feeling guilty about his massive failure when the Archduke's driver got lost and wound up right in front of him.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated that, "In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable."
- Helmuth von Moltke (or ascribed to him): "No plan survives the first contact with the enemy."
- A more famous variation of this quote comes from Mike Tyson a source for some crazy quotes who noted "Everybody got a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
- Brazilian footballer Garrincha has a quote that serves well for why goes plans go wrong - before a game in The World Cup against the USSR, coach Vicente Feola rattled out a long, detailed play that would result in a goal, to which Garrincha responded "OK, Mr. Feola... but have you already set this up with the Russians?"