Tuesday, June 25, 2013

About planning

I was recently asked to explain planning -- more specifically, how to get started with a plan. (I didn't ask: did they read my book, Maximizing Project Value, which has myriad commentary on planning?)

Here's my take:

First, think about this: are you leading with the solution or leading with the problem? Resolve this question in your own mind. And second, only then assemble the solution-detail team or the problem-resolution team to plan. My prescription:
  • All plans begin at the end, with the "memorial" to whatever the project is.*
  • It's best to wrap the memorial in a narrative, a story if you will, of what is envisioned, why it's important to do, and when it needs to get done
  • Rationalize the narrative and the memorial with whatever long term strategy (and/or mission)informs the project context.
  • Compose a half-dozen headlines that capture the theme of the narrative -- topic sentences of paragraphs you would write to explain more of what's in the narrative. If these can be stated as goals, all the better.
  • Arrange everything by urgency, importance, and required sequence. (Actually, you may find that there is more than one arrangement possible -- thus sticky notes or whatever) Of course, you must honor sequence that is determined by constraints (walls before roof). But as to urgent vs important: they are quite different. Urgency is a temporal characteristic. Importance has to do with shades of "must have"
  • Let it rest! It may look a lot different in the morning. Modify as necessary
  • Decompose the headlines into how-to steps. This is where you deconflict and deconfuse the "how" from the "what". This may require a lot of SME input.
  • Then, follow the standard planning steps for planning cost and schedule given in the PMBOK or elsewhere.
A few other ideas about the plan
  • Separate "means" from "ends" -- that is, separate process from memorials
  • You may decide not to maintain the plan -- planning is more important than the plan. The plan may go awry as soon as it is put into play (See: MSProject schedules)
  • Relect and replan when you are sufficiently off the baseline that the plan is no longer relevant.
And finally:
  • How are you going to explain results (elsewhere: the memorial)? In other words, what's the message to be that is about the memorial? Thinking about the message should inform the plan to get there.
*Some say deliverables, but I say memorial because in the public sector and non-profit domains, projects are often about improving lives and circumstances; and these improvements may not be so tangible as a deliverable the way we normally think of it.

Check out these books I've written in the library at Square Peg Consulting