Do you have projects that are stale and not going anywhere? Do you have new great idea but not sure how to implement it?
In the series of upcoming post I’ll cover various elements of running projects using GTD methodology and hopefully help you finding a good solution.
Taking on any project without a plan is a recipe for disaster. With dozens of other things coming your way and no plan to refer to it’s easy to lose a track, purpose and direction of any task.
David Allen in his Getting Things Done book outlines a five phase model called natural planning model.As you will see below many of the steps are simple common sense. Unfortunately often times we forget about them and search for new ways to get on track rather than really get back on it.
For most of us planning happens in our head quickly and effectively. Actually we barely notice it. However it’s worth to examine what are the stages of planning process.
Purpose and Principles
This is first and second step of the planning process. It’s about finding an answer to question “why do I/we do it”. It’s about defining what the purpose of the project is. It’s very simple but powerful question that brings clarity and direction to any project or endeavour. Getting this question straight acts as catalyst in defining following:
- success – if you know what done looks like you can then tell when project has been successfully finished.
- decisions– knowing why you do what you do makes the decision process a whole lot easier.
- resource allocation – there is never enough resources available, there are time limits, people limits, budgetary limits. Having clear picture of why let you find best ways to use available resources and align them in most effective ways.
- keeps your motivation – it’s not uncommon that we do things on autopilot, never knowing why we do it. “We always did that” you can often hear. Clarifying with your co-workers and employees why they do the project helps them better understand it and make the effort rather than slog through it.
- clarity & focus – it’s so easy to be distracted by feature creep, by adding new services, options, variations. You could always change something even by a tiny bit. In the end the project starts to drag on and on without end on horizon. Setting the why straight will get you focused on the core functionality of a product or service.
- more options – this is a paradox but defining purpose brings focus on one side and permits for greater creativity for designing the how element.
When setting up a new project I try to spend couple minute figuring out why I want to do it and what do I expect to deliver. Just to give you an example. I’m planning a weekend trip to London which is a gift for my wife’s birthday. Why am I doing this, first you give her the gift I promised, then to spend some quality time visiting museums, galleries etc.
Where the Purpose and Principles describe the “why” the third element of the process is focused on defining “what”.
It’s about creating a clear picture of the success, the end state where a project is deemed finished. To make that picture more real try to see the success, smell it, feel it.
vision provides actual blueprint of the final result
Seeing yourself completing the project allows brain to create and discover new ideas, information and connections that are stored on subconscious level. Often times that lack of knowledge of how to do things is holding us back and we hope that someone will tell us what to do. Developing the skill of visioning we can bridge the gap of how by letting our creativity to do the job.
The result of outcome visioning can be a single line statement or paragraph and more. It all depends on your needs and the project you want to tackle.
Three steps of clarifying the outcome:
– view the project from beyond the end date
– envision WILD SUCCESS, total completion
– capture all features, elements, qualities of the image.
Going back to my London trip example the successful trip will be having spent 3 days enjoying the culture, sights, food and atmosphere.
At this stage you know the answers to what and to why so it’s time to figure out the how.
This process is designed to allow you to fill all the blanks between where you are and where you want to get.
Brainstorming is a fantastic exercise that lets your creativity to go wild; all you have to do it note all the ideas.
Completing this in a group setting is really good as people have different experiences, knowledge, views and may contribute things you wouldn’t have come up with.
Let them flow out of your head for as long as necessary. Don’t judge or analyse go for the quantity not quality.
There are plenty of tools that can help you with brainstorming. Many people use text files and mind maps on their computer. My preference is pen and paper but I also swap it for a mind map.
Again I will use the London trip as example. As with any trip there is a lot consider, flights, time off at work, accommodation, transport, opening hours, money, places to see etc. I will jot down all these items and then use them to create a more concrete plan.
Once you’ve emptied your head you will start notice that natural order emerges. You will start to see patterns, sequences, connections between all those ‘random’ thoughts.
You can start with identifying larger parts and key elements. Than you can drill down to see if there are any sub-tasks or deadlines or other details that need to be added. The level of granularity will depend on you preferences but you should aim at creating a small enough chunks that you’re comfortable to complete in a single sitting.Once you finish organising process you will have a complete project plan.
I usually do it in a mind map or text outliner on my computer as I like the visual effects and ease of manipulating. But to be honest anything will work if you prefer pen and paper you’ll as well.
The final step of the planning is to decide on next actions that need to be taken to make things happen. This is a critical stage where your commitment to completion of the project is tested. There is no point in planning if you’re not intending to take any action.
When scanning your project plan for things to do you’re most likely to come across three categories of tasks:
- working on the steps – basically this is an actual thing to do like: read a book, email John, call Mike.
- doing more planning – sometimes you are still not 100% clear about the project, it’s plan etc. In such case you need to spend little more time fleshing things until you’re happy that you’ve captured everything.
- waiting for someone – some actions will belong to other people, so before you can move forward with anything you need to get an approval, receive a quote etc. For larger projects, parts of it are allocated to groups of people or outsourced and they become responsible for all next steps.
This is a basic overview of the workflow. Each time you’re facing a large task that can’t be fishing in one go try break it down in to smaller pieces. Setting up a project plan and action lists will help you keep track of things and make progress when possible.
Next week I will look at some of the tools that can assist you in managing projects.