Natural Project Planning

Allen’s Getting Things Done is a resourceful book in many ways. If someone asked me for the two most valuable / interesting passages of the booking I’d probably point out the “Getting Things Done” diagram which I wrote about here and the “Natural Project Planning” which I want to write about in this post.

Natural Project Planning consists out of five steps:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions

If you’re like me you will probably read over that list and think “yep, that’s how it should be, so what’s the big deal here”. Well, the big deal is, that while this model is very natural it won’t be followed most of the time.

Think back to your last kick start meeting for the latest and greatest project. For sure someone said, “let’s brainstorm”. That just sounds right and very actionable. The problem: If you didn’t talk about the purpose of the new project yet and if you have no idea about possible desired outcomes for the project the brainstorming will lead to absolutely nothing constructive. Without knowing the purpose of the project and without any vision you won’t be able to separate the good ideas from the bad ones. So next time someone says “Let’s brainstorm” make sure everybody is clear about the purpose, principles and outcome visions.

Once these are defined and you successfully brainstormed the new project everybody leaves the room and now what? If you?were lucky someone took a photo of the whiteboard with all the good and bad results of the brainstorming on it. Since most teams don’t have the luxury of working on one project at a time it is fairly certain that other things come up and get prioritized. After a week nobody will understand anymore what all the words on the photo of the whiteboard are really about and we have to start the process all over again.
Brainstorming is important but it will be for nothing if you don’t take the time and organize all the unordered ideas into actionable items. Start writing a project plan. I don’t have to be a huge formal document. Simply make a list of “next actions”. Prioritize them and assign them to concrete people.

Following these five easy steps helps to get projects started and keep them going. It works for small and big projects, however, for big projects, you’ll likely need more formal approaches…