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…

Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson

If you ever were curious about how innovation actually works this video is probably what you should start with:

If you found this video interesting, you definitely want to get a copy of Johnson’s awesome book “Where Good Ideas Come From”.

Johnson found, that there are re-occurring patterns which support innovation. He describes these patterns in seven chapters which there are

  1. The Adjacent Possible – New innovations more often than not take existing pieces and put them together in a new way. Each new innovation increases the space of the adjacent possible.
  2. Liquid Networks – History of innovation shows that networks support good ideas and innovation. People connecting to other people and multiple disciplines are more likely to have an innovative thought.
  3. The Slow Hunch – Great new ideas often don’t break through in a Eureka moment. Much more often they linger in the back of someone’s head and need months, sometimes years or decades to develop into something real. Liquid networks at this point can help to bring slow hunches together and then these combined slow hunches lead to a new idea.
  4. Serendipity – Sometimes great ideas come to you in unexpected moments. Johnson talks about a whole bunch of good examples in his book. Sometimes it’s just necessary to free your mind, go for a walk, watch a soccer game, go on vacation and eventually a brilliant connection will occur to you which didn’t come to your mind before.
  5. Error – Innovation is also a history of error. If you don’t want to make any error you likely will never invent anything. By making errors you learn from every single one and if you’re lucky and interpret the errors correctly you might come up with something wonderfully new.
  6. Exaptation – Exaptation is a term coming from biology. The feathers of birds, for instance, were first developed by mother nature for means of isolation. Later on however they turned out to be essential for flying. So feathers were adapted for flying. Looking at innovations of the recent centuries from the viewpoint of exaptation, you’ll find that many innovations were possible by using an existing thing in a different way.
  7. Platforms – Platforms support innovation. Platforms allow you to _not_ think about certain things and instead concentrate on the solution of the actual problem you’re trying to solve.

This is a very short summary of a great book, so I hope you got an appetite and are going to read it. You can get a copy for example at Amazon.de