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  • Back to basics - project planning

    Hi all,

    I've been so engaged in GTD and finally getting my system to work, that I've totally neglected the basics of planning a project. Now, I have a number of "plan project ABC" in my @anywhere context. It's ridiculous, I know, that I should miss this foundational element.

    Basically, when I sit down to actually plan out the project, I hit what feels to be paralysis by analysis. I don't know where to start. I tried just writing things out, but many times my mind gets overwhelmed with all the other little things that need to happen for the project to go forward. It comes out like a jumbled mess.

    I feel like I need something more structured, but I've never learned how to plan projects, per se. I was wondering if anyone here had a hood source for "natural planning"s as David Allen put it.

    Any suggestions welcome, thank you!
    Mike

  • #2
    Project Planning

    Mike,
    I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. But, I am a sales manager for 84 Lumber Company, the husband of 1 awesome wife, and the father of 12 cool children. All that to say, I have lots of projects that come at me from every direction and sphere of my life. When I get stuck, I write down everything that comes to mind on the project. I mean everything. No matter how crazy or structured. Then I begin to number them. I would do this in Mind Manager if you have it. If not just use a good ole piece of paper or some word processer. Whichever is best for you. I like something on my computer because it is easier to move stuff around.
    Anyway as I begin to number things, it gives me focus and I follow where it leads me.
    One other thing to think about. Do you have so many other things on your mind that you are just completely distracted? This sometimes happens to me.
    If so, I take the time to put whatever is on you mind down on paper or some electronic format until there is nothing left. I usually brain dump on a piece of paper and then put it on my computer In a more structured way. (I use Outlook 2007 with the Netcentrics plug-in)
    Then if I have any energy left I go back to my project planning. If not I just start over in the morning.
    For me getting and keeping as much as possible off of my mind and into my system is the key to great, creative Project Planning.

    I hope this helps,

    Sincerely,
    Roy Barberi

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    • #3
      In my opinion, the initial project "collection" phase should look like a mess. What's wrong with that? Our minds aren't particularly organized.

      When I'm planning a novel, I write down all my ideas, from the trivial details to the largest plot points. No structure whatsoever. Then I look at all of it and start gathering the information into logical pieces.

      Different projects need different structures. Any universal project planning methodology will miss important details of any given type of project. I think it's better, in general, to write out all your ideas and thoughts, then organize them in a way that makes most sense for that particular project.

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      • #4
        I prefer to plan my projects up side down. So I start with the end in mind and go the begining asking myself: "To do something I have to ...". It takes me 5 minute to make a 10 lines general plan. It's up to me to make it more detailed if needed. Try that!

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        • #5
          Thanks guys,

          I appreciate your time and your suggestions. Indeed, I know our collection process should look like a mess, it's the organization part that hurts.

          Sometimes I feel like I really do need something like a Gantt chart or a diagram, but I don't want to get too tied up with the "process" of it all, rather than the end product.

          For instance, in the matter of employee training, deadlines are a necessity. By 5/31, employees should be familiar with XYZ, by 6/30, employees must complete ABC application, etc. In this case, do I go with a Gantt chart?

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          • #6
            If a Gantt chart helps, use one.

            While you may not need to go all-out, Microsoft Project-style, having intermediate deadlines planned out can be a huge help. It especially helps prioritize between "must haves" and "nice to haves." If the core functionality absolutely positively must be done by May 1, maybe the cool widget editor needs to wait. If a calendar is enough to show you those relationships, use a calendar. If you need a Gantt chart, use a Gantt chart.

            Katherine

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Brent View Post
              In my opinion, the initial project "collection" phase should look like a mess. What's wrong with that? Our minds aren't particularly organized.

              When I'm planning a novel, I write down all my ideas, from the trivial details to the largest plot points. No structure whatsoever. Then I look at all of it and start gathering the information into logical pieces.

              Different projects need different structures. Any universal project planning methodology will miss important details of any given type of project. I think it's better, in general, to write out all your ideas and thoughts, then organize them in a way that makes most sense for that particular project.
              Brent, can I ask you how you gather the information into logical pieces? Weird question I know, but this is the area I'm stuck.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Mischka View Post
                Brent, can I ask you how you gather the information into logical pieces? Weird question I know, but this is the area I'm stuck.
                I'm not Brent, but for me it's a somewhat intuitive process. Some chunks of information are obviously related: shape, size, and color are all relevant to a piece of fruit. Some chunks of information have a chronological sequence: A has to happen before B, which has to happen before C. Sometimes seemingly unrelated chunks all came from the same source, and support some point the source was trying to make. Sometimes I'll see an analogy between two domains that I want to explore further.

                Index cards are good for this because you can re-arrange groups as many times as necessary until you find an order that makes sense. If it's a big project, you may need a hierarchical structure: A has to happen before B, but A itself has many different components. Or you may need to focus on planning the first piece, knowing that what you learn at that stage will affect the other pieces.

                Hope this helps,

                Katherine

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Mischka View Post
                  Brent, can I ask you how you gather the information into logical pieces? Weird question I know, but this is the area I'm stuck.
                  The logic is dictated by the project itself.

                  Let's say I'm planning a novel. I'll write out all sorts of ideas during the initial brainstorming phase: plot events, themes, character personalities, etc.

                  Then I look for related items. I'll write down all the plot events in one list, and all the characters in another. Backstory or world details (for a fantasy novel) might go in another list.

                  Then I'll look at the plot events to decide what I need to write first (where does the story actually start?).

                  In planning a software project, the situation's different. I'll often type up a list of functionality, then I'll look for the core feature. What's the central piece of functionality? I'll then prototype that functionality. So for a space fleet strategy game, I'd start with the interface that displays your ships and planets.

                  It all depends on the project itself, for me.

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